Just Thinking

Method To Their Madness

by Richard Gilman

We are so caught up in the debate over political outcomes, we’ve failed to call enough attention to the companion conflict over methods. But that of course is what the political dysfunction is all about.

Once again, we seem to fall into two camps – although these do not carry the partisan labels of R and D. Politicians might approach any issue in one of two ways:

  • “We have a problem. We know the solution. The question is how to impose it on the other side.”

OR

  • “We have a problem. We know there can be an honest process to address it. The question is the solution.”

Simply put, the choice is between Let’s fight it out versus Let’s figure it out.

‘We’re Right, They’re Wrong’

Partisans are all caught up in the first one. The two sides may disagree on everything else, but they are united on this. The more partisan, the more caught up they are.  Don’t give an inch.  We’re right, they’re wrong, end of debate.

One can see why. Liberals will do anything to hold the line on entitlements that have been gained, no matter the other consequences. Conservatives will do anything to restore freedoms that have been lost, also no matter the other consequences.

There’s no middle ground. It’s just plain “No!” to concessions, consensus, conciliation, cooperation, collaboration, all those dratted “C” words. Compromise is for sissies. As far as liberals are concerned, Obama blinked . . . or maybe caved . . . woe is us.

The result is extremism on both sides. That thought will anger, or at minimum confuse, many readers. They know the other side is guilty. But they can’t figure out how such a thing could be true of their own side. Therein, my friends, lies the problem. Each side is so bought in, so reinforced by what they choose to read and hear, they don’t see their own narrow-mindedness. But in believing that without question they are right, they are wrong.

Unaffiliated voters aren’t burdened with being so unequivocal. As Edition 5 of Thinking Arizona establishes, they range across the political spectrum. I sense, however, that while they are divided on ideology, they are closely aligned about method. Very much unlike the partisans, they would opt for the second of the approaches listed above.

Not All Right, Nor All Wrong

To them, pragmatic problem-solving is far preferable to predictable partisanship. They don’t pretend to know the answer.  What’s more, they don’t believe anyone else does either. They believe that with the contributions of everyone, maybe together we can work it out.

Not only do they believe this, it is the one thing that really piques their madness toward our political follies. They’re not hung up on achieving a particular outcome on whatever question. They are hung up on working through the possibilities in some logical fashion.

There is no hard evidence to support the proposition I’m presenting here. The report presented in Edition 5 is not a perfect exercise. The data contained in the exit polls skews more to the left than the actual election results would suggest. Additional questions might uncover the differences that surely exist between unaffiliateds and Democrats, just as they appear to have differences with Republicans. Other questions might tease out the differences over legislative methods.

But there is anecdotal evidence. In interviews and followup emails, several independents said what they most want is for the opposing sides to put their heads together.  It stands to reason. If one believes the right amount of government rests somewhere between the minima and the maxima, as many unaffiliated voters do, then one also believes there is room for give and take on the part of everyone.

Done well, this is not the easy way out. It is not horse-trading. It is not appeasing everyone by throwing carrots in all directions. It does not follow the path of least resistance. There are serious and perhaps painful tradeoffs to be made in finding the right mix of give and take. It requires rigorous evaluation and courageous choices that are uncompromising in their implementation.

Unaffiliated voters don’t come close to holding a majority. But the way it’s going, with so many people fed up, likely one day they will. If and when that moment comes, and the new majority is given this choice:

  • We have a problem, let’s fight it out.
  • We have a problem, let’s figure it out.

I’m pretty sure the first decision they will make is to pick the latter.

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