A question I have been asking a lot of people recently is “What are the issues that are important to you this election”. It is a question I am asking with sincerity because I am convinced that people make choices because it “makes sense to them”, so whenever I encounter a point of view that doesn’t make sense to me, I first ask myself the question, “how does the world occur to this person?” Often, I find that even when I end up disagreeing with a course of action, I am better informed about the underlying principles and goals of the other person. This can provide a better space in which to engage in a discussion that can lead to a better decision for all.
So, why am I going to watch the Democratic Convention?
First, I believe it is our civic duty to be an informed electorate. It is simply not enough to depend on media outlets from MSNBC to FOX News and everything in-between to filter what we should know. It is important to listen to each party's unvarnished presentations and combine that with additional research to form a more informed decision.
Second, there is a huge difference between skeptical and cynical. If we take the position that the parties deserve no respect out of a cynical belief that both are corrupt and unworthy of our attention, then we make ourselves victims of the process. Certainly, it is healthy to be skeptical, to question the authenticity and validity of claims and statements, but when we take the position that everything that is put out by a party is unworthy of consideration because it is inherently false and misleading, we abdicate our rights and powers as citizens to maintain this republic as an institution that is worth preserving and has the possibility of making a difference for our lives and the lives of future generations.
Third, I believe that at the core of each of the parties, when you consider their ideals and aspirations, each has something worthy to offer. Oversimplifying a bit, to me the Republican party stands for maximizing personal freedom and responsibility, it intends to create an environment of opportunity that allows for individuals to grow as far as their hopes, dreams, ambitions and hard work will take them and strives to keep government out of our lives as much as possible. For me the Democratic Party stands for justice, caring for those who struggle to care for themselves and fairness for all. It stands for a shield to those who otherwise would not have a voice in our society. This is the magic of our two party system. I believe that given the right questions, respecting these ideals, much good can be accomplished in our society.
Do each of the parties fall short of these ideals? Of course! After all they are made up of human beings, and I have no illusion that individuals, unbridled by constraint are capable of selfish, irresponsible and despicable acts. I see no lack of evidence of examples of foolishness and intentional and unintentional exploitation on both sides of the aisle.
So it is how I listen to the convention presentations that make the difference to me. Out of a foundation of considering the respective parties at their ideals, I listen for what is the essence of the issue. I ask myself the following questions:
1) What is the real problem we are trying to solve here? For example, is the question “should we preserve Medicare as it is?” or is a better question, “How can we insure that our senior citizens who need it, have access to quality healthcare that is both sustainable and does not demand so much from our citizens that it puts at risk our economic well-being?” I suggest that the second is the better question.
2) What are the hard facts regarding the problem? Are we operating out of assumptions? Or are we making fact based informed decisions? In too many situations, our aspirations color our thinking and we come to poor decisions based on misinformation and bias.
3) What options (to solve the problem) should we consider? Do the options a) solve the problem? b) Does not create new problems that exceed the value of the problem that is being solved?
4) Finally, what are the costs of implementing the solution? How well do we understand the total costs? (Not merely the $ costs) Do the costs exceed the value of the problem solved? If they do, it would argue for no action, at this time, until better, more affordable solutions can be implemented.
So, I will be listening to this week’s convention, from a position of each party’s best ideals, working to avoid cynicism, but with a healthy skepticism to what the speakers say. I will apply my four point process to evaluate proposals and work toward making the best decision I can to elect leaders that will address the issues in a constructive way that will lead to a better tomorrow for ourselves, our families and the next generation.
I hope you will join me in this endeavor. We may not always agree on priorities and methods to achieve a better future, but if we work together with respect, we will move our country forward in a way that leads to a more prosperous and just society.