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Sunday, February 3, 2013

National Conversations and Deliberative Democracy

At The Washington Post, Carlos Lozada writes skeptically of "national conversations" and faults the president for promoting the phrase.
In 2006’s “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama hails the Constitution “not just as a source of individual rights, but also as a means of organizing a democratic conversation around our collective future.” He even defines our democracy “not as a house to be built, but as a conversation to be had.”
From his college days, Obama was imbued with the concept of “deliberative democracy,” explains Harvard University historian James Kloppenberg, the author of a book on Obama’s intellectual development. This is the notion that politics is “not just the registering of brute individual interests and tallying of the votes, but discourse, conversation, deliberation,” he says. “Individual interests are not a given but something to be developed in dialogue with other participants in your democracy.”
But deliberation is not mere conversation, which can just be an airing of grievances or other feelings.  Deliberation involves reasoned exchange on the merits of public policy.  Officials and political activists deliberate in order to reach decisions, not just to vent.