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Monday, August 8, 2011

The Deseret News on Debt and Deliberation

An editorial in the Deseret News details how the debt debate demonstrated a deliberative deficit:

The prominence of the debt ceiling crisis showcased for the American public and world markets what astute Washington observers have lamented now for years: lawmakers are less engaged in the practice of deliberation than in the game of mastering the sound bite for maximum media exposure and fund-raising appeal.

In our representative system, citizens expect their representatives to do the hard work of carefully considering options, listening attentively to other viewpoints and reflecting maturely on how to move forward, while honoring the lawmaking process as well as other lawmakers. Such deliberation need not compromise on core principles, but it should avoid getting hung-up on ideology.

It could have eliminated competing press conferences and different versions about who walked away from whom in favor of listening and acknowledging the valid concerns of lawmakers with different priorities. And it might have done the hard work of balancing those differing priorities to produce a larger, more comprehensive package of deficit reduction in less time.

The debt ceiling negotiations, however, revealed that many of our lawmakers have either never learned or have forgotten the art of deliberation. Instead of observing mature debate, the public was subjected to repeated slogans that seemed crafted for campaign bumper stickers and direct-mail fundraising rather than legislative problem solving.


Thomas Jefferson once observed, "The qualifications for self-government are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training." In our opinion, lawmakers urgently need to restore the spirit of deliberation to their work. Although this may require some modest institutional reforms, the most important changes will come from lawmakers themselves as they demonstrate self-mastery, loyalty to the institution in which they serve and respect for the dignity of their colleagues. As the events of this past week have shown, the confidence of the American people and the health of world markets depend upon it.