Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it this weekend, but Gregg Smith (who founded the popular Electric City Weblog in Great Falls, Montana) is trying to start a series of “fireside chats” that could hopefully end up happening all over Montana. So, who knows- maybe a little civility could be coming to a town near you…
Last winter, David Weissman (owner of multiple Subway franchises), Dave Bertelsen (an owner of K&K Trucking), and I ran into each other at a party. In the ensuing discussion, we all lamented today’s partisanship and its interference with our country’s seeming inability to get much done anymore. That discussion turned into a dinner where we focused on potential solutions, and that dinner turned into our idea to host the “Conversation Conflagration” (we know, we know…we couldn’t think of a much better name in time for our invites to go out!).
This Saturday, August 2, we will be sponsoring this event, a bonfire at our home in Great Falls. We have invited a number of state and local politicians and candidates of both parties, with the express purpose of getting together in a friendly, social setting to discuss areas where we can agree, rather than disagree. We have already received confirmation from a number of those invited, and we are hopeful that this event will be a success and, further, replicated.
The point of the discussions, while informal, is to foster relationships. We might, of course, discuss specific issues, but only with the idea of finding common ground. These are not debates. By fostering relationships, we can address some of what we believe are recurring issues in partisanship:
· Assuming bad faith on part of your opponent. Hopefully, we can get past the hyperbole and extremism. We can recognize that someone who is pro-choice has a basis for that point of view other than wanting to “murder babies.” Likewise, we can oppose expansion of Medicaid because we don’t have the money to pay for it, not because we “want to deny health care to children.”
· Avoiding the situation where one never criticizes or acknowledges an error of someone in the same party, or provides an automatic defense for anyone in the same party. The GOP outrage when Gov. Bullock appointed John Walsh to the Senate was, in my opinion, muted by my guess that the GOP would have done the same darned thing.
· Defend one’s ‘side’ by blaming the other: Obama’s economy is bad. Oh yeah, did you see what Bush did? (Or didn’t do?)
· We cannot dismiss ideas based on the speaker’s identity (i.e., men have no right to discuss abortion; white males cannot discuss affirmative action)
· We will not marginalize, all well-argued positions are valid
· Disagreement with your beliefs does not make the disagreeable person evil. How arrogant it is to occupy a belief system that convinces you that, if someone disagrees with you, the opposing point of view is not just wrong, or invalid, but is somehow morally repugnant. What a comfortable cocoon to live in. But we suggest that such a belief system that relies on knee-jerk marginalization cannot withstand logical scrutiny. If a belief system makes logical sense, if it has any sort of quasi-objective validity, it can rely on persuasion, rather than arrogant dismissal of opposing points of view, anger, and suggestions of bad faith and moral reprehensibility.
We also want to look for ways we come to the same end by different philosophical means. For example, Democrats think that corporations wield too much power because they are injecting money into the political process. I believe that corporations wield too much power because they are forced to do so by the size and reach of government. Isn’t there a compromise hidden in there somewhere?
We acknowledge that there are some issues where the two sides will never ‘agree.’ Fine, let’s persuade the electorate of the merits of our position, but we must be able to do so without being termed racist/haters/homophobes/child murderers/etc. just because we oppose (your issue goes here).
We do not have grandiose plans, but we wanted to do something, and this is a start. We are hopeful that our neighbors in other Montana cities might take the reins and hold similar events in those cities. If anyone is looking for any ideas, or has any, please, please, do not hesitate to contact us.
To contact Gregg, e-mail: bigskylaw(at)yahoo.com