Treating each other fairly in discussions

Published on Tuesday, 15 July 2014 22:01 - Written by

A great starting point for discussion — real discussion — between the left and right is to stop misrepresenting what the other side believes. That’s what’s preventing real discussion about what to do about illegal immigration, as children from other countries flood the border.

It’s also what’s stopping real debate about how to help the poor who are already among us.

President Obama is leading the way on this, as he claims that Republicans who want a secure border are heartless. Obama says Republicans are “using the situation with unaccompanied children as their newest excuse to do nothing.”

What he means, of course, is that they aren’t doing what he wants. The GOP clearly wants immigration reform, but its idea of reform and the president’s idea are have some significant differences.

Another issue where we see nothing but straw men being put up and shot down is poverty. Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth, a Democrat, has written a piece for Realclearpolitics.com that misrepresents how the GOP sees poverty, and government efforts to alleviate it.

“In 1854, Abraham Lincoln wrote that the ‘object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities,’” Yarmuth notes. “Lincoln believed, in other words, that government is how we organize our responsibilities to each other. Today, Republicans have a different view.”

Let’s take that statement one sentence at a time.

The Lincoln quote is spot-on. It explains the need for government in doing things such as building roads and defending the homeland.

Where Yarmuth goes wrong is his summation of Lincoln’s words. He claims Lincoln believed that “government is how we organize our responsibilities to each other.”

But that’s only partly true. Government is one way we organize our responsibilities to each other. There are many, many other ways, and often they’re far more effective.

Republicans don’t have a “different view;” they have a larger view. Republicans see a bigger role for the private sector, for families, for faith communities, and for individual philanthropy.

Why doesn’t the left respect these other ways to help? It was just a few weeks ago we reported on the objections many on the left raised about Starbucks helping its workers earn college degrees.

“Though admirable in spirit, the danger of this social enthusiasm rests in its private implementation,” writes Margaret Mattes for The Century Foundation. “Social movements and community awareness should be driven by groups, not individual billionaires such as Schultz and Bill Gates.”

In other words, private sector solutions aren’t solutions at all. Democrats see the government as the engine of all social change; Republicans see government as just a part (often a faulty part) of such change.

The real point here is that neither side is properly representing the other side’s perspective. That’s why the debate often devolves into name-calling and worse.

A more honest assessment of the other side’s positions is a starting point for real discussion.