As I began to read Senator Obama’s book, I already knew that I was going to disagree with him on several issues: health care, global warming, welfare, and many others--because he had the courtesy in the beginning of his book to tell me. I’m sure as well that he and I would have diametrically contrasting positions regarding education vouchers, but I’m also confident that we could sit down over a cup of hot chocolate and have a respectful and respectable conversation on the subject.
Which is more than I can say for a plethora of Utahns on both sides of the issue. It is the height of irony that a state that has one of the highest rates of religiosity of any of the United States can have such a rancorous, irreligious division when it comes to our debates and disputes about vouchers and other political issues. Here’s one of many statements that I have agreed with so far in Senator Obama’s book.
What’s troubling is the gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics—the ease with which wed are distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our seeming inability to build a working consensus to tackle any big problem.
What I fear about the Utah voucher debate is that advocates on both sides of the issue are so fearful of losing the debate that they have take as their weapon of argument the same acidic brand of politics that hatched such political debacles as the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings and the Swiftboat Veterans for [so-called] Truth. I fear that each camp is so fearful of their opponents’ bludgeon that they feel it necessary to mount their own pre-emptive strike of acerbic “shock and awe”. I fear that when the smoke clears, the activities of the voucher battlefield will have inspired an even more vitriolic baseline for the future of our political warfare.
In the big picture, which side achieves victory in the voucher debate matters relatively little. It instead pales in comparison to our most pressing political needs: (1) to seek to paint our political opponents as something other than our mortal enemy, and (2) an ability to seek first to understand their positions and points of view.
I’ll bet you know someone who disagrees with you about education vouchers. But I’ll also wager that you’ve never seriously tried to understand their perspective about them. It’s clearly uncomfortable when we experience the rejection that is our unreciprocated attempt to understand our opponent’s point of view. With nearly every such attempt, however, the fear of ultimately turns into the exhilaration of a gained mutual understanding. I know. I’ve experienced it.
So, as soon as you get a chance, find one of those someones that you know disagrees with you about education vouchers (or about anything else for that matter). Then listen to them. You’ll be glad you did.