Letters to the Editor – Weekly Issue of February 7, 2011
Readers write in with praise for differing views of 'rights' defined by the Constitution and President Obama's pragmatism.
Consent to different views
Thank you for printing the contrasting pair of viewpoints in the Jan. 17 issue: "Do you have a 'right' to a job, home, or health care?" by Mark W. Hendrickson, and "Barrier to better health care: GOP definition of freedom" by Anthony L. Schlaff.
This pair constitutes a good example of how vital to democracy a wide range of political viewpoints is. Through the interplay of contrasting views, sharp edges can be smoothed and policies can be crafted that are the best compromise fair-minded citizens can come up with.
Mr. Hendrickson is correct about the meaning of "rights." Society may legitimately debate whether to denote housing, health care, etc., as "entitlements," but they can't accurately be called rights.
Mr. Schlaff is also correct to point out that citizens often need to collectively agree to surrender an absolute right to achieve a common good, as he illustrates with the example of traffic lights.
In our more-than-200-year-old experiment in government deriving its "just Powers from the Consent of the Governed," let's give our consent to listening respectfully and thoughtfully to differing viewpoints and working together for the best balance between individual rights and the common good.
Pragmatism and idealism
In his Jan. 24 commentary, "What does Obama really believe?," Jacob Bronsther does both a service and disservice to readers in positing pragmatism as a potential explanation for President Obama's lack of focus.
It is possible to be both an idealist and a pragmatist. To jettison absolute categories in favor of contingent and contextual realities is not the same as having no principles from which to appeal.
Pragmatism is a method, not a metaphysic. Those who advocate under its banner do so while holding often strikingly divergent affiliations. This is not the same as throwing one's hands up and saying, "whatever works." A solution that stands isn't attributable to relativism. A solution that works is based on preemptive questions as to why it will work and how well it will work. It is also revisable in light of changing circumstances.
Mr. Bronsther is right: Mr. Obama has been far from forthcoming as regards the core values that guide his actions. The reality, however, is that Obama does not work in isolation. To arrive at practical solutions, he must solicit the help of others. Experience shows that what works is a measure of those who make it happen. We should be so lucky to count pragmatism as an aid in the difficult days that lie ahead.