The republic is falling: a follow-up report

It has taken us a little time to reflect and check our notes about our weekend stay at the John C. Danforth Clinic for the Preservation of Reasonable Political Dialogue for treatment of and counseling about our diagnosed case of PPRF (Pervasive Political Rhetoric Fatigue). But we have concluded after doing so that it was a cleansing and refreshing experience. And it was good to know we are not alone in dealing with this disorder. In fact, there is a substantial waiting list for this program. Clinic officials think a majority of voters, in fact, would apply if the program were widely-publicized
We can’t tell you how many people were in our group or who they were or what their roles are because to do so would violate federal patient privacy laws. We can tell you it was a pretty good-sized group, indicating the scope of the disorder in our society today. Although we feel a supportive kinship with those who shared this experience with us, it is unlikely we will form a PPRF Anonymous group or anything like that. We’re the kind of people who might talk one-on-one over coffee or something but we’re not ready to admit we need weekly meetings.
We might change our minds later. It is, after all, a campaign year.
We had several sessions in which people of differing political persuasions sat in a circle in a room and there were no accusations made against other participants. Nobody blamed somebody else for something that would destroy the future opportunities of the state. And nobody said something about someone else’s views that was intended only to make that person look bad in the eyes of others. Oh, there were differences that were not resolved but we practiced ways to rationally discuss issues with the understanding that none of us is correct all of the time, nor do we need a constitutional amendment saying we are. And once all of us admitted that, the door was open for rational evaluations of some current issues.
For instance: Governor Nixon’s recent vetoes of about ten tax bills.
Our counselor helped us understand some basic things.
Everybody was able to be comfortable with the idea that the general focus by sponsors of the bills was to keep the Department of Revenue from ordering sales taxes be collected on things that the department had decided should have been taxed. There was not unanimous agreement that the department is wrong. But there was consensus on what the sponsors said the bills were about. There was some discussion about the political motivation behind the bills and the group was able to agree to disagree without being disagreeable. When our counselor suggested inspection of lobbying reports and campaign contributions might provide the basis for further discussions, none of the members of the group spoke in response to that observance but some nodded. Others gave no indication of their feelings. But the discussion and the counselor’s suggestions did not generate accusations, denials, or raised voices.
Nobody disagreed that the legislature has the power to pass the bills the Governor has vetoed or will veto– or that the legislature has the power to override the vetoes.
After a lengthy discussion, the group generally agreed that some issues about the bills and their vetoes have not been addressed by critics of Governor Nixon’s actions in the month since the end of the legislative session because both sides have been busy yelling political posturing positions at each other instead of considering whether the ten bills could have been handled in a more reasonable manner during the legislative process. Our group seemed to agree a more prudent approach should be considered although the group also seemed to understand that prudence appears to be a lost quality in political discourse throughout the country. And all agreed that the Governor would still have a right to veto even a prudent approach to these issues, preferably for logical reasons presented in a non-confrontational manner. Some members of the circle noted that such an approach would be easier in a non-campaign year.
The group seemed to agree that none of the supporters of the tax exemptions have addressed key issues advanced by the Governor, namely that the tax exemptions were approved after the state budget for 2014-15 was adopted and it did not seem during budget debates that any provisions had been made in the spending plan for any new tax exemptions to be put in place during that budget year, thus lowering the amount of money available to finance that budget.
The group also found consensus that the proposed tax exemptions are not just for state taxes, that the legislature’s exemptions apply to local sales tax collections approved by local voters as well. The legislature seemingly, it was felt by some, is overriding the wishes of local voters who approved sales taxes on the things the legislature wants to exempt.
Some in the group suggested the legislature should have enacted the exemptions but made them go into effect at some future date so the next state and local budgets could be written in anticipation of the lowered revenues expected. Some of the group therapy members felt such a position would allow budget analysts at state and local levels to more properly estimate the financial impacts of the exemptions, thus allowing for better planning for the results. Some of those in our discussion circle suggested mature reflection might suggest local taxes should be excluded if these exemption vetoes are not overridden and if the proposals are re-introduced in 2015. In truth, some of the group members saw nothing wrong with the exemptions but they were able to discuss the issue without each of them just regurgitating talking points.
Some group members were troubled by a seeming inconsistency in the legislature’s approval of the tax cut bill earlier over the governor’s veto and the approval of a sales tax increase for voters to consider in August and the proposed tax exemptions in the bills the Governor finds objectionable. Others felt the comparisons were of apples, oranges, and plums and the group ultimately decided that the discussion on that point had no real meaning in the talk of the tax exemption bills which are an issue that stands alone.
The weekend reminded participants that there’s nothing wrong with saying, “I understand what you would like to do,” and “I see your point. Maybe it can be done better next time,” or “I still think the bills were proper because…..”
Underlining all of the discussions was the idea that grownups can discuss and negotiate such issues in a grown up manner but it’s too bad participants have to be institutionalized to do so.
We left with that heartening understanding but also realized we were re-entering the real world where guidelines from the Boehner-Reid Institute of Sandbox Diplomacy are more likely to prevail, a thought that cast a shadow on an otherwise useful weekend.

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