Kim Burningham: Living peacefully in a world where people disagree

Recently, I was asked to identify my political affiliation.   The question caused me to pause.  I have always been a Republican; for 15 years I represented my area in the Utah House of Representatives as a Republican.  Still, I paused.

Kim Burningham: Living peacefully in a world where people disagree
by Kim Burningham

Finally, I answered:  “I am still a member of the Republican Party, but I would be less than honest if I did not say I was hanging on by a thread.”  The reason for my vacillation has a great deal to do with the rigid dogmatism I find among some members of the Republican Party.   (I think similar rigid thinking also exists among elements of the Democratic Party.)  It is against this kind of dogmatism I write today.

An experience where diversity of opinion was rejected

In April 2002, my frustration on the issue boiled up.   I was a delegate to the Davis County Republican Party convention.  Sensing an increase in such intolerance of diverse opinions, I sponsored an amendment to the county’s platform.  In part, it read, “Good Republicans represent diverse points of view and may not agree on all positions.  That diversity is also acknowledged as a foundation principle of the Party, and individuals with diverse outlooks but who still adhere to the basic platform principles are welcome within the organization.”

I spoke energetically in favor of adoption of the resolution.  A vote was taken.  The Davis County Clipper account (April 16, 2002) of the event explains, “A voice vote failed to determine delegates’ approval or disapproval of the resolution.”  A head count was called for by the chair.  Delegates raised their verifying identification either in favor or opposed to the resolution.  The count took time but finally Chair Craig Foster announced the motion failed:  322 against the motion; 318 for!

I shook my head in dismay.  Half my colleagues at the convention apparently did not believe others could differ on even some principles.  They seem to be saying, “You have got to think like I do on every point, or you are not one of us.”

Appalled then; I’m even more appalled now.

Intolerance exhibited in our society today

As I look around me it appears our country is plagued by a divisiveness caused by such intolerance of difference.  Fingers are pointed; litmus tests prescribed.

  • If you are opposed to Planned Parenthood, you are evil.
  • If you believe gun use should be controlled, you are not a patriot.
  • Obama’s health plan is all good or all bad.
  • If you aren’t a Republican/Democrat you are highly suspect!

Good grief!   What happened to the belief that good people may see things differently?

Reagan’s advocacy for inclusion of diverse opinions

Although I recognize his comments have been interpreted differently and for different reasons, I think much truth is found in the statement of President Ronald Reagan (Address to the California Republican Assembly, Lafayette Hotel, Long Beach, April 1, 1967).  Speaking of the Republican Party, he said,

  • “Within our tent, there will be many arguments and divisions over approach and method, and even those we choose to implement our philosophy.
  • “We cannot offer them a narrow sectarian party in which all must swear allegiance to prescribed commandments.
  • “There is room in our tent for many views; indeed, the divergence of views is one of our strengths.”

(On a specific issue, one reason I strongly favor a non-partisan state school board is the belief that virulent partisanship has no place in our education system.  I prefer to see education decisions made in a setting where diversity of points of view is examined; ultimately choosing that which board members believe serves children best.)

View others in a spirit of brotherhood

Lee Atwater, deceased former chair of the Republican National Committee, is an individual with whose tactics I frequently disagreed.  However, he apparently understood the issue from a practical point of view and argued the “big tent” concept:  “Our party is a big tent.  We can house many views on many issues.”

At the time he made the statement, he may have been driven by a need to be inclusive primarily just to win an election.  Two years later before his death from a brain tumor, he is reported to have emphasized the issue from a clearly humane point of view:  “My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood.”  (Robert Deis, “Lee Atwater and the Republican Party’s ‘big tent’,” November 14, 2009)

I find much truth there.  We are all brothers and sisters.  You may not think as I do, and I will try to persuade you to think otherwise, but that does not mean I will demean or belittle you because you think differently.  I can still respect you.

If our country is to survive we need more of that respect and brotherhood, and less of divisive intolerance.

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