18 October 2013

Will the debate never end?

In reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling for limited times, the government has only kicked the can down the road. In a few months time we'll hear all the same talking points. It seems unlikely that the October crisis has changed many if any minds. While the debate was forced by presumably limited resources, it remains essentially a debate about priorities and core values. This is the sort of debate that isn't decided by elections. In this country, at least, we don't accept that elections oblige the losers to change their minds. As we've just seen, they don't even oblige the losers not to resist the majority carrying out its mandate. That's what separates us from those "authoritarian democracies" Americans love to criticize -- those countries on the slippery slope to tyranny. If we concede that no number of elections or votes will change minds, is there hope in deliberation or conversation. Are the positions of the two major parties, or their respective primary bases, as irreconcilable as they now seem? Is common ground unimaginable? Is the ideal of one dystopian to the other? Anger and fear seem to drive the debate today. The remedy may not be to deny these forces but to be honest and open about them as possible. Any given partisan may deny that he is angry or afraid, but those denials won't work anymore. Better that people admit that they are angry and afraid, so that we can find out what they're angry at or afraid of. My impression is that partisans refuse to listen to the other side's fears, or refuse to take them seriously. Fear and anger are boiled down to "hate," or else dismissed as lies. As long as one side can't destroy the other, or neither can separate, this won't do. One side needs to listen when people from the other worry that no one will care if they suffer or die. The other side needs to listen when people worry that everyone will suffer if we keep doing what we're doing. If neither side agrees with the other, let's hear why. If everyone puts their fears in the open, maybe we'll talk each other down. If not, at least we'll be able to say after whatever follows that we did all we could to prevent it.

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