The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

There’s a reason Nextel chose to run a commercial poking fun at Congress by asking the question, “What if firefighters ran the world?”

Speaker: “How ’bout the budget?_

Firefighters: “Balanced.”

Speaker: “Do we need clean water, guys?”

Firefighters: “Aye!”

This is what the majority of Americans think about Congress: Just get the politicians out of there so we can get stuff done.
Partisanship and ideology only cause gridlock. Or so the popular argument goes.

But at the end of the day, the political process often results in gridlock because there are very real differences in outlook among the American people. Take last year’s debate over extending unemployment benefits, for example.

Democrats wanted to extend unemployment benefits because it was the compassionate thing to do. Republicans responded by pointing to work done by economists like Lawrence Summers that indicated unemployment benefits actually prolonged periods of unemployment.

It’s intellectually lazy to claim that one side was being “ideological” when both sides simply had conflicting axioms upon which they based their arguments.

It was the same with health care. Democrats believed ObamaCare offered the best fix for an outdated medical system, while Republicans believed we needed to move in a more market-based direction.

To say that it is “ideological” for Republicans to refuse to sign on to the Democrats’ plan is like saying the Democrats’ refusal to sign on to President Bush’s Social Security reform plan was blind partisanship — both sides simply had principled differences.

The solution isn’t more “centrist” lawmakers who compromise for the sake of compromising. Instead, we need more politicians capable of articulating what they believe and persuading the American people that their policy is the best.

Contrary to what many say, the partisanship or incivility we see in Washington isn’t worse today than ever before. In the years leading up to the Civil War, some of the most bitter disagreements in our nation’s history unfolded in the House and the Senate.

But if you go back and read the speeches Abraham Lincoln gave during this period, you’ll see he continually made reasoned arguments for his position. He seemed to be genuinely interested in persuading the American people that slavery was an abomination.

Today’s politicians, on the other hand, rely more on emotional appeal than rational argumentation. Without persuasion grounded in reason, many of the long-term reforms our country desperately needs will be impossible.

Rushing to pass legislation won’t help. Politicians need the immense patience required to convince people of the rightness of their policies. Not only would this ensure that the policy is backed by a sustainable majority, but it would also help make sure the policy in question is actually a good idea.

As Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist George Will once said, “Gridlock isn’t an American problem — it’s an American achievement.” The checks and balances in our Constitution and tools like the filibuster help us promulgate the best possible laws supported by the broadest possible coalitions.

The recent gridlock stems from the dearth of persuasion, not a surfeit of ideology. We need to boost our standards for politicians if we want to get back on the right track.

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