February 3, 2013

KARR-KAITIN: Celebrate Democracy

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The pomp and circumstance of inauguration weekend serves as a reminder that we are a nation whose democracy has somewhat more of a regal air to it than we might like to imagine. The presidential inauguration features decadent balls, cultural and political aristocracy, military parades (prominently featuring the musket-toting minutemen of my hometown) and, most importantly, a proud Chuck Schumer pontificating like a father speaking at his son’s bar mitzvah.

Yet at the same time, there is something tremendously affirming about celebrating our democracy. I couldn’t help but feel proud to watch John McCain, who was himself just one Sarah Palin away from the presidency, smiling and clapping as his former opponent took the oath of office. To see Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Clarence Thomas, whose ideologies differ as widely as any of the judges, arrive at the inauguration hand-in-hand reminded me of what our nation can be at its best. When we put aside ideological differences, we recognize that we are a nation of people who have a shared fundamental belief in representative democracy.

At the end of the day, the reason why America and other successful democracies have proved so efficacious is that their citizens, by and large, trust that whomever is in power will approach government with good intentions. Ideally, liberals believe that conservatives are misguided not because they are flawed people who don’t want what’s best for all Americans, but because they disagree about how to achieve the best result for all Americans. The same hopefully can be said about conservatives to liberals.

When a president is sworn in, it may be that nearly half the country rues his appointment. But when our democracy functions best, both political halves of the country are able to come together and recognize that the only way we’re going to move forward is by allowing leaders we disagree with to be empowered.

So, when two ideologically opposite Supreme Court justices walk hand-in-hand, they represent more than just the Court’s respect for the democracy from which it was born. They represent the utter necessity for ideological counterparts to come together for the sake of democracy. We get away from that spirit when we let hatred, prejudice and ignorance obfuscate our ability to see each other’s best intentions.

It’s not difficult to understand how racial prejudice and hatred impede our collective ability to see the best in people. If we see each other as sub-human and deserving of fewer rights than ourselves, then paying their political positions any sort of respect makes no sense.

But while we might not think of ourselves as racist, prejudiced or ignorant, many of us are intolerant of those who disagree with us politically.

Many liberals argue that President George W. Bush had no other objective in Iraq than obtaining oil at the expense of American blood and treasure as a sort of ultimate truth. Yet those same liberals cannot for the life of them understand why many conservatives believe that Barack Obama’s true desires for our economy are further government control over Americans for the sake of further government control.

Neither one of those statements are true, and both hinder on the conspiratorial, but I would fashion a guess that they are both arguments you have heard time and time again. The ascribing of nefarious motivations to Presidents has been a bipartisan endeavor as old as time, but it stands in stark opposition to the democratic ideals we claim to adhere to.

And when the lesser angels of our nature rear their ugly heads, they have the power of stopping our democracy dead in its tracks. So, when the Republican state government in Wisconsin and its Republican governor are on the verge of passing and signing a law that would essentially undo all public sector unions in their state, the Democratic minority ought to do all they can do to oppose them legislatively. The outraged pro-union forces in the state ought to do all they can to demonstrate and counter their political opposition. What should not happen, however, is that the Democratic senators decide to go into hiding in another state in order to prevent the legislation from passing.

The same can be said for Republicans in Washington whose use of the filibuster prevented Democrats from achieving much of their state national agenda, even though they had control of both houses of Congress and the White House. The reason why Republicans can defend their use of the filibuster, and Democrats can celebrate abdicating state senators, is because both sides ascribe diabolical motives to the other. In reality, neither the Republican party, nor the Democratic Party, want to destroy the American way of life. So let’s stop pretending like we are locked in a battle to save America.

If you disagree with me, then I encourage you find a conservative or liberal friend of yours and talk to them about politics. If you approach your conversation from the perspective that you both have positive goals, and only differ over how to achieve them, I guarantee you will stop seeing your ideological opposites as your ideological enemies.

Then, if you’re comfortable, pull a Ginsberg-Thomas and walk hand-in-hand in celebration of democracy.

Noah Karr-Kaitin is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at nkarrkaitin@cornellsun.com. Plain Hokum appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Noah Karr-Kaitin

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