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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Conflict and Consensus

Gary Andres, a political scientist who is a top public affairs consultant in Washington, quotes a 2002 book by John R. Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, Stealth Democracy: Americans’ Beliefs About How Government Should Work.

Congressional debates often reflect these deep differences as policy moves from campaign rhetoric to the lawmaking process. For example, large majorities of Americans said they supported “reforming the health care system,” yet working out the specifics became another story.

The same is true for stimulating the economy. Everybody is for that, right? Yet when Congress debated the economic stimulus bill last year it devolved into a partisan circus, with all the Democrats supporting their version of stimulus and Republicans promoting completely different ideas.

All the discord produced during these and many other debates just turns people off because they believe consensus should not be that hard to find. Hibbing and Theiss-Morse write: “People dislike political conflict because they think solving problems is easier than it actually is.” ... The myth of consensus on public policy explains why many Americans hate politics. They just don’t understand why Congress and the president can’t find common accord. The answer: that consensus doesn’t exist.

An Associated Press poll finds that 50 percent of Americans oppose the health bill that Congress passed last month, while 39 percent support it. In early March, the figures were 43 percent oppose, 41 percent support.