Respectful Competition: A Basic Requirement for a Healthy Democracy

A previous posting highlighted how the coarsening of our public debate in America has resulted from the use of extreme language that only seeks to intimidate, not to persuade.
Subsequently, there was the usual talk after the election about how the conservative winners should “moderate” their views, a code word suggesting that capitulating on key principles to liberals who lost the election was the only proper course of action. What a bunch of silly nonsense!
Politics, like business, is a competitive, contact sport. No one in their right mind believes that businesses become successful by not seeking a competitive advantage. Nor does anyone in their right mind believe that businesses become successful by appealing only to the most narrow customer base. Finally, no sensible person believes that corporate monopolies have any incentive to maintain the highest level of excellence that is a natural result of living in a competitive world.
Why should the competition for the best political principles and public policy initiatives be any different?
The losers in the 2004 election did not articulate a viable, competitive alternative vision for where America should go in the future. The best thing that could happen to our country right now would be for them to stop calling people names and start thinking outside the box. After doing that, they should come back into the public debate with innovative thinking that offers a truly competitive alternative to the winners of 2004.
Two current examples drive home what happens when there is a lack of competition in the political arena: Rhode Island politics and the spending habits of the U.S. Congress. The Rhode Island legislature is 85% Democrat, which means the minority party cannot, by itself, stop legislation. That means the majority party has no need to build a majority coalition outside its own ranks and no need to build a broader consensus. The citizens of Rhode Island are worse off because the lopsided majority means there is no competition for the best policy ideas and no way to stop officials from acting against the best interests of the citizens whom they were elected to serve. There would be the same problem if the state legislature was 85% controlled by Republicans; the pork-laden excessive spending by the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress reinforces that conclusion.
To sum it all up, I offer you a quote from William Voegeli, who wrote:

The inevitable post-election blather about unity fails to make the crucial distinction. A healthy democracy does not require blurring political differences. But it must find a way to express those differences forcefully without anathematizing people who hold different views.

Michael Barone wrote an interesting commentary on March 14, 2005 in which he suggests that the Democrats are out of gas. If true, there is a vacuum waiting to be filled by some new, creative leaders.

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