Friday, February 6, 2015

Congressional Gridlock: Is there no solution?

Imagine a group of people gathered together to deal with an important task but who could not decisively agree on any action. What would they do? Assuming going home is not an option, you might say, "Intelligent people compromise." And you would be right, BUT........that's not the reality in the U.S. Congress (or, for that matter, around the world in numerous conflicts).

In the west when faced with decisions we think: "Either-or." In the east, where ratiocination is more intuitive, they are more likely to think: "Both-AND."

On a political decision, one might say, "We must live within our budget and we must leave people to be free to help themselves." Another might counter, "But we must share what we have and help those in need."

Either-or thinking makes no solution possible. Both-and thinking admits that each has a valid point of view and therefore, how can we find a middle path?

If the middle is compromise, well, never mind because it's obvious our Congress isn't inclined to be either rational or open to different points of view.

Is there an ALTERNATIVE? I think so.

What if the both-and (right brain) members of Congress proposed something like: "Let's each try our approach and see how they actually work." "Huh? How?" you ask.

We have what we call "red" and "blue" states, don't we? We also have a long-held premise that grants to the individual states a degree of autonomy and independence. We see that the federal government administers certain laws or policies such as in areas of health and education by parsing out to the states a degree of latitude of implementation, often on a sharing or matching basis (for funds). Well, let's take that a few steps further and have a win-win!

Let's take one extremely controversial and important issue in our country: health care. It's a complicated issue, too, isn't it? What if Congress passed only broad-reaching goals and policies, leaving the red and blue states to experiment with different forms of health care for an experimental window of time (5 to 10 years?). Wouldn't the results of each's approach(es) speak for themselves? It could even just stay that way, assuming it works to the satisfaction of both sides. Simple, well, no, but what is there about health care in this country, including Obamacare, that is simple?

We need creative solutions to major problems. By breaking it down and giving latitude to simultaneously work out independent and locally sensitive solutions, we could all gain by one another's experience.

Our pluralistic society seems to guarantee there's little meaning to the term "majority." Sure, right now the Republicans "control" Congress. But by how much of a margin of percent? A president can, I believe, even win the election with less than the popular majority vote. In any case the margin of winning is almost numerically insignificant in major races and votes. It is most certainly an insignificant reflection of the "will of the people," for the people are clearly divided on most every important matter! Worse still, this is not likely to change in hundred years. Only in the unfortunate event of a major war or other disaster are we likely to have a sufficiently united sentiment on anything nationally.

We must therefore find new ways to accommodate our plurality. We already have long established, at least in principle, and largely in practice, the ability for people and groups of a wide variety of lifestyles and beliefs to accept one another and leave one another in peace. Let's, therefore, extend our cultural gains further. It requires no changes in law; just a change in attitude as to what's possible and good!

Though with less confidence (and less knowledge of the facts), I can at least imagine that even immigration policies could reflect the legitimate needs of individual states. I know that sounds outrageous, but think it through. Why couldn't INS work cooperatively with various states to implement certain policies in a way that takes into account the needs and attitude of a given state and its residents? I think this could be implemented, even if to a limited degree, for the benefit and harmony of all.

At the risk of digressing, consider this: the giant Soviet empire broke apart into smaller units. This trend of fragmentation of the bigger into the smaller is happening all over the world. People want; nay, demand freedom. And this trend is only just beginning. And we started it all!

We certainly don't want another civil war or to divide our nation but we are the world's authority (imperfect as we are) on co-existence, tolerance, respect and compromise. (Sure we have a long way to go, but, heavens, look around at other nations.)

Our strength has been, in part, the recognition by the Founding Fathers of the need for check and balance, and specifically, for the federal government to be held in check by the states. The states have certainly taken a back seat during the 20th century and that was fine, then. But now, the pendulum is swinging back the other way. With the internet, travel, and general other freedoms, we want to do it "our way." We want to "occupy" our space. Yet, our problems are so large, we can't do it only alone. No one state or nation, e.g., can mitigate globe warming, what to mention national issues such as health care, immigration, infrastructure or education.

But if we cooperate, we can do anything! And by cooperation I don't mean "one size fits all." Rather, we need "co-processing power": working together yet also independently. Both-And is NOT the same as compromise. Compromise leaves no one satisfied, often offering pale, limpid solutions instead of bold and creative ones. Rather, both-and says "Let's each be given some latitude to try out our ideas."

In fact, what's staring us in the face, causing some to drool, is the ability of an authoritarian state (yes, China) to get things done! Is THAT what we want? I don't think so.

To preserve our freedom, I would say we have no real choice. Everyone could be a winner and a player with a vested interest in positive outcomes. Most leaders, yes, even in Congress, are sincere but they are deeply divided and benefit from do-nothingness. Pluralism must therefore extend to governance. It's really that simple.

A tall order? No, not really. I think Americans might even be ready for a shift in consciousness in this direction.

Well, a bit far from the subject of meditation and "living yoga," but there you have it. A soap box.

Nayaswami Hriman