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Words from Winterbilt

Commonsense, exceptionalism and the government!

Shannon Bohrer

(3/2012) This article is a continuation on the topic of commonsense and our government, two words that in some ways seem incompatible. Very often, conversations and dialogs about our government are confusing and sometimes annoying. Frequently, a lot of what we hear about our government is negative, and much of it is often from the party thatís not in power. Then the party that is in power will talk about how bad the other party is. What is strange, or maybe not, is that both are often correct. See, both parties are capable of telling the truth, but the truth is usually limited to the negatives of the other party. Of course the logical conclusion, drawn from my own conventional wisdom, is that anybody that did not vote for Ross Perot is somewhat responsible for our current situation.

For some unknown reason, individuals often view politics in terms of absolutes, which does not always make sense. The avid members of each party believe their party has the answers and the other party is the creator of the problems. A relevant analogy is what we often hear about home team sports, our team is good, we wear its colors and any team that opposes our team is the enemy. When the Colts (thatís a football team) left Baltimore it was reported that they snuck out in the middle of the night Ė because they had something to hide? And when the Browns (another football team) left Cleveland and came to Baltimore they were the new heroes. Two teams leaving two cities under almost identical situations and yet one team is good until they left, and now they are bad - unless we are talking about the Browns, then itís reverse! People often view political parties like sports - itís their team or nothing, the absolute thing.

Treating politics likes sports, where itís either win everything or lose everything, is not necessarily a good attitude to have. Working together to accomplish something can be a good thing and sometimes it requires compromise. The reality is that we all have to compromise sometimes. The word compromise has become a red flag word in politics, with different connotations depending upon different views and perspectives. Some say they will not compromise on their principles, and yet they are in politics! I guess they never compromise with their spouses, family members, supervisors, co-workers or even friends. Do they really think we are that dumb, that they always get their way? If I always got my way I would not be married, would have trouble holding a job and may not have any friends. Of course if one thinks about it the description sounds similar to a spoiled child: if they donít get their way they cry, scream, or hold their breath. Spoiled children often get what they want, thatís why they are spoiled. Of course they are eventually challenged, and when they donít get their way they arenít happy. However, in the case of politics, we are talking about adults, or at least individuals that should act like adults.

A very common statement from politicians is that one should not compromise oneís principles. Does common sense dictate that one should not compromise oneís principles? That is a very powerful and believable argument, except when challenged with the counter argument: negative consequences are possible if compromises are not made. Think of it like this, you are on a fishing boat in the ocean and itís taking in a lot of water. The boat has bilge pumps that are operated manually and it takes a dozen individuals working together to work the pumps. You would think that everyone would volunteer to work the pumps, but that requires individuals working together! Members of both parties have publically stated that they will not work with the other party, and therefore our country may be sinking. If an individual wants to be self-destructive, that is a personal choice. But, as in this analogy, we are literally in the boat with themó and we may be sinking, too.

Another side of the same argument is the value and the strength of the principle itself. What principle is so strong that we hold it so dear to our being and that we will not compromise on it? One could make a good argument that this is at the very center of this discourse, not the principle but the value of the principle. When I was growing up, the Communists were our enemies: they had secret prisons, they could arrest their citizens without warrants, and they tortured people. Maybe they had a patriot act before we did - times have changed. Our collective value back then was principled on our freedoms, and we would not compromise. I believe our moral and legal compass is no longer accurate and needs re-calibration.

What we need is a sense of common direction, something we can agree on and something to unite us. A very popular term today that we may be able to agree on is "American Exceptionalism." The term "American Exceptionalism" has often been used in discussions regarding our role in the worldó and it could be our starting point for something we can agree on. "American Exceptionalism" could include football fans, because they can tell you why their team is not better. Even if the team has a winning record and makes it to the finals, football fans are capable of excellent constructive criticism. Another point is that we Americans know that the political party we belong to is good for the country and if the other party is elected we will suffer greatly. While many believe this, one must remember that there are two opposite sides, and both can be correct. Certainly, part of our exceptionalism is the universal truth that all of us are above average drivers. Have you ever meet anyone that told you that they were a very mediocre driver? If we look in the right direction, we can find something to agree on, well sometimes, maybe Ė at least theoretically?

"Whenever two people meet, there are really six people present.
There is each man as he sees himself, each man as the other
person sees him, and each man as he really is."
  William James, psychologist

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer