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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Inclusive Governance & Constructive Opposition

Next Tuesday, there will be winners and there will be losers. At first glance, the winners would appear to include the victor in the presidential and congressional elections, and their supporters; the losers would appear to include the runners-up among the candidates, and their supporters.
In truth, however, the winners might include both those victorious and those unsuccessful in their electoral bids, and their respective supporters -- so long as they revisit, as we must all revisit in our country, the role of an inclusive, governing majority and a constructive opposition. Those who emerge as the voice of the majority must reach out, across the aisle, to embrace, engage, and include the opposition in the work of governing and legislating for our country. And, in turn, the opposition must serve in its vital role in a democracy in a constructive manner.
This doesn't mean that the majority shouldn't seek to enact policies and legislation, or that it shouldn't govern on the whole, in a manner that reflects its values. It should do so, with confidence, without arrogance, with civility, and with an open ear to the voices and opinions of the opposition. In other words, those in the majority would be wise to acknowledge the limitations of their mandate. Such an awareness would then lead them to lean toward the center, toward moderation, whether from their elected position to the right or to the left of the political center. To be inclusive in governance means, by consequence, to respect the mandate of the opposition, as well, and to account for its perspective when determining policy. The majority must treat the opposition with respect and must aim to learn from its wisdom, not only because the opposition reflects a constituency that could easily become the majority in the future, but, far more importantly, because to do otherwise would be to diminish the humanity and dignity, and to disregard the intelligence and fundamental worth, of those with perspectives that differ from the majority.
Likewise, a constructive opposition is not one that is oppositional intrinsically. It should oppose articulately, passionately, but, always respectfully those matters of policy with which it disagrees. It should not oppose or seek to diminish the people who voice them, believe in them, vote for them, or legislate and enforce them, for many of the same reasons.
Respectful discourse -- civility -- is the only basis upon which our government, indeed our society as a whole, might ascend yet again toward the virtues associated with intellectual honesty, among them the capacity to govern, and to be governed, from the center of the political spectrum. Respectful discourse is required not only when the camera is upon us or when the tape is running. Respectful discourse is both the prerequisite for reclaiming our public and personal appreciation of dissent and divergence of opinion and the product of it. Our near-term and long-term viability as a society will depend upon our ability to rediscover our capacity to foster and project an inclusive majority and a constructive opposition, and it all begins with respectful, but, truthful discourse. Ultimately, such discourse and, by consequence, such an orientation toward governance, can return our country to the more moderate governments, most common throughout the history of our great nation.
As the Talmudic Sages taught with regard to those disagreements of opinion that are well-intended, but, unclear in their resolution: Elu Va'Elu Divrei Elohim Chayim -- Both opinions are words of the Living God.
May our elected representatives in government, whether of the majority or the opposition, always aim to reflect a purity purpose in their efforts, and may they always remember to respect one another for aiming to do so!
Rabbi Isaac Jeret
Spiritual Leader
Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay