Skip to content

The Difficulty of Standing Your Ground

March 30, 2012

2008 popular vote by county, shading by percentage of vote. (Mark Newman, University of Michigan)

By Audra Gustin

This reflection is in response to PBS’ Gwen Ifill’s article on “Backbone, Consistency and Standing Your Ground” here.

A word frequently used when describing today’s political climate in the US is ‘polarized.’ Red-blue maps spread as centerfolds, displaying deep divides in the American political geography.

After all, once we reach the ballot box come November, there are only two decisive choices: Democrat or Republican. One can vote for one or the other, not both, or else not at all. What a politician says during his campaign matters, because we have to make that choice. We have to decide, yes or no. We have to decide who to believe.

Standing one’s ground sounds great. It signals courage and backbone. Politicians have been trading in this currency forever. They call it leadership, and voters usually agree…

We do like consistency. I was reminded of that this week when I sat down on Capitol Hill to interview retiring Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. As we chatted before the interview began, it hit me how long it had been since I had been able to get senators of opposing parties to sit down next to each other for a joint interview. At best, we are only able to get Republicans and Democrats to sit down “back to back,” rather than engage each other directly.

We usually believe the one who promises they can make decisive change. But how does change come about?  What makes us decide that someone can back up their promises? There seem to be two popular answers: bipartisanship with all the compromises that entails or sticking to one plan by overruling dissenting voices. The latter is considered consistency, backbone, standing your ground. It is far simpler than slogging through the complexities of intelligent, critical argument.

Bingaman and Snowe, of course, who represent the vanishing middle in their parties, are on their way out of the Senate. Their consistency is rooted in a firm belief in the value of bipartisanship. But Democrats on the left and Republicans on the right have come to treat the search for common ground as a sign of unreliability.

Of course, this issue would be moot if we didn’t disagree and have different ideas in the first place. After all, George Washington warned us in 1796: ”The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissention, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.”

“There’s not much of a center,” Snowe told me. “And we have to decide that the institution has to not only solve problems, but the American people have to give rewards to those people and individuals who are willing to work across party lines. There are no political rewards for that today.”

But this is our system, our democratic system, and our differing voices and decisions matter. In 2012, we, Democrat, Republican, Independent and unaffiliated alike, have to decide once again who and what we will believe and make our decisions. Will we remain divided or work together somehow?

So often our ideals clash with our actions, whether in life or in politics or in standing your ground.

How do we get beyond the moral high ground and chasm between that and intelligent, critical dialogue?

Please post your thoughts!

Audra Gustin, a student of intercultural communication, is finishing her M.A. in International Communication from American University. She is currently an intern with SFCG’s Communications Department in Washington, DC.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 29 other followers