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Take Time to Listen

In the April 2010 issue of Christianity Today Charles Colson has an editorial entitled Channeling the Populist Rage.  Near the end of the piece he writes:
The tea party movement may have a lot of traction in America today, but it makes no attempt to present a governing philosophy.  It is simply seeks an outlet—an understandable one—for the brooding frustrations of many Americans.  But anti-government attitudes are not the substitute for good government.  We should be instructing people enraged at the excesses of Washington and the growing ethical malaise in the Capitol to focus their rage at fixing government, not throwing the baby out with the bath water.

I am not part of the tea party movement and so this is not coming from a supporter of the movement.  Rather, this comes from a person who believes in liberty, personal responsibility, and limited government (I know those words mean different things to different people, and one day I will have to get around to defining them so we can be on the same page) who sees in this paragraph what is wrong with the political climate in the United States.

The first problem that poisons our current political climate is to characterize the opposition as ignorant and emotional.  Colson does this by painting a diverse group of people with a large brush.  By claiming the tea party movement is primarily anti-government and devoid of a governing philosophy he stereotypes them as people who are motivated by their emotions (enraged) rather than principles.  The fact is many of the conservatives who make up the tea party movement are people of principles, and it are those very principles that have them out protesting the government.  Remember, the main purpose of the opposition is to oppose, and that means that most of the rhetoric will end up being anti-whatever, but that doesn’t mean that people are anti-government.  I come from a family that is deeply and passionately Conservative and I don’t know one of them that are anti-government.  In fact all them have a deep respect for the government and its place in society.  We shouldn’t equate opposition to certain pieces of legislation as being anti-government, because in many cases that opposition is about keeping the government within the limits of its power. 

Now I would admit that the tea party movement in particular and the conservative movement in general would benefit from taking the time to educate people in the principles of liberty, freedom, capitalism, federalism, and democracy.  There also needs to be education about the history of the founding of the United States and the creation of the Constitution that serves as the rule of law for our federal government.  In other words it is by educating people in the very principles that we say our country holds dear that the tea party movement is able to “present a governing philosophy” to people.

The second problem that poisons our current political dialogue is false dilemmas.  Colson does this when he writes; “We should be instructing people enraged at the excesses of Washington and the growing ethical malaise in the Capitol to focus their rage at fixing government, not throwing the baby out with the bath water.”  What there is not a third option?  It is either we fix government or we abandon government, but there are other options available to us.  We could say that we need to establish a new government or we could sit back and enjoy the status quo.  I personally would like to move beyond fixing government to restoring government so that we could be more in line with the Constitution.  It is not an either or world.

What these false dilemmas do is to set up good guys and bad guys.  Taking Colson’s example you are either an intelligent person who works to fix government or you are an ignorant person who wants to throw the baby out with the bath water.  It is hard to have an intelligent conversation about anything if the other person sees you as ignorant, and that is the attitude that permeates so much of the political dialogue today.  “Intelligent and thinking people hold my position,” we say, which means that if you disagree with me you are uneducated and ignorant.  We saw this on both sides of the recent Health Care Reform debate.  According to liberals if you opposed the bill you were big business goons only interested in your own wallet, and according to conservatives if you supported the bill you were a socialist only interested in expanding government’s control. 

To bring civility to political discussions we need to take the time to hear what the other person is saying and take the time to understand their point.  That doesn’t mean we have agree with them, but it does mean that we seek to understand what they are truly saying so that we can debate their actual point, not the point we created for them (which, in all likelihood, I just did with this post).

When we don’t take the time to actually listen to what is being said then we will paint people with the brush of our choosing.  Chuck Colson says that the tea party movement is anti-government, but from what I have heard it is pro-Constitution which means it isn’t anti-government but rather limited government, and there is a difference.


Anonymous said…
I doubt that you are making much of a contribution to limited government, personal responsibility and liberty if you are not working with others to accomplish it. Even the Lone Ranger needed Tonto.

Husker Red

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