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America is blessed with wildly varied geography and landscape, encompasses over 51 degrees of latitude and nine standard time zones; and it is home to a bewildering range of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. It is no wonder, that a country comprised of such differing perspectives and needs is hard-pressed to serve its population equitably.

Virtually all Americans agree, however, on one thing: an alarming and escalating feeling of despair regarding our unresponsive, intrusive, and unaccountable political system. How can we feel hopeful about the future when faced with the prospect of living under legislative decisions that are all too often made behind closed doors by mostly wealthy, mostly Caucasian, mostly men?photo

To be sure, controversy has always played a role in our national heritage. The U.S. Constitution was ratified only after a lengthy process of vetting and public—as well as private—debate. The difference now is in the tone and nature of debate. Where once, groups of thoughtful and often classically educated men relied upon logic and reason to support their ideas, we have regressed to a nation of intense, loud, name callers who hurl insults back and forth, spurred by ratings-hungry corporate media.

I recently attended a lecture presented by TransForm Idaho called Influencing Public Policy.  Speaker Dr. David Adler reminded us that in the first of the Federalist Papers published in 1787, founding father, Alexander Hamilton questioned if

it is possible to create a system in which the people can govern themselves through reasoned deliberation, discussion and debate, or whether they must forever suffer the imposition of government upon them. (emphasis mine)

Hitching our collective wagon to an untested concept was risky. But in establishing this innovative model, the founders hoped to borrow the best parts of the Greek and Roman empires while learning from the mistakes of the former republics.

Reasoned deliberation requires:

  • Active, engaged, and educated participants
  • A citizenry that is willing to devote time and energy to learn the issues and to participate in the process

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p>AdlerAdler hammers home the idea that we, the people, must hold our government accountable. But before we can begin to influence the elected and appointed officials, we must recognize the importance and the power of the citizenry. Ultimately, politicians are at the mercy of the voters. When a politician catches on to a sea change in public ideology, reevaluation is the only means of survival.

With so many voices shouting so many different opinions, we, the people, remain weak and fragmented. It’s the old divide and conquer trick; and we’ve been had! To repair the damage, we need to start small and expand the circle.  We need to learn how to work together, despite our differences. Collaboration will take some difficult soul-searching and tongue-biting. We need to learn how to get along with each other, how to respect each person’s contribution to the potential of this amazing country.

Collaboration does work. A case in point is the 2012 bipartisan dismantling of the highly unpopular Luna laws—a package of three education laws passed by the Idaho legislature the year before. The feat was accomplished by bringing together a fractious contingent of unhappy Democrats and Republicans in a very Republican state. How do we accomplish collaboration in a sea of sharks? My next post will examine Dr. Adler’s five modest suggestions to improve public discourse so that we, the people, can hold our elected officials accountable to us rather than to special interests.

Additional resources:

http://thebluereview.org/on-civil-discourse-politics-and-the-press/
http://stateimpact.npr.org/idaho/tag/propositions-1-2-3/