There are a number of words one does not hear anymore, most of them slang: “twenty-three skidoo,” “boss,” “square,” “daddy-o,” “hip,” and the like. But in a more serious vein, politicians no longer use the word “consensus.” Consensus means to agree together. One builds consensus by a rational process of gathering the various views on all sides, and coming up with a proposal with which almost all but the most non-compromising holders of views will agree. Of course, the readers of this blog will realize that there are some things one must never compromise on, namely, those outright immoral things such as abortion and euthanasia. But politics is the “art of the possible,” and out of respect for the human dignity of the other citizens, those in office must try to get a consensus on questions placed before those officials, in questions that are not moral “yes” or “no” issues.
Take a situation where most of us find ourselves at least some time in our lives. Suppose that you are head of a social club, and the club wants to go to a restaurant for dinner. Suppose that there are ten members in this club, not counting you. Suppose six of the members want to go to a steakhouse, and four want to go to an Italian restaurant. Would you, as president, say, “All right, the steakhouse has won; it’s steakhouse or stay home”? Of course not. You would try to present other choices that all, or almost all, would be satisfied with. There is Chinese, Mexican, Thai, fast food, etc. You would take suggestions from the membership, so that an alternative might come up that you have not thought of, say, bowling instead of dinner.
The notion of consensus is a difficult one for experts. Take a real economist (please!). He knows what the economy needs in order to flourish, and knows what policies of government will stifle that flourishing. Nevertheless, his science and the political world are different in that unless one is a dictator, one’s science will not be implemented in its entirety, for the simple reason that not everyone is an economist, and, therefore, not everyone will see the truth about the laws of economics. In addition, many people’s minds are already poisoned to believe that the market economy is evil; among these are many Catholics. This is why the study of economics can be considered a civic duty, necessary for people to make sound decisions on the economic questions of the day.
Place politicians into the mix and the model becomes complicated. Most politicians have re-election uppermost in their minds. In fact, contrary to what the Founding Fathers taught, politicians like to have a life-long career in office. Take the recent cases of Senators Teddy Kennedy and Robert Byrd, who died with their proverbial boots on. Since politicians place re-election at the top of their value structure, their positions on issues are usually not determined by the merits of the case before them, but on what will win them the most votes. For example, in a recent debate, the Republican candidate for a Federal elective position recently pointed out that the Social Security system is in trouble due to the fact that it is just about out of money. The Democrat responded by accusing his opponent of trying to scare the people, and that there is plenty of money in the Social Security Trust Fund. But the truth is that the Republican was correct. President Reagan upped the Social Security taxes in order to accumulate money in the Trust Fund for the future needs of a growing elderly population and a smaller work force (thanks to the birth control fanatics). But the Congress raided that Trust Fund and replaced the money with IOU’s. There is no money in the Trust Fund. They spent it, and they owe the fund that gigantic amount of money when the time comes due. Think about it; we have a national debt of over $13 trillion, and a large part of that is owed to Social Security. This is just fact. The only way that the government can pay it back is to raise taxes. The Democratic politician in this example was trying to create a false sense of euphoria so that he, an incumbent, will not be held accountable for this situation, and get his necessary votes to continue his career in office.
Which brings us back to consensus. Any administration, even if they control Congress by overwhelming majorities, like the current one, should not just ram things through in the face of strong opposition, even if they think it is the best policy. Like in the dinner example above, a good, moral president and congressional leaders need to build consensus out of the sheer respect for those who disagree with them. Of course, this assures that no policy will be completely satisfying to all parties, but at least something is approved that everyone can live with. One of the reasons that Americans are so livid about the present political situation is that this was exactly what was not done.
Of course, the founders had the right solution! Government, particularly the Federal government, has no business being involved in many of these programs. They should be left up to the states or to the people themselves (see the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution). Our Faith teaches us subsidiarity: nothing should be done by a public authority that can be done by a private one, and nothing should be done by a higher-level authority that can be done by a lower one. Coupled with the public versus private distinction is also the fact that our Faith teaches us that WE are responsible to our brothers and sisters, and our own welfare. What government has done to a great extent is to take that responsibility out of our hands—so that we don’t feel that we have any responsibility. The government will take care of it. Gee, I don’t remember St. Francis saying that!

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