November 6, 2004
The Washington Times
To the Editor:
President Bush is being asked to "reach out to" the Democratic losers of the election on the grounds that the healing of the nation requires bi-partisan compromise of the winner's program. Others reply that Bush should spend his mandate, as he said he would, since that is what he was elected for.
The issue is community building. How does one put together a community as fractured as America today? How does a society which has lost its moral, spiritual, and worldview consensus get along any more?
The first level of community building is agreement on a common search for the truth concerning the matters at issue. We all live on the same earth, breathe the same air, drink the same water. We are increasingly rubbing elbows with people we had only heard about. We are, as we say, a "pluralistic" society. This commonness of world context is the reality of life. Objective reality is our common ground.
But community can happen only with people living in reality, not out of it. So the first level of community building has to be a common commitment to the truth of issues at hand.
Honest pluralism does not say that everyone can have his own truth. You can have yours, and I can have mine. Our recent (or any) election is an example of why that is an impossible view to hold. Views are plural, but truth is singular. Truth is either/or, not both/and. God either exists or does not. We need to know which.
Political elections are about choosing governors, legislators, judges. Politics is about law, and law is coercive -- either/or, not both/and. We all have some notion of what is really right and wrong, and thus we campaign passionately to ensure that the laws will go the right way.
So legitimate pluralism does not say that everyone has a right to his view (it might be wrong). Rather it says that everyone has a right to express his view, but that that view must be tested in the court of public opinion if it is to be imposed on the public as coercive law. Your view has a right to get into the debate, not because it is true, but rather to find out in the test of open public discussion whether it is true. The public is the ultimate jury.
Is the public infallible? No, but, in the long run, they are a whole lot closer to it than anyone else.
That kind of pluralism is precisely what our American constitution was written to ensure -- that there will be no coercion until a viewpoint has been publicly tested by elected legislators and made law. And the losers will not be shot at dawn, but can return to the fray at the next go around to present their case again.
Reaching out to the opposition thus does not necessarily require compromising that for which one has been elected. A good deal of compromise only ensures that there will never be an honest testing of the views in question in the public arena. Our constitution was written to promote open testing of real policies, not of compromised mush. That is how the public can come to further intelligent discussion and opinion.
So reaching out is, above all, promoting the candid discussion, a discussion where each side is willing to say, "If I am wrong, I want to know", a discussion where the opposition is encouraged to speak its mind, not shut down. Few things in life more honor another person than being invited into open, mutually respectful discussion on life issues. And, we need each other in order to keep ourselves honest.
A community based on mutually respectful search for truth will endure. The American constitution and community have survived so long because we have, not perfectly, but to a significant degree, done that.
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