Feeling Larry’s Pain

I don’t know Larry personally. He is one of many thousands living in American cities that once were the pride of the manufacturing world, but have recently been decimated by the outsourcing of jobs, leaving him jobless and his city littered with abandoned plants.

It is all too easy for academics, sitting around a seminar table discussing the pros and cons of globalization, or for politicians, debating the merits of a proposed trade agreement, to ignore the pain that Larry feels, and, therefore, not factor such a realization into their deliberations. So, although I don’t know Larry, let me imaginatively attempt to speak on his behalf.

 

A Modest Goal For Public Discourse, or Not

When is a conversation “genuine?” Michael King suggests that it is when there is “a mutual quest for treasure in our own and the other’s viewpoint.” 

Elaborating, King suggests that this entails making two key moves: “the first move is to make as clear as I can why I hold this position … and why you may find in it treasure to value in your own quest for truth. The second move is to see the value in the other’s view … and to grow in my own understandings by incorporating as much of the other’s perspective as I can without losing the integrity of my own convictions” (Mutual Treasure, P. 153). 

This ideal for public discourse establishes a very high standard. When I am about to engage someone with whom I have major disagreements, I do not always do so with the attitude that I am going to “actively seek for treasure” in what he or she believes. I have a lot of company. Is this lofty goal attainable?

 

Mixtures of Good and Bad Ideas

Now that both Paul Ryan and Barack Obama have unveiled their respective plans for our national budget, at least in broad outline form, the airwaves will be filled with talk of “good ideas” and “bad ideas.”

My experience suggests that if I wish to engage someone who disagrees with me on a given issue, the surest way to insure that our conversation ends abruptly is for me to hold tenaciously to the questionable proposition that all my ideas are good and all his ideas are bad. I have always tried to present a strong rationale for what I considered to be my good ideas. But, as I have listened respectfully to the ideas of someone who disagrees with me, I often found that some of my initial ideas were bad in comparison to some of his good ideas. And in the best of conversations, my partner also made adjustments in his initial views about good ideas and bad ideas.

Wanted: an Even Playing Field for the Budget Debate

We have traversed the foothills, but the climb of the Himalayas now begins, to paraphrase one TV pundit’s reflections on the recent budget deal that prevented a government shutdown.

That arduous climb appears to start with one element of common ground – Any attempt to bring about long-term budget deficit reduction will require that politicians on both sides of the aisle address the big ticket items of entitlements, tax structure and military spending. But how does one proceed beyond this modest point of agreement? To date, only a representative of one side of the aisle, Republican Paul Ryan, has put forth a comprehensive proposal that addresses the contentious particulars.

 

Compromise: A Good or Bad Idea in Politics?

It is generally agreed that the tax cut legislation of December 2010 reflected compromises on both sides of the political aisle. Were such compromises warranted? 

It depends on your view of the political process. There are those who hold to unyielding fixed positions and will not entertain the possibility of making “mutual concessions” (the dictionary definition of “compromise”). Politics is viewed as an all or nothing enterprise. If that is your view of politics, then compromise is a bad idea. 

But there is an alternative view of politics for which compromise is a good idea. That view was captured by President Obama in his comments after the December 2010 tax cut legislation: “compromise means yielding on something each of us cares about to move forward on something all of us care about.” The key word here is “yielding.”