Sunday, February 21, 2010

Where's The Middle?

It's no secret that I have some very solid and deep-rooted political opinions. I'm a conservative, and I make no bones about it. Knowing that, picture me having an espresso with a friend who happens to be a liberal. Picture us debating an issue about which we have very differing views (in this case, mountaintop removal coal mining). In today's society, one might imagine that our conversation would become heated. Strong words might be exchanged, and there's little doubt feelings might get hurt. One might imagine a result like that because as a society, we've learned to use noise and command to make our political points. We have learned to make our points in this way by following the example set by our political leaders (from both parties), but I wonder how many of us can honestly say we've thought it through and believe America is well-served by this modus operandi.

Our society has become more polarized recently than it has been at any time since the Civil War. That sounds like a bit of a stretch, I know, but when you give it some thought, you realize that now, more than ever, there aren't a lot of people out there interested in finding common ground with people on the "other side". I have a number of theories about why we've reached this point as a Nation, but I think the bottom line is that, somewhere along the way, we've lost the ability to be civil with our adversaries. Especially in the last few years, our political leaders seem to have adopted an "all or nothing" approach to governing, and I believe the United States has suffered as a result.

I think few of us honestly believe we are on the right track as a nation, no matter what our political beliefs may be. The question is, what do we do to change our course and address the very real problems we face? I don't claim to have all the answers, but I have a very good idea about how we can start to find them. The scenario I described in the first paragraph happened just a few days ago, so it isn't hypothetical. In fact, I often discuss politics with the friend in question, but never once have our discussions become heated or terse. Why? It certainly isn't because neither of us are passionate about the issues we discuss. We are. However, we value each other as intelligent individuals, and while we may disagree about a number of things, we realize that there's give and take when it comes to any given issue, and only by debating in a civil manner and finding common ground can we ever hope to reach a solution that will better our society.

In today's United States, especially in Congress, we have taken what I believe to be an inside-out approach to solving problems. The Republicans are on the right, the Democrats are on the left, and both sides are throwing proverbial rocks toward each other. Anybody who takes up a position between the two is likely to get hit with rocks from both sides. I suppose the logic is that they'll keep throwing rocks at each other until one side gives up, but we all know that neither side is going to surrender. The result? We've seen it a lot in recent months: nothing is accomplished. In my humble opinion, we face obstacles so great that we simply can't afford many more months of this sort of stupid behavior by our elected officials. While this sort of stone-throwing approach will likely help each side get re-elected, it will do nothing to move the United States forward.

The solution, in my opinion, is to stop the rock-throwing and partisan bickering, and do something profound: meet in the middle, figure out what we agree on, then work our way out from there. Whether we are discussing health care reform or economic relief or any other issue, there are no doubt things both parties can agree on. If we abandon the selfish all-or-nothing approach, we stand a chance of at least doing some good, even if we aren't able to accomplish everything we want. I keep waiting for some brave soul to call time-out and point out to BOTH parties that the American people are suffering and demand solutions. Even those who've long considered themselves Republicans or Democrats are becoming tired of the game our representatives continue to play, and I believe groups like the Tea Party movement who aren't necessarily aligned with any specific party will only become more prevalent.

When I debate an issue with my liberal friend, we always find some common ground, even on issues that can be emotional. It never fails that while we won't agree on everything, we DO agree on SOMETHING. While Congress is a bit more formal than two friends getting together for espresso, the fact remains that if our representatives would cool off, stop yelling, deflate their egos and be civil, there's no doubt that the two parties could find some common ground on any given issue. This common ground should be the basis for good legislation, and while neither side will get everything they want, the American people might actually get something they need.

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