In a country that seems increasingly polarized along ideological lines and a Congress that is paralyzed along party lines, it’s good once in a while to remind ourselves that, while sometimes the differences seem insurmountable, we’re really more alike than we are different. More than a third of Americans label themselves as moderates, which means we are anything but homogenous even in our divisions.
My job forces me to get out of the house where I must actually communicate with people from all walks of life face to face, a radical concept in our modern world of self-selecting electronic isolation. What I’ve discovered is that, with a few exceptions at both ends of the spectrum, most people are fairly reasonable. When provided with the facts, there are many issues that we could work together to solve without getting hung up on areas of disagreement.
Since today is Friday, I thought I’d close out the week by highlighting just a few issues that I find we share widespread agreement, in many cases backed up by polling.
Red Light Cameras
I’m not suggesting that red light cameras are a broad national issue but there is widespread agreement that they represent a type of law enforcement that no one really likes which I call “gotcha government.” Most people see through the industry-commissioned opinion polls and fluffy PR prices and recognize red light cameras are really just another way to tax motorists. Even in the Democratic bastion of Chicago, nine out of ten support changing or dumping the red light program with 68% thinking they’re a bad idea. The public relations line from the companies running red light camera programs is that the cameras are all about safety. That argument falls flat on the reality that if red light cameras were really about safety, then cities and municipalities would be using the money the cameras generate to fix the problem intersections. Since that’s not happening, it’s safe to assume the safety angle is, as we all suspected, a big, fat lie. The entire industry is a cesspool of political corruption.
Whether to the left or right of center Americans have a low tolerance for cheating, especially when it comes to elections. By overwhelming majorities in both parties we support national standards for voting including poll hours, voter eligibility and the design of ballots. The issue of fairness in elections crosses all party, racial, gender and socioeconomic lines by wide margins. As a people we value our democracy above our personal politics and that is a very good sign.
Hatred of Congress
To be completely fair America’s view of Congress has been on a steady decline since 2000. Today the approval rating of Congress stands at an anemic 19%, roughly the same level of support one would expect for a root canal. We may disagree on the issues, we may disagree on the solutions but there’s widespread agreement, on both sides of the political spectrum, that the way Congress is approaching our common problems is simply not working. By a massive 31% margin Americans are ready to show their elected representatives the door.
Militarization of The Police
While there is widespread disagreement as to the causes and details surrounding the recent unrest in Ferguson, MO, one concern that cuts across party lines is the militarization of small town police departments. Equipping police with combat fatigues, assault rifles and armored personnel carriers transforms their image from law enforcement into an occupying army. While the difference may largely be one of perception, it’s an important perception. Civilian law enforcement is what separates the U.S. from third world dictatorships and that concept runs deep in our national psyche. We may disagree on the merits of the force deployment, we may disagree about equipping police departments with military hardware but nobody likes seeing soldiers on American streets, including our troops in the Pentagon.
While there are broad disagreements on economic issues, Americans love a winner and enthusiastically support those willing to strike out on their own. With jobs being such a hot political topic, entrepreneurship is something that appeals to both sides of the political spectrum, albeit for different reasons. It’s great to have a job but the person who owns a successful business has achieved lifetime employment free of the need of government benefits. When entrepreneurs succeed, everyone wins.
It’s also good to remember that just because your neighbor disagrees with you on a political issue, that does not make them an enemy. It means you see the problem and possibly the solution differently. So this weekend unplug from the electronics, go outside and meet your neighbors. Remind yourself that, even if we disagree, we’re still all in this together.