Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.

2.16.2016

The Quintessence of a Democratic Society


I really need to update my Blogger profile. It's probably close to ten years since I created it, and I haven't given it much thought since. But this is not a hugely active platform any more and I'm not really worried about attracting readers, so it's very low priority. One aspect of the profile I feel no need to change because it is still accurate is the description: An idealistically liberal Christian with socialist leanings. I wrote that well before "socialism" became a big buzzword during the 2008 presidential election, when the political right used it to denounce Barack Obama and the left defended and corrected that assertion.

So when Bernie Sanders describes himself as a democratic socialist, I am with him all the way. I am his target audience. He, of any of this year's presidential candidates, represents my views and I would love to see his policies put in place.

Even so, I remain undecided as to whether I would support him or Hillary Clinton should I have the chance to attend the caucus (as I did Obama in 2008). While I fully love what he advocates, I wonder about his ability to achieve it and the means with which he'd do so. This article articulates my doubts wonderfully:
What the architects of Obama's 2008 campaign think of the Bernie Sanders campaign

In conversations with veterans of the Obama campaign both the day before and the day after the New Hampshire primary, their assessment of Sanders mixed real admiration with genuine dismay. They recognize the excitement Sanders is generating among Democratic voters — including groups they had trouble reaching, like white voters with incomes under $50,000. And they recognize that in some ways, Sanders is climbing an even harder hill than Obama did in 2008. . . .

But, in a reaction that may reflect the experience of Obama's presidency as much as his campaign, the Obama veterans are almost universally frustrated by Sanders's message, which they see as both less realistic and less unifying than what they offered in 2008.

"Obama got in the race to be president, and Sanders got in the race to send a message, and you can see that difference in their approaches to policymaking," says Dan Pfeiffer, who was Obama's communications director in 2008. "Obama wouldn't support a policy unless he felt it was feasible if he was president. Sanders doesn't seem to have that limitation, which gives him more message purity and a sharper contrast with Clinton, but is a huge substantive and political problem if he ends up in the White House." . . .

He doesn't talk about making progress by working with Republicans, or the political establishment, or the business establishment. I guess his plan is to build a mobilized grassroots that simply wrestles power away from those who have it.

It's not just that Obama doesn't think that's feasible, it's that he doesn't think that's the right way to govern in a pluralistic democracy where everyone gets a voice. Obama believes that there's too many Americans who don't have a voice, and too many Americans who don't have opportunity, and that a big reason for that is the power of special interests and big corporations. But he also believes that there's a place for those interests and corporations in our system. . . .

"In 2008, Obama's campaign was about channeling hope, and Sanders's is about channeling anger — well-deserved, righteous anger, but anger nonetheless."
I love the way that Sanders has activated and mobilized the liberal core, especially the way he is getting more young people involved in the political process. And I love the way Hillary's supporters are responding with equal involvement. I even love hearing that record numbers of Republicans are showing up for their primaries and caucuses. The more people involved in exercising their rights as citizens, the better. We need to have conversations and debates, give issues serious consideration and give everyone a voice.

I don't love the way that many of the supporters of all of the candidates have gotten so concerned with having a voice that they've stopped listening and considering, and have instead turned shrill and mean. I believe in passionately advocating my positions and often do so, but I try to do it in a way that doesn't mock and minimize other positions. Once, when I was debating someone with whom I vehemently disagreed, he challenged me to counter his argument, that nothing would make him respect me more than the ability to destroy his logic. I responded that I had no interest in destroying him, that my goal was to understand him. That I wanted to figure out how we could find enough common ground in our positions to co-exist, since we share the same country and government and both deserve fair representation.

That's the thing that so often gets lost in our discourse. Our political opponents are not our enemies and they are not out to destroy our country. They are our neighbors and fellow citizens advocating for what they think is best. They want to see our neighborhoods and country succeed as much as we do, they simply feel there's a different way to achieve those goals. There are many times we'll feel those different ways are misguided and wrong, but even as we feel that we need to do our best to respect where they're coming from because, ultimately, "they" are "us." We have to all share this space at the end of the day, so we need to figure out how to make that work.

Even Donald Trump, who I believe is so fundamentally wrong in so many ways that the thought of him as president scares me to my core, even he should be heard and considered. Well, not him so much as the countless people who are supporting and voting for him. They have concerns, and we have to figure out how we are all going to live together, so we need to figure out ways to address their concerns. Maybe, I would hope, not in the ways that Trump wants to, but in some way nonetheless. They get a say in things, too.

We need to stop thinking of those we politically oppose as deserving of hatred and harm.

We have a great example of that kind of dynamic in the friendship of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia that has been highlighted since his recent death.
What made the friendship between Scalia and Ginsburg work

The reserved Clinton appointee and the bombastic Reagan pick had vastly different views on the constitution and the role of the court. . . .

“If you can’t disagree ardently with your colleagues about some issues of law and yet personally still be friends, get another job, for Pete’s sake,” is how Scalia once described their lifetime appointments. “As annoyed as you might be about his zinging dissent, he’s so utterly charming, so amusing, so sometimes outrageous, you can’t help but say, ‘I’m glad that he’s my friend or he’s my colleague,’ ” Ginsburg said. Sometimes, she said, she had to pinch herself to not laugh in the courtroom when Scalia said something audacious.

Even in that VMI case, Ginsburg was grateful for how Scalia disagreed: giving her a copy of his dissent as soon as possible, so she could properly respond. “He absolutely ruined my weekend, but my opinion is ever so much better because of his stinging dissent,” she said. Whether or not it was how Scalia saw it, for Ginsburg their public friendship also made a statement about the court as an institution: that it was strengthened by respectful debate, that it could work no matter how polarized its members were. . . .
I think most people would at least tentatively agree with this perspective in principle; the hard part is consistently agreeing with it in action. I know I don't always succeed. But I try. And I feel the need to reiterate the philosophy because of the tone of so much I read, hear, and see lately. Polarized doesn't have to mean condemned.
Addendum: Even as I was composing those final words, I realized it takes a position of at least some privilege and power to be able to exhort such congeniality. Otherwise the stakes can be too great to not fight more vehemently. But I am in enough of a position of privilege to be able to take a gentler approach myself, as are far too many others who don't. There is much room for improvement.

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