Or, Changing Compromise, Cooperation, Consensus and Conciliation from Curse Words into Challenges

Short of armed combat, could Politics today at any level of government in our country from neighborhood associations right up to Washington possibly be any worse? How did we get here?

I suspect a major part of the problem is that compromise, cooperation, consensus and conciliation have become almost literally curse words. Each has become associated with surrender at best, traitorous conduct at worst. That leads to fierce polarization. It essentially means nothing can ever be settled. Every election is now merely either a starting point for undoing all that the predecessors accomplished or an excuse for a recall.

Why can’t we come together to settle at least those things we can all agree upon? For instance, on the issue of gun control, those in favor of the broadest possible interpretation of the 2nd Amendment insist that no law can be allowed to pass that has the slightest restriction on the ability to obtain things that go bang, no matter how frightening or dangerous they might be by accident or in the wrong hands. Conversely, those who fear guns want no one to have any at all despite the almost undeniable certainty that was never intended by our Founding Fathers no matter how inartfully they may have drafted the 2nd Amendment section about militias bearing arms. The current level of discussion on the subject, such as it is, tends to be vitriolic. Isn’t there an opportunity however for the broad middle group of our society, a likely two-thirds majority who can see merit on both sides, to step in and insist at least some points could and should be settled once and for all? Can’t we at least all agree as a general rule that people should be allowed to have guns, but there are logical limits?

To illustrate my point, almost every argument that can be made for people having guns can also be made for people having cars. If autos had been around in the 1700s, quite likely there would have been a Constitutional Amendment regarding the “right” to them too. Yet, we insist today that before vehicles can be used, the owners must pass a test showing minimal competency, demonstrate that they can see clearly so others are less likely to be harmed, obtain a license so that it is known who operates them and provide insurance against possible mishaps. Some individuals convicted of certain crimes or adjudicated insane are forbidden to operate cars. And, even though certain types of vehicles such as assault tanks can drive on roads just like other vehicles, use of them is limited for the most part to the military or the police. None of those particular restrictions on vehicles seem unreasonable to anybody no matter what their ideology. Why then can’t the same sort of rules apply to gun ownership? It is a starting point.

Maybe if it was conceded and permanently settled that the concept of guns, as a permissible part of the American way of life, are unassailable by the legislature and the courts, the NRA would be less insistent on being absurd about the minutia such as demanding a right to put 50 caliber long range sniper rifles with armor piercing incendiary bullets even into the hands of children. Conceding the general point would deprive the NRA of its “slippery slope” and “dominos” arguments. The rest of us get to breathe somewhat easier when a passenger on a jet taking off knowing that it is less likely a nut aiming at us does not having the ability to actually shoot us down. It does not eliminate the possibility, but it does reduce the odds and brings elements of rationality back. That should be the test on such legislation.

In other words, compromise, cooperation, consensus and conciliation should not be curse words. They might help us out of the present animosity driven state of affairs.

Even as to matters as intractable as abortion may have a few elements of potential compromise, cooperation, consensus and conciliation. If that were proposed as a way to analyze the situation, there might be room to argue that, say, no abortion is permitted in the last trimester, but it is pretty much permitted in the first trimester. That translates as anyone who elects to wait too long is stuck with the risk.

As to the middle trimester, that probably has to be left to the ordinary political process to resolve, but it might limit the debate and might reintroduce calm. Think how much better off we would be as a society if the broad majority representing the middle-of-the-road electorate were able to say that we simply don’t want to hear anything brought up in the future on at least the portions settled. It would be nice to be able to insist that at least that specific aspect is hereafter off limits to further tinkering no matter who is in office.

The abortion early right/latter ban - depending on timing proposal will never obtain the nearly universal approval as the above discussed limited gun compromises might. There is simply no likelihood of the extremists on either side of the abortion debate totally agreeing to that compromise. Even reasonable people can strongly disagree on abortion itself. There is however a potential for “horse trading” between the two sides on some collaterally related issues which do not have the same moral fervor as that central saving “lives” polemic involving abortion. Perhaps those side issues at least could finally be taken off the table and allow us to come together. Issues such a sex education and birth control, which do not illicit the same vehemency, might be traded for assurances of, say, government support in raising the children who were born unwanted. Let’s explore more the areas allowing such trades.

Similar approaches are available on almost every “hot” topic tearing us apart whether jobs, economy, environment, etc. Surely some things on each are amenable if the respective parties actively look for potential areas of agreement, rather than disagreement. Let’s get some things at least out of the way.

Obviously nothing can be cast in concrete forever. Things change and there must be a mechanism for adapting in the event of dramatic new technology or similar “sea changes” in thinking due to unforeseen events. But, perhaps that can be accomplished by modifying the necessary vote for passage of any new law from the present bare majority to a “supermajority” of, say, two-thirds or three-fourths. That would be very much in line with the original intent of the Founding Fathers. If you look at it, it is clear their entire system of government was set up primarily to preserve the status quo except in unusual circumstances. That would put consensus back into the equation while still protecting the minorities in the meantime through the Bill of Rights.

I fully understand the anger felt by Progressives and Liberals. I fully understand the distrust of those currently in power. I fully understand the desire to reverse the current unrelenting attacks on everything held dear. Nevertheless, I fear for the country if the cycle of automatic revenge continues unabated.

I also firmly believe that the first political party to step forward and offer this new way of thinking, or more precisely a return to the original way of problem solving, will be much appreciated by the overwhelming majority of voters. Given human nature, such an approach probably will only be offered by a party out of power. But, there is always hope even our current rulers will come to their senses and realize that the present mess is a recipe for disaster, potentially even civil war, given the fever pitch it is now reaching. Either way, let's try it.

After all, the essence of the proposal is another “C” word, common sense.

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