On March 26-27, the National Constitution Center will host an interactive, interdisciplinary forum and workshop titled “Can We Talk? A Conversation about Civility and Democracy in America.”
Conference participants, drawn from such fields as history, political philosophy, political science, law, sociology, journalism, and communications, will explore both the historical and contemporary context of civility, dissent, and democracy.
As a warm up, we asked some of our guests: “State and national governments will be wrestling with deficits for years to come. What can we learn from the budget showdown in Wisconsin about building the political consensus needed for long-term solutions?”
Sadly lacking in our current political atmosphere is the willingness to compromise. The country and many states are currently running large deficits. Like any individual or family, when one spends more than one makes you will eventually run into debt. The obvious answer is to raise taxes and/or cut spending. Americans are always very adverse to higher taxes; in fact this runs from the very beginnings of our independence. However, keeping our tax rate low (and it is lower than that of most developed nations) at the expense of education or social services will only increase the occurrence of many more expensive problems in the future. It is time that politicians think of the future rather than the next election.
Munir Kreidie is a teacher with the Philadelphia public schools and an actor.
A $3.6 billion budget shortfall is a serious matter. However, lawmakers leaving the state to prevent a vote on budgetary proposals are more of a concern. Long-term solutions are needed to end budget deficits, but even short-term strategies won’t occur when political ideologies prevent two parties from working toward compromise. It is apparent that the people of Wisconsin are ready for conciliations, but it is also evident that they are not looking for a solution to come at the expense of one group. It is time to enact a new era of understanding, which doesn’t target a small group of individuals, but rather focuses on broad changes that benefit the citizens as a whole. Perhaps those that are exercising their 1st Amendment right to assemble in protest will help to inspire the need to attain political consensus.
Dayna Laur, Social Studies Teacher, Central York High School: York, PA and Buck Institute for Education, National Faculty Member
The Wisconsin budget showdown emphasizes our tendency as public citizens to try to deal with large, complex issues in black and white terms. It’s a coping mechanism because the challenges we face are simply overwhelming. Rather than deal with the system failures or outdated approaches that led us to the current state, we choose drastic actions that give us an immediate sense of accomplishment and resolution. The chainsaw always seems to win against the chisel.
Shannon Maynard, Director, Bankers without Borders, Grameen Foundation
One way in which to have a civil dialogue about state budgets in this economic downturn is NOT, as Governor Christie has done in order to raise his political capital, to demonize public sector workers by holding them responsible for the budget crisis. The New Jersey governor has taken a page from Ronald Reagan’s playbook as he does everything in his power to equate teachers with “welfare queens” (while simultaneously promoting the interests of big corporations and the financial sector). Civil dialogue requires that adversaries listen to each other. Really listen. And be open to seeing (at least trying to see) the merits of an opposing view. And it starts at the top. Only in this way can adversaries find common ground and work together for the benefit of all citizens.
Ralph Young, Professor (Teaching/Instructional), Department of History, Temple University
Photo from Flickr user: OnTask