The ‘deal’ hasn’t been formulated yet, but it’s already time to start talking about the details. As rumors fly and talking-heads expound, the American people have the opportunity and responsibility to decide now that they will work together to shape the details of the political and economic landscape through careful dialogue and deliberation. It should be clear to everyone these days that our political ‘leaders’ need our help…they’re in desperate need of a public reality-check.
Republicans and Democrats are ready to repeat the sound bites they feel will satisfy their most extreme constituents, and some have been willing to advocate for some vague outlines of future policy directions…but most of our ‘leaders’ are unwilling to put the well-being of the public and the world in a high enough priority to find compromises everyone can live with. This story starts with “It was a dark and stormy night….” Our ‘leaders’ are obviously unprepared for the challenges of the 21st century…so the public must step up with courage to open the conversations we need for long-term debt solutions.
Here’s the good news…and we certainly need some of this right now! We have a remarkable infrastructure in place for dialogue and deliberation in big cities and small towns across the country. If you’re interested in the breadth and depth of public engagement methods and organizations, the National Association for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) would be a good place to start (http://ncdd.org/). If you’d like to see a variety of governance options using public engagement, the Institute for Local Government (ILG) provides basic information and some helpful case studies (http://www.ca-ilg.org/). These resources just scratch the surface of an incredibly rich array of organizations and practices with the capacity to add value to our local conversations about difficult issues…local, national and global.
“It was a dark and stormy night…” in America…but it’s no mystery that both extreme sides of this dilemma are helping to keep the drama rolling. The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (also called Simpson-Bowles after the commission’s co-chairs) identified the need for both revenue and spending reforms in order to control and then to ultimately reduce our federal debt. A vast majority of the American people recognize we cannot cut the federal budget enough to make a dent in the debt…nor can we control our long-term debt without entitlement reform. It seems we have two extreme groups with their own ‘sacred cows’ they are protecting to the death. And…the rest of us are being held hostage by their unwillingness to compromise enough.
Revenues must be increased…but, when proposals to roll back the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy or to end some tax loopholes for the richest Americans, opponents characterize the wealthy as ‘job creators,’ worthy of special protection. Never mind the fact that handing our wealthier citizens extra cash hasn’t ever worked as a strategy in job creation…the myth has a nice ring to it.
Entitlements must be reformed and health care costs must be controlled…but, when proposals to reform Medicare and Social Security are proposed, opponents characterize every one of these efforts as ‘Medicare killers.’ These two beloved entitlement programs were created with a completely different demographic profile of the American public in mind…so it sounds reasonable to many people that some of the underlying premises of each may need to be reevaluated. But…it’s more persuasive to say any reform effort is a ‘killer.’
This part of our American story appears to be stuck for the moment at “It was a dark and stormy night….” How do we keep our story from becoming a tragedy…where the characters are drawn by their human flaws into self-sabotaging actions, and where many innocent people are hurt in the process? Yes, the answer is democracy…where the public gets to write its own story. It may be a great disappointment for Republicans and Democrats that our elected ‘leaders’ just aren’t up to the tasks we’ve entrusted them to do…but we need to recognize that possibility…and soon! Our American story won’t be written in sound bites or wishful thinking…it’ll be written by a vast variety of authors through careful conversations with neighbors and friends in a networked practice of dialogue and deliberation. Why will it be that way? We have no choice!