Cross-posted at Future Majority.
This blog is drawn from some writing I have in the mix for an upcoming article and was also prompted by a post at Future Majority this past week titled Consensus, Millennial Politics, and the Common Good.
The author Bergerc84 kicked things off with the following line:
“Peter Levine blogged about consensus today, and it got me thinking about Millennials, their affinity for collaboration, and how this impacts the current political environment.”
His thoughts became my muse as well. Will a new generation that is prone to collaboration bring an end to decades of hostile culture wars, bitter partisanship, and relentless political gridlock? Will we too spend the vast majority of our political energy engaging in back-and-forth diatribes over the hot-button issues of abortion, gay marriage, gun control, and global warming? Or will our generation finally rise above, forge a working consensus, and move our nation forward?
The Partisan Turn-Off: It’s Just Not Sexy!
Bergerc84 writes further, “Baby Boomers have been a force in political and social institutions for a few decades now, and their ideological debates alienate the Millennials who are coming of age.”
Donkeys screwing Elephants, Elephants screwing Donkeys, and each screwing their own kind—it’s just not sexy! There’s a lot that turns young people off in politics today—the money and corruption, the elitism and power play, the lack of personal integrity and authenticity—but partisan warfare and ideological rancor ranks high on the “why politics is so fucked up” list.
While there are those who clearly thrive on bashing and belittling the other team, who get-off on our overly competitive and combative politics, most people don’t want anything to do with our negative and hostile political environment—we want a positive politics, one that cooperative and collaborative, even while differences abound.
Overall, our generation is tired of culture wars and listening to the same old stereotypes and sound-bytes. As Bergerc84 contends, “Instead of being content with grand, ideological debates, Millennials want progress. Not only do they want to accomplish something, but they want to do it working together.”
Let’s be clear: there are still many in our generation who are carrying on the same old tired tradition as our parent culture. But there’s also something undeniably new arising with our generation, and with those who are coming of age right behind us.
We’re a generation that has been born into the heart of an emerging participatory culture, one that is far more active and collaborative than previous generations. This fact is transforming every aspect of our lives, including our political lives. Beyond the use participatory technologies and processes, and beyond creating a more open and transparent democracy, how will this affect our political dialogue? What will our partisanship look like? How will we deal with the pressing issues we face at this crucial moment in history that demand solutions from people of differing beliefs, values, and perspectives?
This August a youth civic engagement program named Arsalyn is hosting a conference in Washington, DC titled Bridging the Partisan Divide: Rediscovering Deliberation. They’ll be bringing together 120 young Americans from different political backgrounds to explore what many are calling “the lost art of deliberation.” (The conference is being held August 9- 12, if you’re16-20 or know someone who is, they can apply and if accepted almost all costs will be covered, including a travel stipend.)
There’s a double meaning in the title of this blog, as generation connotes both the rising cohort of young Americans and a new way of engaging in politics, one that is dynamically deliberative, cooperative and collaborative.
We need to reframe the political debate and dialogue of our generation. We need to transcend the “he said, she said” cross-fire politics, the drive-by political shoot-outs and the false dichotomy that has reduced our political possibilities to a menu of either-or, for-or-against, sound-byte ready choices.
There is no escaping competing conceptions of the Good Society. But as our generation enters the Public Square, we have to remember the foundational Common Good that embraces all Americans; we have to value the Common Ground that we all stand upon and the Common Democratic Republic that we’re all a part of. If we remain strictly part-isan and fail value the Whole and one another, than our politics is limited, narrow, and unhealthy. If we value the Whole as well as the part that we bring to Democracy’s deliberation table, then we engage in politics with a spirit and a vision that allows us to come together and to find innovative solutions that move us all forward.
Can’t We All Just Get Along: Being Comfortable with Disagreement
The call for a renewed deliberative politics is not some idealistic belief that we’re never going to passionately disagree with one another. The whole point is about “how we disagree.”
