Examples of great moments in politics
May 28, 2016 6:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of successful politics - what can happen when people work together to identify and resolve a problem. Any country, state or city, any political group. I'm especially interested in people from opposing parties working hard together and making a real difference.

The conversation I'm hearing (reading) lately, mostly, seems to be all about how the other side sucks and wants to ruin everything. I'm asking to combat my own cynicism and to hopefully start some forward-looking conversations about where we can go together, if we work together.
posted by bunderful to Law & Government (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Most of what you will see are easy, obvious (notional) solutions to simple problems, on the level of starting a war after a clear provocation, or technical fiddling on the edges of existing programs. Sure, you will also find examples where everyone in the government of some city all worked together to create some new park or something. But I'll suggest a different solution to your larger problem of unwanted cynicism.

In the bigger picture, disagreement, conflict, and the naked exercise of power over the defeated is what democracy looks like. Different people understand problems in different ways and offer different and fundamentally incompatible solutions because of that, and then they go into naked, obvious conflict about it. There's a good book about this that's short and accessible -- Stealth Democracy by John Hibbing and Elizabeth Thiess-Morse. They were curious about why Americans dislike their own government and, if anything, react negatively to everything it does, so they asked people. And the answer that emerged is unfortunately that by and large Americans just don't like democracy very much, mostly because they don't care very much about politics and just want someone to make the problem go away without bothering them about it. The part of the process that people seem to have the biggest problem with is understanding that people really do have different ideas, preferences, and ideals, and that they aren't just playing a big game of sportsball where what team you're on isn't for any real reason. Where in real life, people in politics beyond the most local level tend to be true believers to a degree that you or I would find pretty alien. I could go on but I'll just recommend their book again. It's short and direct, and (IIRC) doesn't rely on technical discussions of complex statistics, and you can get used copies for a couple of dollars. In my experience it's a good, if somewhat accusatory, mirror to hold up to yourself.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:33 AM on May 28, 2016

you might enjoy reading the dictator's shadow by heraldo muñoz. it's largely the story of how democracy was returned to chile, told from the point of view of one of the (fairly mainstream) politicians involved (rather than someone involved in the armed resistance). it gives a good idea of the compromise involved in the process - very clear eyed about what is needed to make things work, even if you disagree fundamentally. by far the best book i have read on chile (i can't find my copy - i think i lent it to a friend, must try to get it back).

related to that, the film no describes how the vote to end the dictatorship (simplifying somewhat) was "sold" to the general public. it used a very non-political approach that re-assured and unified the general population.

(i agree btw about the "other side sucks" thing. mefi politics threads. shudder.)

(ps i don't want to give the impression that the political process alone would have restored democracy - i suspect the combination with practical resistance on the streets was critical.)
posted by andrewcooke at 7:50 AM on May 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

[sorry, "reassured" is a word, isn't it? also, the muñoz book covers not just collaboration between left and right, but also discusses the problems of left splintering (the fall of allende) and, later, efforts at reuinification.]
posted by andrewcooke at 8:06 AM on May 28, 2016

The Minnesota Miracle - an overhaul of the state's school funding scheme.
posted by lakeroon at 10:57 AM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

don't have a book or film in mind, but i imagine there is, or should and will be, something relevant that describes mandela and de klerk.
posted by andrewcooke at 2:10 PM on May 28, 2016

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