Unity Government
By A. D. Freudenheim

22 October 2000

In the third and final U.S. Presidential debate this past week, candidate George W. Bush emphasized a number of times his desire for "unity," his hopes that he can end the "gridlock" in Washington, and his willingness to bring Republicans and Democrats so that he can be a more effective leader. Yet there is something frightening about this: it suggests that Bush truly does not understand the value or importance of partisanship, because he does not value disagreement or dissent.

In Bush's articulated vision for the US federal government, it seems that the legislative branch would become the working tool of the executive branch; Republicans and Democrats would work together to pass Mr. Bush's favored legislation. But a Congress bowed in devotion to a Bush presidency is not a body of elected representatives, it's a pool of yes-men (and women). Members of Congress in both houses, regardless of party affiliation, should be worried, as should the American people.

Bush appeal for political unity seems much more about his inability to lead effectively in an environment with a multiplicity of views than - as he has claimed - his desire to create a more effective government. Perhaps in Texas, the governor's easy bi-partisan approach (so famously negotiated with the leader of the Texas legislature's Democrats upon entering his first term in office) makes sense, given that in Texas the "left" and the "right" are, on average, a lot closer together politically. Yet at the national level, the number of different voices, constituencies, and needs grows exponentially. Mr. Bush must learn how to handle debate and dissent: tolerate it, even encourage it, and not attempt to suppress it.

The unity government that Bush is calling for is fitting for periods of great strife and strain, when appealing to the American people in order to defeat one singular, deadly enemy. Yet today, America is not involved in fighting a major war, or focused on an identifiable "enemy within." We are a prosperous, powerful country with no one single challenge, but rather a range of problems that must be addressed. In order to proceed most effectively, what this country needs is a multiplicity of views. We must listen to as many intelligent voices as can be brought to bear on our problems, so that the course we ultimately choose to take is not necessarily the "obvious" or politically expedient one. Serious debate, followed by a vote, should remain one of the cornerstones of our federal legislative process, and it should not be sacrificed in the name of presidential marketability. Already, our two-party system narrows and limits valuable voices significantly; debate between the Democrats and Republicans should be encouraged, not further suppressed.

Unfortunately, Bush's ability to appreciate this governing principle is low; his belief seems to be that an effective government is one that, as he would say, "gets the job done." This is an arguable point indeed, because it assumes one consistent view of the problem, to say nothing of the possible solution. A discussion of effective government is another topic entirely, but unless one's view tends either towards the authoritarian (where most views are prescribed by law or dictatorial whim) or the anarchic (where no government is good government), dissenting voices are an asset and a strength. Certainly in our representative democracy that should be the case.

Debate, as we witnessed three times, is something that Bush attacks frontally, but from the perspective of presentation and not intellect. Style over substance. The devil of American politics is definitely in the details - details that Bush has not shown himself able to master. So regardless of what happens at the presidential level, let's not shoe-horn our legislature into the same one-brain-size-fits-all box. We have too many challenges ahead of us to face them with that kind of intellectual handicap. Let the voices be heard!

Copyright 2000, by A. D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired!