This is the 3rd and final blog in this series reflecting on former Congressman Mickey Edwards’ book, The Parties Vs. The People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans. The previous blog is Turning Democrats and Republicans into Americans.
“A successful democracy is largely dependent on shared values and a commitment to civil discourse. A nation that is allergic to nuance and complexity can offer little guidance to its elected officials; a nation that cannot tolerate ambiguity or weigh evidence cannot easily be brought together in a common understanding of the community’s problems, much less in a reasoned conversation about proposals to address those problems. (This is why the decline in educational standards and the disappearance of classroom instruction in civics and critical thinking are so devastating to our attempts at self-government.)” (Mickey Edwards,Kindle Loc. 2307-11)
Trying to make everything black and white, perhaps for some makes life easier. All or nothing thinking is also a thinking found commonly in teens and in people suffering from addictions. The world however is far more complex and nuanced than black or white thinking allows. Mickey Edwards advocates for changing our way of looking at things in political America – everything is not Democrat or Republican and there certainly is not just one issue that governs our lives or which politicians must grapple with to govern the nation.
Additionally, those who think “the other party” endangers our country might be happier in a one party nation – Libya under Khaddafi, Iraq under Saddam, Communist North Korea or Russia or China are a few examples. A one party system may make life considerably easier for those with all-or-nothing, black-or-white thinking. But in a true democracy, many different ideas exist, and the people have to form a governing system that deals with the variation and the minorities. That is the democracy envisioned by America’s Founding Fathers who created three independent branches of government (not 2 political parties) to balance power. And anyone who reads history realizes the Founding Fathers disagreed on many fundamental issues and debated furiously about them.
Edwards in his book offers the example of Ben Franklin who realized the implication of democracy in a society which allowed various opinions to co-exist. Franklin had resisted signing the Constitution because he objected to parts of it, but in the end he embraced a compromise realizing that is the nature of democracy.
“Franklin readily admitted that there were parts of the Constitution ‘which I do not at present approve’ but, he added, ‘I am not sure I shall never approve them. For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others.’ Franklin closed his remarks with an appeal to his fellow delegates to join him in approving the Constitution that guides us today. “On the whole, sir,” he wrote, “I cannot help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it would, with me, on this occasion, doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to the instrument.” (Kindle Loc. 2349-55)
Ben Franklin understood that individual’s all-or-nothing, black-or-white thinking could not hold the United States of America together. Too much power given to two opposing parties will not keep the States United. As Edwards, as well as many other historians, have pointed out, the founding fathers generally abhorred political parties. “We the people” are responsible for limiting the power of government in these United States. We also have to come together to limit the power of the political parties which do not have a balance of power as their main goal, nor the interest of “we the people” at heart, but who strive to preserve and increase their own power in politics.
“The beautiful thing about our governmental system is that, in the end, the power rests with us. We don’t just determine whom we elect; we can also dictate how we elect them. In many states, legislators can submit issues to a vote of the people themselves. In addition, twenty-four states allow citizens to bypass the legislature altogether and put important questions—like changing the congressional redistricting process and eliminating closed party primaries—on the ballot.” (Kindle Loc. 2577-80)