The day that I posted that item about Joe Biden, I had meant also to post a good word about Nikki Haley. Or to be more specific, a good word about an even better word she used.
Having anyone use such a word, especially in such a context, is a rare thing, and one that deserves to be encouraged when such an occasion arises.
So, a few days late, here you go. I’m referring to something she had to say on the subject of abortion. See if you can find the word:
Haley said Tuesday that she does “believe there is a federal role on abortion.” She added: “I want to save as many babies and help as many moms as possible. That is my goal. To do that at the federal level, the next president must find national consensus.”…
Yeah, the word is “consensus.” I would fully explain why that word is key if I had time. And it would take a lot of time, because the reasons it appeals to me are so alien in this ones-and-zeroes age in which we live. It would take so many words that lately I’ve been thinking about writing a book about it. But if I were a betting man, I’d lay heavy odds against that book being written. I don’t know when I’d find the time, between the commitments I have at the moment. Especially since I have another book sketched out in my head that I would write first. I don’t know when I’m going to get to that one, much less the consensus one, which is far less fully formed.
But it’s there. And I thank Nikki for reminding me of it.
Perhaps I should explain that I don’t see consensus as key to solving our abortion problem alone. Consensus is something we need on many, many issues, from guns to the national debt limit.
But abortion does provide a particularly stark example. The challenge is, how on Earth do we get from this small thing of an otherwise unimpressive candidate using the word in a speech — in this case, to try to recapture some of the moderate appeal that taking down the flag won her several years ago — to the point at which we have the consensus to which she refers?
I don’t know. Which is a good reason why if I get time to write a book, the other one is coming first. I’ve got that other one pretty well mapped out.
But I’m increasingly sure it’s what we need. And abortion is a good example of why we need it. I don’t see any other way of approaching it that gets us to where that issue — and others — stop tearing our country apart.
I don’t know how else even I, personally, can get to where I feel that we’re on the right track.
You folks who’ve argued vehemently with me over the abortion issue for years probably think ol’ Brad is pretty pleased now that Roe is gone. But I’m not. You see, while I am most definitely and clearly opposed to legalized abortion on demand — to human lives being made subordinate to other individuals’ “personal autonomy” — I’ve never been able to feel at home with the way folks on “my side” approach the issue, either.
And I’ve always seen it as destructive to think of the issue in the terms in which it has been framed in our politics for the last five decades, with both sides embracing the notion that “if we can just elect a president who will change the court so that a majority of justices vote our way, the problem is solved because then we can just cram it down the throats of those bastards on the other side.” Excuse the language, but a big part of the problem is that too many of us now view those who disagree with us in that way.
Consequently, I’ve never made an electoral decision based on such thinking, but millions of others have, and I’ve watched our representative democracy — which is supposed to be based on the deliberative process — crumble away as they have done so.
So what do I mean by “consensus?” Well, that’s hard to explain, especially since most people who read my words have been conditioned to think in ways that preclude understanding it. One thing it is not is numbers. You don’t think in terms of, If I can get five votes for my side and the other side only has four, I win. Consensus is about getting the group to think, Is this something all of us can live with?
It’s the way we got through our morning meetings every day when I editorial page editor at The State. My goal was always to guide discussion of each issue to a position that respected, to varying degrees, the views of everyone in the room. That may sound like a recipe for incoherence, but it wasn’t. We took very clear and strong positions. We just didn’t leave dissenters figuratively bleeding on the floor in defeat. The advantages of this approach ranged from enabling us to move on amicably to the next difficult issue — not a small thing when you have so many issues to consider — to helping us arrive at solutions that were more practical because they might appeal to a broader range of readers.
I didn’t invent this approach. I had actually first encountered it when I served on the parish council of the church we were attending in Tennessee in the early 80s. Our priest didn’t want us to vote on issues. He urged us to seek consensus instead. A lot of us thought this was kind of nuts, but I ended up being impressed with how well it worked.
This idea will engender all kinds of strong objections, and I’ve heard most of them thousands of times. Hearing them again will likely just persuade me even more that I’m on the right track here. Most of the objections — such as, “You just want to force everyone to think just like you!” — will be wildly off-base. But I know what I’m saying is a little hard to follow, in the America of the 21st century. Which is why so many people will reject the premise of this post entirely. Not everyone, but probably most people.
I grew up in what was probably the most consensus-rich time in American history. My favorite examples, which I often cite, tend to include that stunning series of accomplishments when LBJ was president — the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and so forth. Sure, LBJ was a masterful politician, but he was blessed with a country that, for all its differences, was open to a good argument.
There were still vestiges of this in evidence in the later decades of the century, showing up in Reagan’s amnesty on immigration, and the all-too-temporary banning of assault weapons. But try accomplishing such things in an era in which, for far too many in our country, “amnesty” is a cussword.
Of course, it’s more than a process or a strategy. It’s more an attitude among the population involved in the process. And how do you get people to have that attitude? How do we get from here to there?
Well, I don’t know. And Nikki Haley doesn’t know, either, which I suppose is why she didn’t take questions after that speech. But I appreciate her using the word…