Friday, October 11, 2013

Michael Josephson: How are we going to get out of this mess?

  I am finding myself out of patience. I have listened to mostly sincere (to the point of self-righteous) politicians and partisan pundits excoriate the people they disagree with. They evade uncomfortable questions and explain why they are taking positions that may be based on principle but have become little more than tactical maneuvering. The focus is on who should get the blame rather than on how to fix the problem.

  I watch and listen with hard-to-suppress disgust and hard-to-avoid frustration and fear that I am witnessing the devolution of democracy. I truly worry that the men and women who govern our country are creating new norms that will permanently damage what was once the indisputably greatest democracy in the world.

  I see apparently smart and successful people doing and saying things without a thought for next steps. One group has no qualms about taking the country to the brink of all sorts of nasty and serious consequences with no exit strategy. The other side, believing there is tactical advantage in unyielding resistance, is unwilling to provide a face-saving way out.

  The deteriorating political situation would be farcical if the consequences were not so serious. A major part of the problem is the ignorance, indifference or tolerance of Americans who are not genuinely worried by both the current situation and its aftermath.

  The interesting thing is that at the root of this debacle are genuine principle-based disagreements about policy, about what is good, right and sensible. And though this particular disagreement centers on healthcare legislation, it is not essentially different from dozens of other controversies we must deal with: immigration, taxation, environmental issues, abortion, gun control. How this particular battle ends will have enormous precedential impact on how we handle other disagreements.

  So, irrespective of my views on the healthcare legislation, I think it is a great mistake to endorse political strategies that hold our entire economy hostage to a single issue. Though this position seems to favor the Democrats in this instance, I would take the exact position if it were a group of blue-vested politicians with donkey pins who were using the same strategy. I think responsible people on both sides of the aisle recognize the folly, but they have maneuvered themselves into positions where there is no room for real compromise.

  And while I believe all the main players truly believe in the rightness of their cause, the blatant adoption by both sides of ends-justify-the-means tactics discredits themselves and the process. It seems that every move and countermove is drenched in patently false rationalizations. We don’t need more politicians, we need statesmen who understand that treating the other side with respect is an essential platform for finding honorable compromises.

  Each side protests: They won’t negotiate! And, of course, each is right because the secret negotiation is about what issues are to be negotiated. Each side uses the term negotiation as a club rather than a strategy to seek peace.

  Like a marriage with no future, there are truly irreconcilable differences that separate each army. But unlike a marriage, no solution akin to divorce is possible. We have to find a way to live together and resolve differences. We used to be able to do that.

  The cynical, insincere posturing by both sides is dishonoring and damaging our heritage and I can’t muster the optimism to think of a scenario where it will all come out all right.

  About the author: Michael Josephson is one of the nation’s most sought-after and quoted ethicists. Founder and president of Josephson Institute and its CHARACTER COUNTS! project, he has conducted programs for more than 100,000 leaders in government, business, education, sports, law enforcement, journalism, law, and the military. Mr. Josephson is also an award-winning radio commentator.

  This article was published by the Josephson Institute.

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