Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
The Elusive Quest for Balance in Political Legislation
May 10, 2013
By Harold Heie
The biggest obstacle to politicians actually governing rather than posturing is their erroneous belief that their particular side has a monopoly on how to solve a public policy problem, and the views of the opposition have little or no value. This either/or rather than both/and thinking typically leads to politicians proposing inadequate, one-dimensional solutions to multidimensional problems, when what is needed is a proper balance that addresses the various dimensions of the issue. Examples abound of political legislation that has failed because of a refusal to seek this proper balance.
The stalemate in attempts to solve the federal budget deficit problem results from one-dimensional thinking on both sides of the aisle, where the options presented are either to cut revenues or to increase revenues. However, no real solution is possible unless we pursue both strategies, creating a workable balance between them.
The recent breakdown of proposed gun control legislation reflects a failure to adequately recognize and address the multiple dimensions of the problem of violence in America. The way forward should not involve only a single choice between either tackling the mental health and “culture of violence” problems that beset our nation or enacting some common sense gun control measures like strengthening the system for background checks. It has to include both.
The need for multidimensional solutions to problems extends to American positions on thorny foreign policy issues. Consider, for example, our stance regarding the seemingly intractable conflict between Israel and Palestine. There is little hope for resolution unless we recognize that the only viable solution will need to treat both Israelis and Palestinians justly, enabling both peoples to flourish. America will be on the wrong side of history if it fails to advocate for such a balanced solution.
If I am right about the need to seek a proper balance between competing views on most domestic and foreign policy issues, then that points to what I believe to be two primary reasons for the current gridlock in Washington.
The first is that proposing one-dimensional solutions to multidimensional problems is relatively simple. It is easier for politicians to argue for either/or solutions that lend themselves to sixty-second sound bites or bumper stickers and to demonize those who do not agree. Providing multidimensional solutions is demanding work. It requires a concerted effort to engage in respectful conversation with the opposing viewpoint, with the final goal of forging a workable balance. That is an enormous task since there will be much disagreement about how to define that balance.
A second and even more ominous reason for the current political gridlock is that our political climate tends to punish those who pursue balanced solutions. The intense lobbying efforts and large amounts of money that are expended on promoting the election of one-dimensional politicians thwart the political aspirations of those who wish to engage in principled compromise with members of other parties. This will not change until the electoral process is modified to make it harder for one-dimensional politicians to get elected. In its Guideline for Citizenship, the Center for Public Justice provides concrete recommendations on how to bring about effective electoral reform that can yield a more balanced assembly of representatives who reflect both majority and minority voices.
I am encouraged by the balance that I perceive in the proposal for comprehensive immigration reform that is currently being debated in the US Senate. For those legitimately concerned about law and order issues, the proposed legislation includes strong measures for strengthening border security and combating visa overstays. But it also provides a viable pathway to citizenship for those undocumented workers who are making an enormous contribution to our economy and our country and whose families are being decimated by current immigration laws. However, in the early stages of the debate on this proposed legislation, one-dimensional political voices are already speaking. Time will tell whether this balanced approach has a good chance of being legislated.
- Harold Heie is a Senior Fellow at The Colossian Forum and the Center for Faith & Inquiry at Gordon College and a former trustee of the Center for Public Justice. His website is www.respectfulconversation.net.
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”