During the Fourth of July I try to recount some of the things that I love about this country. One of the things that I love is the First Amendment of our Constitution. The First Amendment guarantees the Freedom of Religion, the Freedom of Speech, the Freedom of the Press, the right of people to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Thomas Jefferson was not able to attend the Constitutional Convention because he was serving as American ambassador to France, but he and Virginia delegate George Mason insisted that a bill of rights be included in the Constitution. James Madison had initially opposed the inclusion of a bill of rights, but he then worked on and lobbied for the Bill of Rights to assuage the fears of Anti-federalists and to assure passage of the Constitution.
In these hyper-partisan times, we often look down on those who disagree with us. But for a democratic republic to work, we need to be able to work with people who have very different views and perspectives to work on solutions to the problems that plague this nation. The Founding Fathers worked on the assumption that no one group or ideology has a monopoly on truth. Progressives are right some of the time and wrong some of the time. Moderates are right on some things and wrong on other things. Conservatives are right some of the time and wrong some of the time. And the same can be said about democratic socialists, libertarians, and most other ideologies.
Authoritarian governments try to intimidate, silence or kill those who have differing views. Right wing dictatorships try to jail or kill off all leftists. Left wing totalitarian governments try to kill off or jail conservatives. In a healthy democratic republic, people with differing views debate on their various proposals on how to solve a problem, find common ground when those debates reach an impasse, and compromise and craft laws that will try to solve the problem.
All reforms will be imperfect. Whether it’s liberal reforms like the New Deal or the Great Society, or conservative reforms like the Reagan Revolution, you’ll see that some of the reforms worked well and some didn’t. All reform is a series of trial and error: we see what works and learn lessons on what doesn’t work, and we craft new reforms to fix and course correct. All healthy democracies are a perpetual state of debate and reform.
I’m hoping we eventually move away from these hyper-partisan times. When I watch some right wing or left wing commentary programs, the commentators teach the viewers to disdain those with differing views and they try to obliterate any potential areas of common ground. That is dangerous for a democracy.
When we look at the best of our political leaders, they are able to form friendships with those on the opposite end of the political spectrum. Thomas Jefferson and John and Abigail Adams were close friends even though Jefferson was a Republican and the Adams were Federalists. Conservative Barry Goldwater and liberal George McGovern became close friends in spite of their differing views on the Vietnam War and on the role of government. Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican Gerald Ford became close friends in spite of a contentious 1976 presidential election. Liberal Ted Kennedy and conservative Orrin Hatch were close friends who worked on important legislation like The American With Disabilities Act, the Ryan White Act, the Children’s Health Insurance Act.