Published in The Enterprise, 6-22-98

Common Sense and Common Ground

by Rocky Anderson

Now, with another campaign season upon us, the media is serving up the same old fare. One has difficulty finding a news article about the campaign or about individual candidates without the worn-out – and mostly meaningless – labels of “conservative,” “liberal,” “right-wing,” “left-wing,” or “mainstream” being appended to candidates and political organizations.

Most of the candidates are no more enlightening. Especially among the Republicans in this primary season, many of the candidates – and even party leaders – resort to similar name-calling. Rob Bishop, Chair of the Utah Republican Party, comments about whether the state GOP is being taken over by the “far right;” Don Ruzicka, founder of the Utah Republican Assembly, says that his organization is “conservative,” and claims that the rest of the country is more and more “liberal” and “socialistic;” and Lloyd Frandsen, unhappy that he is being challenged by the independent-minded activist Janalee Tobias, complains about the “extremist element” in the Republican Party.

For far too long, politics in the United States, and throughout the State of Utah, has been dominated by superficial debates between those who call themselves — or who are called by others – “conservatives” and “liberals.” Unfortunately for all of us, most of these folks have offered up no more than false, divisive choices for the voters. Their superficial approaches to the issues, as well as their tendency toward negative wedge-politics, leads us further into viewing political contests as nothing more than battles between “liberals” and “conservatives,” “left” and “right,” “ultra”-this and “mainstream”-that.

As voters, we can demand of candidates and political parties a more sophisticated and honest discussion of the issues. (And as customers, perhaps we can also demand more substance from the media.) No more should we accept the simplistic labels and symbols used by many politicians to confuse and to detract from serious dialogue about the real issues facing our nation, states, and local communities. Also, we should be wary of those who would create more divisions among us, rather than attempt to find common ground and cooperation in resolving our serious problems.

To observe the American political scene, one would think that we are divided into many warring camps, with nothing in common and without any shared goals. Perhaps that is why so many serious problems continue unresolved, much to the detriment of us all.

For instance, the issue of abortion has become a great boon to politicians who thrive on the politics of emotion and division. However, the common ground most of us share concerning reproductive freedom is essentially ignored. There are those who speak out against the right to abortion as if only they respect the life inside a woman’s womb. Others advocate the right of a woman to choose an abortion as if only they care about freedom and the welfare of women who are faced with what is perhaps the most difficult choice of their lives.

However, we all recognize the fact that many couples or women without partners face tragic circumstances, leading them to consider abortion. Most of us recognize that all of those circumstances cannot be foreseen by legislators, who would, by law, forbid abortions altogether or limit the availability of legal abortion to cases involving rape, incest or threat of death or serious injury to the mother. Most of us would concede that the decision to have an abortion is obviously a very personal, complex and difficult one. And we all know that, when abortions are illegal, wealthy women may travel to other states, or even other countries, where abortions are lawful and safe, while poor women will be left to resort to the butchery of back-street or self-performed abortions.

Thus, we find some common ground with respect to this very difficult issue. So why is it that, instead of addressing our common challenge to do everything we can to prevent the need for abortions, our politicians divide us over the issue of abortion? And why do they refuse to approach the issue with compassion and humanity, rather than with contention, venom and even violence?

In looking for solutions, there is much we can all agree upon, rather than simply continue fighting over our irreconcilable differences on this issue. For instance, we can all support effective, easily-available family planning services for men and women, including the dissemination of information and education for teens who seek it. Such information and education should, of course, emphasize the many good reasons to abstain from sexual intercourse. Effective education would go a long way toward increasing awareness of the responsibility men and women have for their reproductive decisions. And there would be far less demand for abortions if effective family planning education and services were available and widely-utilized.

We can all support the reform of adoption laws in order to assure that adopted children are placed in the best homes available. The stigma of giving up one’s child for adoption can be converted into something that society considers praiseworthy.

And we can all provide men with the encouragement and means to be responsible for their sexual conduct and to take an active part in the decision-making about procreation, adoption and parenting.

The views regarding abortion are often so polarized – and often so politically advantageous to pandering politicians – that common-sense solutions serving our common objectives have been ignored. Such polarization is destructive, expensive and detracts from good-faith efforts to resolve the serious problems about which we are all concerned.

Regardless of our views on the issue of abortion, we can all accord those with whom we disagree more empathy and respect, recognizing that advocates on both sides of the abortion issue are motivated by legitimate moral principles. Although our conclusions – and possibly even our premises – may be different, we are all striving, in good faith, to reach the best, morally-correct result.

As with so many other issues, the abortion quandary is not likely to be resolved by “liberal” or “conservative” choices. Rather, it is an issue about which we all share much common ground and which can be dealt with, at least in large part, in a cooperative manner. With that approach, our nation and our local communities would be well served. And far fewer abortions would ever be sought.