Principles of Politics

I had a political discussion at work today.

I didn’t want to. I tend to be overbearing and info-dumpy when it comes to politics, and I didn’t think the client wanted that. In addition, I’m pretty sure that the client and I were not going to vote for the same candidates.

But our political discussion was civil, polite – and full of agreements.

Even though I still think we’re voting for different people, we spent the entire conversation agreeing on almost everything… because we weren’t actually talking about the candidates.
We weren’t even talking about specific issues, either – and I think that was largely why were always agreeing.

We were talking about principles.

This kind of discussion has been largely lacking from the public sphere. I’m highly supportive of attempts to bring it back as well. The basic idea goes like this:

You and I disagree on a policy point. Why is that disagreement there? What are you trying to achieve with that policy? What am I trying to achieve? Bringing the discussion back to this level – rather than specific policies or implementations – allows us to start over without the ideology.

Welfare (or TANF, I believe it’s called now) is a wonderful example. Why do I support wealth-distribution programs? Because people in bad situations need money to help them get out of them… and sometimes, they simply need that money to survive. Why do some people (my mom among them) oppose such programs? Because they don’t want to give someone a free ride.

Thing is – the former group doesn’t want to give anyone a free ride either. And the latter group is rarely opposed to helping those who need it. The existent policy debate obscures this fundamental agreement of principles and ideals.

At the level of discourse now, it feels like a disagreement on policy *is* a disagreement on principles, when it’s nothing of the sort. By backing up a philosophical step, we can remove that emotional trigger from the policy debate, and perhaps actually get back to doing the things we’re arguing about.