I have listened with interest and admiration to the On Being episodes from the Civil Conversations Project. The abortion and same-sex marriage episodes were riveting both for the issues they explored and for the ethical drama of the participants engaged in such candid and honest dialogue. But the final episode, on budgets and the deficit, left me cold, and rather appalled. A "civil conversation" between a Republican senator and a member of the Erskine-Bowles commission--really? Between what or whom are Alice Rivlin and Pete Domenici building bridges? They're both standing in the same place. The perspective on the problem presented in their conversation is deeply ahistorical and a-causal. There are missing frames here, and I am sad Krista was unable or unwilling to provide them. Has the deficit simply always existed, growing and growing into this leviathan the two parties are too timid to take on? Or did the deficit come into being at specific historical moments for specific reasons? What are those reasons? How did Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid come into existence--who has challenged those programs, who has defended them, and why? The U.S. budget is a scene of class struggle, and class is, shamefully, all but taboo in our public discourse. The poor have been losing in that struggle for more than a generation now--and increasingly the middle class is losing too. The moral issue at stake here is economic inequality, and whether the social safety net can be dismantled by the wealthiest, most powerful citizens whose interests are disproportionately served by both parties but especially by the GOP. The moral issue isn't whether the two parties can make nice with one another so that they might begin the cutting. The moral issue is who in this country will be allowed to live with the dignity of economic security and affordable health care, and who will not. There is more than enough wealth in this country to have a serviceable social democracy. Again, after listening to Krista's masterful work moderating the previous episodes of this series, I am saddened and frustrated that she moderated this "political" discussion entirely within the blinkered terms favored by the participants, without attempting to clarify the stakes of the debate by introducing other perspectives.
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