No matter which political party you happen to favor— and even if you are not all too attached to that party, thinking it is corrupt— chances are that sometimes you get sick of ‘that other party’. They are wrong-headed, with wrong ideas and wrong policies, and you believe they will never change. But what is it about the parties of today that make that attitude happen?
Let’s think for a moment about how a democratic republic with two major political parties functions— or fails to function. What do the parties need to have for the system to work?
- The parties need to have different ideas, ideology or philosophy from one another. Well, we certainly have that. One party wants smaller government, the other wants government big enough to make things ‘fair’. One party wants ‘reproductive freedom’ operations available through all nine months of pregnancy, the other wants to value human life from conception until natural death. Sometimes it seems the differences are killing us. But what would it be like if there weren’t any differences? If the two parties didn’t have different ideas/philosophies, there would be no such thing as a party that votes one way on an issue because they thought their way was moral and right. Without that, why would parties vote differently? Either for personal reasons— ‘our guy Joe wrote that bill, and we all like Joe so we support it’— or for corrupt reasons. In other words, we vote that way because of the bribes we took.
- The parties need to have ideas in common. We don’t have enough of that right now. Let’s think back to the year 1958. At that time, both Democrats and Republicans would agree that both Communism and National Socialism/Fascism were bad things. They agreed that the Constitution of the United States was good and functioned pretty well. People from both parties agreed that if a politician or other leader got caught in adultery, he should resign. Marriage was a good thing, not an ‘outmoded institution’ or a government benefit program. And when people looked at a man and his wife taking their children to church services and to Sunday school every single week, the vast majority from both parties thought that was a good and responsible way to live. Even in areas that were very controversial at the time— such as whether the racial segregation system of the southern states should continue— there was at least the agreement that Negroes ought to be treated kindly. The difference of opinion was on whether segregation could be done kindly, and it was the unkind things done during the civil rights protests to the protesters— most especially the bombing that killed 4 young girls in their church— that killed off the segregation idea for good.
- The ‘ideas in common’ need to outweigh the ‘different ideas’. This is the problem we have now. One side is making a principle of rejecting most of what the other side thinks of as right and good. You can’t even wish someone ‘Merry Christmas’ without getting accused of forcing your religion down someone’s throat. When you say ‘is there some way we can agree to disagree?’ the response is ‘but those other guys are hateful and evil!’ In the political realm, the Constitution, as it is written and as the Founding Fathers intended it, is no longer common ground but something only one party tends to believe in. The other one either believes in the ‘new Constitution’ created by modern court decisions, or flat-out says the Constitution we have is outmoded and needs to be replaced by something more like what the cool countries in Western Europe have.
The problem, then, is the massive degree of difference between the two sides and the lack of common ground. What is to be done? Other than civil war, the only hope is to calmly and reasonably attempt to educate— not propagandize or ‘spin’— others in our point-of-view and the reasons behind it. We may not be able to convince others to adopt our positions on ‘abortion rights’ or ‘marriage equality’, but that doesn’t matter. The important thing is to help the other side understand our point of view directly, instead of hearing about it only through slanted news stories created by their own side. Perhaps, little by little, if we listen to one another, new common ground can be created. We need this. Because if our country keeps on getting more divided, we all lose.