The American Consensus
Posted on April 15, 2010Gary Andres has a great column today about, as he calls it, “the myth of American consensus.”
As Gary puts it, “The myth concerns the level of political consensus in America. It’s a lot lower than most people think. Polls may show high levels of agreement on generic aspirations like peace, prosperity, or even a better education system. But when it comes to specific steps to achieve these goals, things begin to unravel.”
It’s an important point. We live in a big country. We have strong regional differences. We have many ethnic backgrounds. We have many religious faiths. We come from many different types of families. We have many different work ethics, educational backgrounds, dreams, desires, mores, lifestyles, colors and sports allegiances.
So, having some fierce partisan differences shouldn’t be that shocking.
Partisanship is a good thing, as long as it serves a larger purpose. And that larger purpose is to find ways for this big country to somehow get along.
Civil society is not easy in a big country likes ours.
It requires patience, understanding, flexibility, leadership, politeness, manners and an appreciation for other points of view.
Federalism is important in a big country like ours, because it allows different regions to develop different customs. That is important, because it is really hard to reach consensus on everything.
Race is one issue where it has been almost impossible to reach a national consensus. In fact, we fought one hot war over the issue (the Civil War) and one colder war (the civil rights struggle).
But race was an important issue to sort out, because it goes to the heart of our national character. The election of Barack Obama seemingly put that issue to rest once and for all, but a national consensus on race has still proven to be an elusive target.
Beyond the issue of race and interstate commerce, federalism is a pretty important way to basically “punt” on issues that can’t be resolved at the national level. On issues like gay marriage, abortion, gambling, liquor, regional differences are strongly divergent, making consensus difficult.
But that is ok. We don’t always have to agree on everything. We just have to find a process to agree on the things that we have to agree on (like national security, debt, etc), and punt on the things we don’t have to agree on.
Luckily, we already have such a process. It is called the Constitution.