Sunday, November 27, 2011

Why Can't We All Get Along?

If you read my previous post you saw how close I am to my cousin who lives in New York. As the post noted, she was a journalist for CBS News.  Our family is somewhat conservative. She is more liberal, in part as she tells me, because as a journalist she has witnessed so much first hand.  I can certainly understand that. 

My cousin is very kind and invited me to spend Thanksgiving with her and her family. Every night my cousin and I would talk politics and public policy.  Few things are more invigorating than a lively and intelligent current affairs discussion with someone well informed and passionate.  My cousin is that kind of person. We can disagree (we do) and not be disagreeable. I find that my thought process is much sharper after a good exchange of ideas and policy alternatives.

My mother used to ask why is the political process so harsh, why can't we do what is right and why is it so partisan.

I think I now know the answer.  It became very clear to me as I talked to my cousin.  Reasonable and intelligent people can disagree on the goal and the best way to reach the goal. Both sides think they are right.  In all actuality, only one side truly wins.

We hear alot about the need for bipartisanship and compromise.  In my study of the political process (at least lately) compromise is not necessarily about getting half or a quarter of the loaf, it is about the losing side softening the edges of a new law as much as possible. In other words, how can the minority amend new legislation that allows for the least amount of negative impact to their constituents and supporters.

Any new and sweeping legislation creates a different set of winners and losers.  At least to me, this is why we have such fierce partisanship.  No one wants to be on the losing side.   

Will it get any better? No, I think not.  That is not necessarily bad.  We must realize the U.S. House is very much run by the majority and if the majority has the votes, it can get through any bill without even consulting or working with the minority. The U.S. Senate is structured around giving the minority to shape or influence legislation. This is usually done by knowledge of the rules and the filibuster. 

That type of structure makes it much harder to agree on the goal and way to get to the goal. Congress holds hearings and you can see people who testify have totally different ideas on what should be done and how. 

Our founding fathers thought long and hard before they came up with our structure of government.  So far, it has worked well for the United States with several changes like allowing women to vote, the election of U.S. Senators by direct vote instead of each state legislature,and lowering the voting age. 

So why can't get along? As I wrote earlier, high stakes and no one wants to lose.

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