Dear Chairman Tim Kaine: On he was elected the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama commented that “we have never been a collection of red states and blue states; we are, and always will be, the United States of America.” Even though President Obama made a direct appeal for unity, I am writing you to express my concern over the growing polarization in our country over the last decade. There should be no illusion that the recent election of President Barack Obama and healthy democratic majorities in Congress would quell the deep ideological divides present in our country.
James Wilson, in his February 2006 article “How Divided Are We,” defines polarization as “an intense commitment to a candidate, a culture, or an ideology that sets people in one group definitively apart from another, a rival group.” Currently, this separation exists between the Democrats and Republicans, or more loosely defined, the Liberals and the Conservatives. Partially, this difference sprouts from certain hot-button issues that are non-negotiable on either side, such as abortion or gay marriage. Indeed, social issues that present a binary choice strike so close to the moral foundation of many people that it may seem that this intense division between factions is inevitable.
However, inquiring further into this conflict, it becomes apparent that a host of other issues are entangled as well. For example, although everyone agrees that some sort of health care reform is necessary, the two factions have dramatically different ideas on the best way to accomplish that goal. Furthermore, the issues of taxes and the role of government in individuals’ lives serve to pull us farther apart. These issues are different because they are not based exclusively on an uncompromising set of religious principles, but rather on an economic paradigm.
At the level of economics, it may be possible to create a conversation between the two opposing sides to come up with a mutual consensus. Indeed, to accomplish many of our long-term goals as a country, it will become indispensably necessary to do so. For example, a health care plan could be devised which provides universal coverage but has at its core the principles of free market economics. An example of that sort of plan was instituted in the traditionally Democratic state of Massachusetts under Republican Governor Mitt Romney’s administration. In that instance, the final result came about from agreeing on a destination
As I have demonstrated, there can be room for compromise on issues that are not derived from religious convictions; however, getting to a consensus has been a high hurdle for both Democrats and Republicans. In general, that consensus must be achieved at the level of civil conversation, based on mutual respect and tolerance. Yet the modern-day political conversation takes place in highly insulated spheres: Rush Limbaugh preaches incredible conservative ultimatums to an extremely conservative crowd while Keith Olbermann provides a liberally biased perspective to a smug liberal audience. What we need to reach a consensus is a conversation that isn’t based on ratings or wins and losses, but takes into account what is best, and what can be achieved, for the benefit of the American people.
There will be no compromise on issues on which compromise is impossible. However, abortion and gay marriage are not even close to the most important ones we are facing at this juncture. With our economy in shambles and our nation engaged in two wars, I urge you, Governor Kaine, to use your position to take a stand for civil conversation, and in doing so, take a stand for America.