U.S. can disagree without becoming a country divided


Posted: Sunday, November 07, 2004

"The campaigns are over, the political theater is now yesterday's news. The only way we will move forward, to build the gas pipeline, to open ANWR, to open new mines, to rejuvenate the timber and fishing industries, to expand tourism, to fund and improve our schools, to keep our communities safe, is by putting partisanship aside and standing together as Alaskans."

Gov. Frank Murkowski, reflecting

on the 2004 General Election results

If Gov. Murkowski's statement was a motion, it would deserve a loud second.

The most difficult challenge facing those who were the victors at the ballot box will be making sure the nation and the state don't stay in the same rut. It's time to move forward.

On the state level, it's time to come up with a long-range fiscal plan while the price of oil is on our side, pump some badly needed funds into schools and local communities and revitalize our economy. That won't happen without a spirit of cooperation and nonpartisanship. The efforts of all Alaskans are needed if the state is to have a bright future in this 21st century.

On both the state and national level, it's time to take the bitterness and edge out of our differences of opinion and restore civility to our debates. Is respect for people who hold opinions different than our own a lost art? Are we so insecure in our beliefs that we have to attack those with different ones with labels that impugn their character? As a nation, aren't we tired of our own immaturity? We sound and act like kids on a playground calling each other names and throwing mud. It's not accurate to call half of the nation war-mongers any more than it's accurate to call the other half wimps and worse.

It's time to agree on this one fact: Love of country exhibits itself in different ways and that's what makes the United States of America the great nation it is.

It's worth celebrating that the nation can experience another close presidential election without the fear of falling apart at the seams. In fact, our deep political differences may very well be the best system of checks and balances that government at all levels has. Far from being a dangerous divide, our differences of opinion are what make this country great. It would be far more dangerous if we agreed about everything or were afraid to disagree. The worst thing we can do is let our differences drive a wedge between us. But we need to learn to disagree in a spirit of respect, not disdain.

No matter how your particular candidates fared in Tuesday's election, this much is clear: Most candidates did not win by big enough margins that they can afford to gloat or accept their victory as a clear mandate. Election results show the United States remains a nation deeply divided by its political convictions, and those who won Tuesday still must represent all the people, not just those who voted them to office.

And that's a good thing.

Our differences provide an opportunity to reach a better conclusion than if we all agreed on a particular course of action. What is troublesome is not that we don't agree, it's how we so bitterly disagree. The political climate in the United States could be greatly improved if we better understood the difference between dogma, debate and dialogue.

Dan Chay, a member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and a board member of the Center for Mediation and Community Dialogue, explains the difference this way: "A dogmatic attitude is 'I'll say what I think and I don't care at all about anyone else's opinion.' The goal of debate, by definition, is to win, which cultivates an atmosphere of competition and conflict. The purpose of dialogue is to discuss topics with the goal of increased understanding."

Dialogue isn't about talking issues to death. It's about seeking to understand the other side. It's as much even more about listening. And learning. And that leads to understanding.

It's time for people of all political persuasions and none at all to extend an olive branch to those who disagree with them. In doing so, the real strength of the nation will be revealed. Other countries are closely watching how we deal with our differences. It's time to show them the people of the United States of America can disagree without becoming a nation divided.

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