In a recent post by Matt Stoller at MyDD titled Getting Comfortable with Disagreement, he writes:
“I’m a partisan Democrat, and will be for the foreseeable future. But I believe in the power of ideas more than the power of political parties, which is why I never hesitate to make criticisms of anyone based on their arguments. It’s really quite silly to pretend that we all agree on stuff, and also that it’s necessary to all agree on stuff to win elections or wield power. The way you govern is you work through your disagreements by acknowledging them openly and submitting them to scrutiny. That’s called pluralism, and it’s the basis of the scientific method and political liberalism.”
Bill Ury, a prominent author in the field of conflict resolution, comments further on this topic:
“Our goal cannot—and should not—be to eliminate conflict. Conflict is a natural part of life. It brings about change. In the form of business competition, it helps create prosperity. It lies at the heart of the democratic process. The best decisions result not from a superficial consensus, but from surfacing different points of view and searching for creative solutions.
Ury goes as far as declaring, “We need more conflict, not less.” The greater our wealth of diverse political viewpoints, the greater chance we have to arrive at the integrated and effective solutions that are being demanded.
The True Progressive
Would not “the true progressive” be someone who could move the whole political system forward as opposed to only part of it? Should we not be striving for a politics that allows us to make meaningful progress on our most urgent national issues as opposed to a politics that keeps us mired in a “one-foot-forward, two-steps-back” cycle of politics?
Such a progressive politics is not a “middle-of-the-road” strategy but one that takes into account the “whole road” and therefore allows us to lead the entire road in a new direction and into new territory.
A quick example: instead of fighting over making the shift towards an environmentally sustainable society or not to because the changes and costs will hurt the economy, the true progressive acknowledges the value of both a healthy environment and a robust economy and arrives at the integrated solution of investing in a “green economy” and “green-collar jobs,” a solution that meets the needs of all parties and moves our nation and world forward.
Such a politics has been called many things, such as Third Way politics, Radical Center politics, and transpartisan politics. Like all things, it has its upsides and downsides, its more authentic forms and its more superficial sold-out forms. On this latter point, there’s always a danger in seeking out such a “radical forward politics” in that, instead of striking out on a truly progressive path forward, one is just splitting the difference, playing the middle, or pandering to the other side. This distinction needs to be very clear and will always be a potential danger. (This of course opens up a discussion about triangulation and the Clinton years. Also, here’s recent MyDD post titled Response from the Third Way.)
Generation Political Forward
Such a transformational deliberative politics lies at the core of what a true participatory democracy will look like, where citizens are able to input their opinions from multiple angles and, if we are committed to the true spirit and scope of our endeavor, we will be able to arrive at creative breakthrough solutions that a negatively polarized body politic will never be able to. Then at last we will be able to “break the broken cycle” and “dead-end debates” between the pro-war and the anti-war camps, the pro-choicers and the pro-lifers. Instead of being lost in the narrow dichotomy of rigid ideological viewpoints, we will have a robust and productive deliberative democracy grounded in a pragmatic spirit of problem-solving.
Our generation is coming of age politically at a time when we desperately need to join together to save our nation and the planet. Can we think “out of the box” and find the bold and innovative solutions that are being called for? Can we work together as Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, or whatever name we may identify ourselves as? Will we be a generation with a new politics that moves our nation forward as never before? If ever it were to happen, now is the time, and Millennials are poised to make it happen!
We at Barack the Youth Vote know that this is the immense potential that lies at the center of the Obama youth movement, which is why we’ve taken on the mission of mobilizing a new ‘generation’ of politics!
“Consensus can be carried too far. It can produce not only a dull world, but also an endangered one. Opinions need to differ. As long as they do, you will know people are alive, awake, not programmed, and still in search of truth.” ~David Brower
“When we put aside partisanship, embrace the best ideas regardless of where they come from and work for principled compromise, we can move America not left or right, but forward.”
“It’s precisely the pursuit of ideological purity, the rigid orthodoxy and the sheer predictability of our current political debate, that keeps us from finding new ways to meet the challenges we face as a country.” ~Barack Obama
“I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men, whether it in religion, in philosophy, in politics or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degredation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to Heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”
“But to form a free government; that is, to temper together these opposite elements of liberty and restraint in one consistent work, requires much thought, deep reflection, a sagacious, powerful, and combining mind.”