Tag Archives: consensus

Telling the Truth: Political Realities, Part 4

Once we are committed to integrity and to the costs of liberty (personal responsibility, delayed gratification and seeking the common good), here are some starting points understanding “the people”:

One: Life and justice issues often take precedence over ethnicity, gender and even class. Abortion, euthanasia, and crime and punishment affect people in every cultural category. America is deeply divided, often because of perceptions rather than serious moral reflection. For example, most people in all voting groups personally disapprove of at least some abortions. But if they are asked if they want to deny a “woman’s right to choose” they vote to protect abortion rights. State by state most Americans do not want to kill babies in the womb. The same inner conflicts exist for end-of-life issues with most recoiling at the thought of hastening death while simultaneously wanting to limit suffering. Anyone involved in our legal system becomes rather cynical as they see the wheels of justice turn imperfectly with power and wealth overtaking fairness.

Leaders must address these issues with both moral clarity and reasonable expectations. Eliminating all but a few abortions (on the way to the end of this practice), creating reasonable guidelines for stewarding terminal patients (without active euthanasia) and fostering restitution over incarceration are all avenues creating possible consensus.

Two: Most Americans have (at least aspirational) moral values and believe in traditional marriage; however, they are afraid of being seen as intolerant and do not want to deprive their alternate lifestyle neighbors of their rights. America and select Western nations are the first sociopolitical groups in history to equalize relationships that do not produce the next generation. Is there a way forward consistent with empirical data, moral values and maximal liberty?

Yes. But it requires a long-term civics lesson in America’s Constitution – a document designed to limit the scope of federal power, not impose it on individuals or states. Wise leaders will work to return more economic, political and social power to states and local governments. If a state wants unique marriage laws, that is fine, but marriage is not a civil right, it is a social contract left to the states (and a sacramental covenant for the religious). The path forward must reject homophobia and protect all persons while no longer marginalizing the deep values of many religious and secular people.

This sounds good in theory. However, “limited federal government” and “States’ Rights” are code words for slavery and Jim Crow among African Americans. It is only in the last 50 years that millions of women and men were allowed to vote and have (the beginnings of) equal access to economic and educational opportunities. Restoring local and personal power must not come at the expense of legitimate civil rights.

Three: President Eisenhower, a moderate Republican, warned of the power of the “military-industrial complex.” Progressives are naturally suspicious of the military and the politicians that are quick to deploy violent solutions before exhausting diplomatic options, especially the UN. Conservatives honor the military ethos and get frustrated when soldiers in the field have their hands tied in the war against terror.  Apart from absolute pacifism (a respectable position when applied consistently) and hair-trigger militarism, leaders must bring moral clarity and 21st century strategic wisdom to their stewardship of America’s defense.

America is on sound moral ground when she defends herself from attack in concert with her allies, while refusing policies of long-term occupation.

Telling the truth politically begins with each of us inwardly facing the truth about ourselves. When we embrace honesty and humility, repentance and reconciliation, there is hope for America and the world.

Telling the Truth: Political Realities, Part 3

People and politicians (who are the elected subset of “the people”) are full of contradictory feelings and ideas. The tendency to overgeneralize and universalize is rampant. Who speaks for “the people?” Why are we so quick to opine on what African Americans, Hispanics, White Blue Collar folks, Evangelicals, Women and even LGBTQ folks think on any and every subject? If we are going to engender consensus on vital issues and chart a prosperous future for America and the world, we must end such facile thinking and begin to regard people with more respect and expect more of the political leaders elected and supported by the people.

Each person capable of moral action and self-reflection is unique. This does not mean they are disconnected and do not share beliefs and qualities of particular groups. America’s founders understood the tensions between individual liberty and the common good, between public service and political factions. Some of the founders and framers hoped there would never be political parties, just gentleman (few could foresee the female franchise) farmers and citizens serving for a season and returning to work after their public service was complete.

This idyllic vision quickly gave way to parties and philosophies competing for voters’ attention. By itself, two or more parties are not bad for the public, provided all parties and people share enough common virtues for social cohesion.

For 2016 and beyond, catering to constituencies must take second place to framing a vision and set of values that people of many backgrounds can embrace. This is much more than a “big tent” ethos or chanting, “we have something for everyone.” Such pandering has led to the severe challenges we face today.

Progress begins with personal character being more important than perceived competencies or charisma. Back in the 1820s, a member of Congress wrote a letter back to a disgruntled constituent: “You elected me for my moral character and sound judgment, not to procure public resources.” Imagine politicians saying to the voters, “You cannot have everything you want from the hands of government.” If this kind of integrity is united with a spiritual awakening, there is hope for America and the world.