EDITORIAL: Differences and Disagreement

  

One doesn’t have to cause the other

By Myron Neth

I read with great interest a recent article by a former Missouri state legislative colleague, Jeff Roorda. As he stated, both the Republicans and Democrats seem to have a hard time accepting people who do not share a relatively narrow set of ideologies.  I can relate well to his dilemma, albeit me coming from the Republican side of things and him the Democrat.

I was a Republican elected in a majority Democrat district two times and tried to reflect my district accurately and its temperament. At times, it did conflict with some of my own views.  But in my actions, I attempted to follow the mantra stated by former State Senator Larry Rohrbach who said, “I try to decide how my constituents would decide if they had the same information I have.”  

It never ceased to amaze me, though, that no matter how supportive I was of issues in which a large portion of Republicans agreed,  I was measured mainly in the Republican party and the local party faithful, by the issues on which we disagreed. Nevermind the fact that I could win in a Democrat district, there were those in the party that would rather fight me on a narrow set of issues than support me on the issues we agreed and work to ensure a Republican seat.

It seems that disagreement is the focus today of many in the electorate on all sides. One of the most telling stories on such a state of affairs occurred while I was in office. My wife and I were guests at a large public outdoor event. We sat down at an available table with three other people.  Admittedly, I was not in the mood to have much small talk, but my more than friendly wife began a discussion with our table mates. They soon found out I was in the Legislature and upon some observation, I figured them more “left” of the political spectrum. That was fine and I focused the conversation on some issues in which I knew we would agree and we had a very cordial conversation. Up to this point, they had not asked my political affiliation. However, well into the conversation one of them finally asked, “So what party are you?”. I said Republican. And sure enough, their demeanor changed and they switched to an issue on which they probably knew we would disagree and the conversation ended shortly thereafter.

Finding differences seems to be the standard today.  Whether it be issues of politics within your own party or the other party; race, gender, ethnicity; even sometimes made up things.  Jefferson once said after his feud with Adams, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference in principle.” Finding differences and then defining them as disagreement seems to be a characteristic of America today.

This focus on disagreement by voters then translates to those they elect and leads to a political system that encourages not working together or finding consensus. You might call it the “politics of disagreement”. It is something done for the sake of itself and those who practice it do so at the expense of the larger benefit.  Most all are guilty of it, both voters and those they elect. It is time for all of us to look at ourselves first, before we look to others, and ask if we might actually be the root of the problem. Maybe then, there might be some semblance of truly looking beyond party or ideology for the purpose of establishing basic tenets of reasonable political and societal discourse.   

 

Myron Neth is a former member of the Missouri House of Representatives