Though this column will not be published until Nov. 8, I am writing it on Oct. 28, well before the Nov. 2 election. At this point, the political pundits all say the election is too close to callso I do not have a clue as to who will be victorious. However, the point I hope to make is not dependent upon who wins or loses, but rather what happens after the decision has been made. And so my remarks are directed to all parties and their constituents.
The “right” to dissent is precious, but dissent itself is not. Frequently, there is a failure to make a proper distinction between these 2 propositions. Burning a school down or bombing a building are clearly inappropriate ways to express dissent and are examples of how extremists abuse a precious right. But there are subtler and more widespread abuses that, in the aggregate, may be even more troublesome to a free society.
The right to dissent arises when a society or an organization delegates certain individuals to make decisions on its behalf. This is so because if everyone made every decision affecting their life there would be no one else to hold accountable. In such a representative form of government, those elected to make decisions must act in the best interest of all, even though there may be those who disagree. Elected persons must, therefore, expect dissent, because it is a “right” of those who disagree. Our representatives are under a heavy responsibility to be fair and objective in their deliberations and decisions.
However, is it not also true that those who dissent are under a similar obligation? Are dissidents expected to air only their own parochial interests, or are they, like those in office, required to look at the entire picture before framing their own expressions of disagreement? I believe that if they wish to be taken seriously, those who dissent are required, at the very least, to give the same diligence to fact and detail as the decision-makers. Moreover, at some point they should come to grips with the question of the common good and when their own interest must give way to it.
Understanding this distinction, I believe, has taken on added significance in our current election process. In my lifetime, I do not recall a presidential election filled with so much rancor and bitterness. I am not comforted by the publishing of recent articles relating how underhanded the politics were in some of the elections in the early 19th century. The hope always is that we are moving forward in our decision-making process rather than reverting to the less civilized behavior of some of our forefathers. As I have listened to some of todays rhetoric, I am reminded of the speaker, who in the margins of his speech, had written, “weak pointyell like hell.”