On Civil Discourse 1/5/19

By Richard E. Bleil, Ph.D.

We are off to an interesting year in politics. More women than ever have been sworn in to Congress, although this unfortunately further highlights the divide as most are from the Democratic party. We now have Muslim, and openly bisexual representatives, and more.

A couple of days ago, legislation was introduced to impose term limits on congressional representatives (effectively six years for both houses without changing the election cycles). This was introduced by Republican representatives. Unfortunately, this means that there will be people who consider themselves to be Democrats, both in and out of Congress, who will oppose this legislation despite having called for term limits themselves.

Herein lies the source of our current political (and social) encumbrance, and the reason I do not align myself with either party. I’ve written of the Affordable Care Act previously, but it is worth bringing up again. Here we have an example of a law addressing a promise made in every campaign from candidates from both parties since at least Roosevelt, but because it was passed by the Democratic party, it has been vehemently by the Republican party, who have pointed out problems with the law. However, rather than passing laws to repair it, there have been scores of attempts to eliminate it, leaving the country in the same state it was in that both parties had promised to fix.

Blind devotion to one party or group leads to a breakdown of civil discourse, because it precludes the possibility of compromise. This same devotion to party without regard to consequences or consideration of logic has lead to the crisis in which we find ourselves today, vis-Ă -vis the current government shutdown. Already in its third week, the legislative and executive branches of our government has been unable to agree on funding to resume normal government operations. It has become so bad that the President has already rejected a compromise deal that would have secured half of his requested funding, and stated that he is prepared to keep the government shut down for an extended period of time (“years” is how he put it). Even the leader of the Republican party, who still holds the majority in the Senate, has elected to sit out the budget debate. This raises the question of how it is even possible to resolve the situation without full participation of both parties.

During the writing of the Constitution, one of the raging debates was of representation. States with larger population argued that the larger population states should be able to send more representatives, while the other states wanted equal representations. Clearly, both arguments are equally logical. Fortunately, the founding fathers understood how to debate, worked to consider each others’ opinion, and work to find compromise. The “Connecticut Compromise” created two houses of Congress: the House of Representatives has representatives based on population, while the Senate has equal representation from all states.

The proposal discussed earlier, term limits for congressional representatives, also includes a provision to do away with the Electoral College. This is another controversial proposal, with a similar argument, that is, more populous states have the advantage when each vote is counted equally, but less populous states have more power under the electoral college. Both arguments are equally valid, yet at odds. I wonder if, today, we still have the ability to listen and find compromise.


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