Today, many Americans are again choosing to segregate themselves from those who are “different” from them. This is not based on race but on political party. It can be very uncomfortable to talk to someone who holds strong political beliefs that are different from your own. Politics and religion are two subjects people feel strongly about, and their opinions are frequently very personal in nature. It is easy to offend someone deeply, but that isn’t a reason to not talk at all. It is a reason to be very polite and civil in conversation.
When you start talking and listening to actual real people that you know with different political beliefs than you, you will probably find that there are a lot of things you agree on – many of which may surprise you. Everyone I know, on both sides of the aisle, wants to see health insurance reformed so that, among other things, medical decisions are made by patients and doctors, not by bean counters at a health insurance company. No one I know, even the most extreme right-wingers, actually objects to giving gay couples legal rights, such as hospital visitation and medical decision making for their partners. I know liberals who are pro-gun and conservatives who favor legalizing marijuana. These are all points of agreement for people on different sides.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t issues – and huge ones – but it does mean that there is a middle ground. Compromise is different from middle ground. In compromise, both sides give up in something. The middle ground is things both parties already agree on.
Where There is NO Middle Ground
In both the media and with politicians, there is no middle ground that people can agree on. They focus on opposition to or support of Obamacare. They dwell on church marriage as the only way to give gay couples the legal rights they don’t have, ignoring the possibility of reforming Civil Unions to fill this need. (People feel strongly about religion, and many marriage ceremonies are also religious ceremonies.) Both the media and politicians stake out positions that divide us rather than bringing us closer together. The middle ground is where solutions can be found.
The middle ground is where things get accomplished. Once we find the middle ground, the problem becomes smaller and we either have a solution or a starting point. If we don’t have a solution, we move on to compromise, but the compromises should be smaller since the problem is smaller. This makes it easier to find and implement solutions.
The Middle Ground Can Be Hard
Finding the middle ground can achieve a lot, but it is not flashy. It is not where we get great sound bites that will last centuries, like Patrick Henry’s famous quote “Give me liberty or give me death!” That leaves little room for compromise, but we all remember his name. Roger Sherman’s name is largely forgotten, but he had a profound impact on our nation. He was the primary author of The Great Compromise. The Constitutional Convention was unable to make any progress because large states wanted the number of representatives in the legislature to be based on the size of a state (bigger = more representatives) and the smaller states wanted everyone to have the same number of representatives. His solution was to have two houses, one representing the smaller states’ preference and the other representing the larger states’ preference. He found the middle ground. Without this contribution, our country would be very different indeed, if it had even managed to survive.
Who does this polarization help? Does it help you, as a citizen, when our government won’t compromise? Does it help our government function better? Does it help newspapers to sell and websites to get visitors?
When the Capitol Building was built, the Chambers were built with an aisle down the center. The two major political parties have traditionally set themselves on opposite sides of that aisle. That is the origin of references to the two parties beings on opposite sides of an aisle.
The next time someone brings up partisan politics, what question will you bring to the conversation?