We are better working together than apart
Republicans, conservatives and Tea Party members aren’t my enemies. That’s why, despite our disagreements, I recently accepted an invitation to speak to the Tea Party group in Las Cruces.
“Do not think of knocking out another person’s brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself 10 years ago.” – Horace Mann
About a month ago I was invited to speak at a meeting of the local Tea Party, the group most associated with the ideas of limited government, low taxation and (locally anyway) disagreement with federal wilderness designations. I am a Democrat running for the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, and have been a fairly regular attendee of meetings of the local Progressive Voter Alliance.
After thinking about it, I accepted the Tea Party’s offer and last week attended a question-and-answer forum with the group. The decision was based on two principles:
• First, I wanted to ask them for their vote. Though we have issues of disagreement (the environment, unions, school vouchers), there are some that I agree with many of them on (nuclear power, economic development, fiscal responsibility, ethics reform, 2nd Amendment rights).
• The second reason, though, is more important. Even assuming none of them vote for me, if I am fortunate enough to win they will pay taxes that fund my salary. Therefore, it is important to hear their opinions while letting them know the process that I use to make decisions.
Apparently I was the first Democrat to agree to appear, and this surprised some of their members. However, the discussion was healthy, people were for the most part polite, and everybody shook my hand after we were done.
Reactions before and afterward, though, are a bit thought provoking. Friends on the left referred to my attendance with terms like “going in to the lion’s den,” while people on the right commented on the guts it took to speak before a group with whom I had many obvious disagreements.
A social dividing line that’s stopping rational dialogue
My friend Matt (a Marine Officer, an independent, and someone for whom I have the utmost respect) had a different take. He wrote me and said, “I am less surprised to hear you went to the Tea Party meeting than I would have been if you didn’t go. Why wouldn’t you? They’re New Mexicans right? They vote right? They’re going to be affected by decisions you make as PRC Commissioner right? Well then…”
That matter-of-fact response was enlightening, and his surprise at why this was a big deal highlights a relatively new problem in American politics: Political opinion is on the way to becoming as much of a social dividing line as more traditional barriers (race, religion, gender).
There are many speculations on why this is the case, ranging from the 24-hour, partisan news-cycle to the new need for constant political campaigning to the rise of interest groups. Fear over the current economic recession and frustration about our involvement in long-term wars have only added fuel to the fire.
Whatever the cause, anger among Americans with our political process is greater now than at almost any other time in our history. Examples of this include talking heads screaming at each other on television, political parties in Washington trying to block everything the other side proposes no matter the content, and serious calls for secession in both Vermont and Texas.
There are even new novels based on the premise of a second American civil war between liberals and conservatives. And this anger is stopping rational dialogue between people of differing political opinions.
Solving problems the American way
This is bad for Americans. One aspect that makes us unique is that our nation is not based on a specific religion or ethnic group. Instead, our society supports the theory that progress comes from decisions made through a shared discourse among all of us.
The preamble to our Constitution never talks about partisanship or division, instead referring to provision of the “common defense,” promotion of the “general welfare,” and securing the “blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” The minute we let fear and anger get in the way of our ability to have conversations about our policies is the minute we stop being Americans.
I am a Democrat and am proud to reflect many of the positions to which my party adheres. This means there will be many times that I disagree with those of different political persuasions.
However, my enemies are not Republicans, Tea Party members, or people who identify themselves as conservative. My enemies are unemployment, corruption, exploitation and terrorism – the same obstacles that all of us face in the pursuit of productive and happy lives.
Solving these problems needs to be done the American way: with the passion to involve ourselves in the democratic process and support positions we feel are important, the tolerance to understand that we are all different, the patience to understand that solutions will never go entirely our way, the courage to make compromises that will result in solutions better for the community, and the faith in our own process to know that while we may not always get what we want, we are better working together than apart.
McCamley is a former Doña Ana County commissioner and a candidate for a seat on the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission. A prior version of this column incorrectly identified McCamley’s friend Matt as a Republican.
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