On the Road to Election Day, Part VIII: Dissent is easy compared to getting things done-long live Olympia Snowe
On the day after President Obama was inaugurated, BlogHer.com Contributing Editor Dana Loesch posted this blog entry titled, "So is dissent still the highest form of patriotism?" The post invites discussion on that question, and concludes with this:
...people should not be surprised if there is criticism of the
President's actions in these next four years. If Obama does something
that conservatives don't agree with, they have every right to disagree,
just as liberals disagreed with Bush for the past eight years.
Afterall, we're just showing our patriotism.
Well, I gotta tell ya: As someone who is running for office (which is something Dana says she'll never do because, "The beltway harshes my mellow,"), I've had to give this question a lot of thought and I've come to see how overvalued expressing dissent in politics is compared to seeking consensus.
Let's take a very public, timely example.
How hard was it for Wilson to actual shout, "You lie!"? He says it was spontaneous (although in researching links for this post, I found this fascinating Psychology Today blog entry that challenges that). That the things that the president said just hit him and he reacted, based on what he feels he knows about the subject of health care coverage, federal contributions to that coverage and illegal immigrants.
And what did Wilson's display accomplish? Sure it showed dissent - from a whole lotta things. But at its basest, calling someone a liar is about as strong a dissent one can lodge when it comes to words we use to express ourselves.
But did it get done anything in terms of bringing about health care reform? Don't answer that. Yet.
Now, Olympia Snowe was tagged by TIME magazine as one of the key players in health care reform. And she's living up to that designation as she garners intense pressure from both the left and the right, working as she is to bring about a solution to a complex set of issues that a majority of Americans say needs attention (yes, really). And she's getting this whiplash from both sides even though a thorough review of the amendments she wants to make to the Baucus bill demonstrates that her suggestions are reasonable, intelligent, forwarding-looking and responsible - as you would expect from someone elected by some people in her state, but serving all the people in her state.
And so, not surprisingly, Snowe was named one of America's ten best senators - in 2006, during George W. Bush's second term. From TIME:
Because of her centrist views and eagerness to get beyond partisan
point scoring, Maine Republican Olympia Snowe is in the center of every
policy debate in Washington. Last year she was one of 14 Senators who
reached a compromise on President Bush's judicial nominees that
prevented a Senate meltdown between the two parties. More recently, she
helped craft an agreement to increase congressional oversight of the
Administration's no-warrant surveillance program, helping ease tensions
between the Senate and the White House.
But while Snowe, 59, is a major player on national issues, she is
also known as one of the most effective advocates for her constituents.
First elected in 1994, she goes back to Maine nearly every weekend,
often stopping in a small town for what she calls a "Main Street
tour" — walking the streets and visiting shops to ask people what
they're thinking about. "It's better than any poll I can think
of," she says. When Snowe returns to Capitol Hill, she looks to fix
the problems Maine residents have told her about: she successfully
fought to keep open two Maine military bases recommended for
closure last year, and last month she got passed a bill that will
provide millions to pay the heating bills of low-income people, a huge
worry in frigid Maine.
Senator Snowe fits a functioning three-branch federal government well and her role in getting things done - by seeking consensus that grows out of what she believes is good for her constituents and is shaped by recognizing the needs of her fellow legislators and their constituents - is what I value about her approach to her job. Also, having been an ombuds and a risk manager, no one is going to tell me that what Snowe does and the way she does it isn't what voters want. The evidence shows otherwise.
So, while dissent like breaking decorum and shouting "You lie!" at the POTUS may be brazen and a fundraising boon, it seems distractingly attention-grabbing and ultimately unhelpful to the majority of voters, not to mention those who can't vote, like kids, when it comes to running our country.
Then again, if someone like Snowe can get work done while others like Wilson relish in their perfecting of dissent, I can live with that.
As for who is the real patriot or what is patriotism, those have been trick questions since the time our country was just an idea and we all know it (and if you don't know it, then you're not a patriot).
Wilson and Snowe are both patriots - certainly in their own minds, that's why they've sought out public office, even if being a patriot wasn't their overrriding or number one interest in seeking public office.
But they are also individuals who are in their roles via a legitimate election process and they are, whether we agree with their tactics or not, using tactics that our country allows to be used until we the people decide otherwise. We can voice our dissent - and judgement - over their tactics all we want. But that doesn't make those tactics any less an expression of patriotism.
Bringing this full circle to campaigning for a small city's council: As a candidate for office, I must explain to people why I'm running, what I will do if elected and how I will do those things. I've had to put those answers onto paper and commit to them.
Now, can you imagine if I wrote down responses that centered on dissent and opposition? Can you imagine if you went to the League of Women Voters for an impartial batch of info on candidates and found that they're pushing an agenda of dissent?
Of course some people who want to get elected do in fact center their platforms on dissent and opposition and fighting. And in some, maybe even in many communities, that's what's called for.
But that approach must be one intended to reach a resolution desired by those communities - and not be dissent for dissent's sake shrouded by the blue smoke and mirrors of a debate about what is and isn't a patriotic way to accomplish (even in obstruction) some goal.
You won't see any dissent for dissent's sake in my responses for why I'm running for office and want to serve my city and its residents. Frankly, I get enough dissent for dissent's sake from my tween and teen, thank you very much.
Bring on the consensus building.
More food for thought on this topic:
NYT's John Harwood interviews Olympia Snowe (9/18/09) (in other words, see, listen for yourself)
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