In response to one of my recent columns, I received a very interesting email because I used the words “common good.”
The writer leads a group of grassroots activists dedicated to identifying and supporting House Representative candidates (in non-financial ways) who are likely to be public servants focused on solving national problems without regard for party ideology. I found myself in agreement with many of their premises, as I despair at the party ideology extremists in our current government that believe opposing the other side is more important than solving national problems.
This activist group shares a “dedication to our democracy” based on two key ideas.
The first is that they are anchored by principles that a majority of American voters agree on – vs. issues, policies or ideologies.
The second is that they are focused on problems a majority of American voters are concerned about, regardless of political party.
Besides providing a healthier basis for selecting better public servant leaders, I see these two concepts providing a path for all of us to have more honest and productive conversations within our community. If we can agree on principles and problems, we’re a lot closer to agreeing on what action our government should pursue. I would add that we also need to agree on the role of government before discussing how government can best address problems.
Quoting Thomas Jefferson, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.”
Two guiding principles stand out from our Constitution that are often ignored in important issues we face today.
The first is that the pre-eminent rights in a republic are those of the public, not individuals. This is where my use of “common good” comes in. When the exercise of individual rights potentially harms other citizens, you don’t have a republic – you have anarchy.
The second guiding principle is that we believe in equality of, and fair treatment for, all people.
If we can agree on guiding principles, can we next agree on the role of our federal government?
Historically, this has included:
• Safety and security – from international threats, domestic crime, unsafe products and unsafe work environments.
• Protection of a clean environment, including land, air and water.
• Supporting an economy and ensuring equality of opportunity to make a living.
• Recognizing as human rights such things as housing, food, education and healthcare, and providing a minimal safety net for less-fortunate citizens.
• Sustaining adequate infrastructure for transportation, power, water, waste management and telecommunications.
• Sustaining a judicial infrastructure with a rule of law to ensure equality and fair treatment for all.
With agreement on principles and the role of government, we should be able to more easily reach consensus on the best course of action to resolve problems we face today, such as: aging infrastructure, unequal access to healthcare, support for mental health, drug addiction and veterans, crushing costs driving education inequality, immigration and inequality of economic opportunity resulting in a widening income gap, millions of working poor and citizens deprived of the human right to shelter and food.
So, let’s look at a couple of examples of how we might have a better conversation guided by principles, the role of government and ideological-absent problem-solving.
Many people still foam at the mouth when you mention Obamacare, professing their opposition to Socialistic medicine. Do you agree that healthcare is a human right and part of fair treatment for all?
If not, then you are saying you are FOR the principle that people deserve to get sick and die because they cannot afford to pay for a doctor.
If you accept the principal but don’t agree that access to healthcare is a role of government, then what are you FOR in order to meet this human right need? Or if you simply don’t like the specifics of Obamacare, what alternative plan do you have to offer?
For over 10 years now, our country has been providing healthcare to millions via The Affordable Care Act and still its opponents have never offered a specific plan they think would work better. Which begs the question, what are they FOR vs. what they are against?
We have now been battling a highly contagious and deadly virus for two years. We have politicians and citizens aggressively fighting against mandates to use vaccines and masks, two proven weapons to dramatically reduce the risk of infection to self and others.
The argument is that they have an individual right not to use masks and vaccines. This puts them against the most fundamental principle of our republic, which is that the common good is more important than an individual right that would damage the common good.
Again, I would ask what guiding principle you are FOR and what problem-solving action you are FOR with respect to the worst community health problem we have seen in a hundred years?
A thousand-mile hike starts with a single step. We can change our national dialogue and the functioning of our government one step at a time if we focus on what we’re FOR in our conversations and select leaders that are FOR common sense problem-solving – regardless of party ideology.