IF had another great event last week and the room at Chez Billy’s was standing room only! Both Obama and Romney did not fail to deliver during a debate filled with fireworks and one-liners, but I was left reflecting on the comments during the discussion session. The one question that came to mind is whether our democracy is really relevant to the majority of our citizens and whether we have actually lost the ability to talk to on another about important issues,
One strong view that was put forward during the break-out session was that we in Washington, DC live in a bubble, and the fact that we are even having a saloon session to discuss these issues if something of a bourgeois concept. Having immersed ourselves in facts and figures to immediately critique the policy positions of each candidate during the debate, do we represent the average citizen? There was a consensus that we are not the norm, and the majority of American citizens, don’t have the time or inclination to follow all the details covered during the debate. This makes it hard to for the average citizen to truly vet each candidate’s position on the issues or even discuss the issues with on another in a meaningful way. As a result the debates become mere likeability contest, rather than the crucibles for ideas that will move the country ahead.
With this in mind the conversation flowed into a number of other areas covering the current state of discourse in America. A good portion of the discussion covered the varied educational and socio-economic backgrounds of citizens, and whether as a country will we ever be able to find common ground in our discussions with one another and rise above the current partisan gridlock we find ourselves in. While no definite answer was forthcoming we did have the issue of voter disenfranchisement come up. Specifically, we discussed how in many states, while still citizens, many felons coming home from prison have lost their right to vote in national elections, and thus their voice in the national debate about who will lead this country as president is lost.
This lead to a further discussion about how the de-emphasizing of civics and history in our educational system is another form of disenfranchisement that has lead to the further decay of our public discourse, as there is no common foundation amongst citizens to approach the variety of challenges facing the country. The group collectively felt that has lead to the acute increase in partisan politics with citizens taking positions that comport with their own self-interest and not that of the collective. One interesting illustration of this came from a federal prosecutor who described a case of voter fraud where one particular defendant sold her vote in a local election for the meager sum of $20. When asked why their vote was so easily purchased the defendants’ only response was that her kids would be able to have meat for dinner that week. This is not to say that her children should not have meat, but does that mean that it should be at the expense of exploiting a right that many in this country have fought and died for?