THE BLOG
07/31/2012 11:29 am ET | Updated Sep 30, 2012

Are We in Violent Agreement?

"Don't look now, but you're in violent agreement," goes the line about the couple who has been arguing for hours only to be told that they actually agreed a long time before. Angry and argumentative Republicans and Democrats would find such an expression nonsensical when applied to their "fundamental and philosophical differences," but that may just prove the point.

On health care, they seem to agree that sick people should not be dropped from their insurance coverage, that pre-existing conditions should not disqualify someone from getting insurance, that policy costs are rising too rapidly, that health care costs too much, and that people should be able to choose their own health care policies and doctors.

On government debt and deficits, they seem to agree that both are dangerously large and that government should not foist its debts on future generations. But they also seem to agree that raising taxes and cutting programs -- at least the taxes they hate and the programs they like -- are not such good solutions.

Speaking of those programs, they seem to want the following mostly left alone: national defense, foreign policy, airline safety and deregulation, food and drug safety, law enforcement, homeland security, educational grants and loans for college, raising educational standards in elementary and secondary schools, improving air quality, eliminating the dangers of pesticides and other pollutants, medical research on cancer, heart disease and a host of other ailments, fixing roads and bridges, auto safety, the safety of bank deposits, consumer protection against dangerous products and business predators, and Medicaid for the elderly and very poor, and Medicare, Medicare Part D (drug coverage) and Social Security -- at least for current beneficiaries.

On regulation, they seem to agree that it is overdone but sometimes necessary, such as when it protects public safety, health, and financial security -- in short when it is directed at just about every program in the preceding paragraph. Said another way, they agree that the government should not be so much "in my face" but that it is sometimes essential for it to be in your face.

On politics, they seem to agree that it is too nasty, brutish, and long, infused with too much tainted money, too unethical and too seldom solves real problems, producing cynicism and distrust.

On personal rights, where there is clearly some substantive disagreement (e.g. abortion, gun control, gay marriage), they still agree that government has no business interfering with "my rights," however I define them. And, in fact, personal rights have, in response, grown on a steady trajectory over time. If you doubt that, think about where and how you can choose to live, go to work, go to school, who you can pal around with, date, and marry, what you can say, publish and where, who you can vote for -- and how easy it is to vote -- and what you can buy. In nearly every instance, you have more rights than you did 50 or even 25 years ago.

On the political system, they seem to agree that we ought to work within it not abandon it. The desire to improve Congress, the presidency, and/or the courts speaks to a basic belief in the system and the rules of the game. Hardly anyone seems to be calling for a new Constitutional Convention (and most of those who ponder such a step seem to agree that it would be a very bad idea).

Perhaps like arguing friends or couples, we should step back and take note of what we agree upon. The purposes of government have been pretty well fixed since 1787: does anyone really want to edit the Preamble to the Constitution? We do differ on means, and those differences do matter: how should government exercise its responsibilities and how should we pay for what we agree to do? But that's a far cry from differing on basic ends.

Relationships can fall apart when people forget what brought and ought to hold them together. We should take more care that our relationships with each other as citizens and countrymen don't end up in divorce when all we need is a timeout and more respectful listening.