Tuesday, January 18, 2011

#18 / Violence And Politics

In his column appearing in my local paper on Sunday, January 16th, Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist and professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University, wrote about President Obama's speech in Tuscon.

The President called for Americans to "remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together."

Krugman's reaction: "The truth is that we are a deeply divided nation and are likely to remain one for a long time." Krugman ended his column with an appeal for Americans to settle their profound differences through the "rule of law," and to make clear that "both violence and any language hinting at the acceptability of violence are out of bounds."

I believe that Krugman's description of the fundamental political division found in America is exactly on target. There is a "party" of those who see the modern federal government as "illegitimate." The other side thinks that we are "all in this together," and that it is the obligation of our government to provide for the needs of everyone through governmental action. There is no secret as to which side Krugman is on. No secret about the side I am on, either (the same side as Krugman).

I do have one observation that goes just a bit beyond what Krugman said in his column. "Politics" is the way that "we," who are in this together, whether we like it or not, decide what we are going to do, collectively. There are, actually, good arguments on both "sides" of the divide that Krugman delineates, and since "we," the nation as a whole, are comprised of many different individuals, with different perspectives and ideas, "we" have to have some sort of mechanism to decide how to mobilize our common energies and assets to achieve the policies and results that "we" think are best.

Naturally, "we" reserve the right to change our minds, with time, but there is no way to make these decisions without conflict and controversy, debate and division. What unites us is not any common thought about what is right. Claims by any "side" that they have that truth is nothing but provocative and infuriating to the other "side," which disagrees.

What can and must unite Americans is what we fought our Revolution to achieve: a commitment to self-government, which establishes the process by which "we" resolve the conflicts and controversies that legitimately divide us, and that allows us, after the debate and the discussion is done, to make decisions about what "we" will do - decisions that lead to real action and real change.

Politics, properly understood, is the antithesis of violence. If we are reluctant to engage in the practice of politics, and to promote the definition of the world we choose by our political choices, there is nothing left but either violence or acquiescence, and acquiescence, simply allowing things to "happen to us," is no choice at all.

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