Discussion, debate is necessary

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Midland Daily News, January 18, 2004

Politics in America is an interesting phenomenon. Some people love it, but most people either hate it or ignore it. Yet it is an essential part of our American way of life and even, I dare say, our humanity. Politics, in its simplest terms, is merely the process by which we govern ourselves. And that is an essential human activity, especially in a democracy.


Does this mean that politics is above the human tendency to make mistakes? Not at all. In fact, because politics is public, "political mistakes" are more noticeable than in other aspects of life, especially personal life. 


One of the great characteristics of our American way of life is the freedom of individuals to engage in almost any activity, as long as they don't harm others. In the large sense, this means that an individual can set up his/her own business to sell products or some service.


This freedom also means we can worship as we choose. It means I can speak out on issues that concern me, as I am doing in this article.  These rights are protected by the First Amendment. That Amendment also guarantees the right to freedom of the press and freedom to assemble, i.e. protest or support publicly in a group a particular position on an issue.


Many provisions of the U S Constitution resulted from compromise, not from a dogmatic or self-righteous position. The founders compromised on the powers of government by establishing three branches and a bicameral Congress. They compromised on slavery. Compromise flows from open dialog and debate.


Open dialog and debate must be encouraged and entered into by all citizens in order to keep our democracy strong - even in the midst of terrorist threats.


This Constitution is lived out in politics. We elect our people at all levels of government to make decisions for the overall good. In doing so, debate ensues because people don't agree. And so they must compromise. Compromising is not necessarily a mistake.


Not all agree on the Bush tax cut, for example, or the new Medicare plan, or the way Michigan funds our schools, or the local cable contracts. Not all agree on public education, prisons, highways, and health care. Generally, decisions in these cases, even though wrought through compromise, do not result in people dying.


One area that generally has not involved debate and compromise in recent years has been foreign policy, because the issues were clear: the security and defense of the United States in general, and the resistance to Communism more specifically.  Since the fall of Communism, foreign policy has involved more global and international cooperation because of the complexity of the world situation.


President Bush changed the focus of our foreign policy without debate and compromise. Essentially, he thinks that what is good for the US is good for the world and he will enforce that view with preemptive unilateral war, even nuclear war, if necessary. The war in Iraq is one example of the Bush Doctrine. Other examples are the rejection of or refusal to enter into multinational agreements and treaties, including the International Criminal Court.


This change in policy, however, has resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries not only to Americans but innocent Iraqi people and others. And it was done without a debate because we citizens tend to stand by our President when it comes to foreign affairs. There was also no debate because the Bush administration obfuscated the issue by telling Congress and the people Iraq was an imminent threat to our security through Iraq's WMD and link to 9/11. We now know that the WMD do not exist and there was no link to 9/11.


Going to war against Iraq was a very serious mistake.  President Bush must be held accountable for this mistake.


Voting is very much a political action. In this election year, let us listen to the candidates for President and look more carefully at all the issues, but especially foreign policy issues. Can we afford to ignore the rest of the world? Can we afford to snub our allies? Can we afford to be arrogant in our dealings with other nations? Can we afford four more years of George Bush? Whether your answer is "yes" or "no", the answer is politics. And whether you agree with the implications raised in this article or not, discussion and debate about them are essential to making democracy work.