To avoid the partisan recrimination that now permeates public dialogue perhaps we need to go to a paradigm that gives us neutrality while stripping away the unreasonable passions of the day.
In our normal policymaking system nonpartisan dialogue can engage in endless debate between what should be common good and what should be private good.
The common good is policy that accrues well-being to society; the private good is the reservation of everything in the Bill of Rights and social and economic policy that accrues freedom to the individual.
The task confronting citizens is distinguishing between the common good and the private good. This task involves resolving differences until there is majority consensus in favor of either the common good or the private good.
The quest for the common good occurs in national, state and local policy development. At each level, we have competing ideas of what each good should manifest.
When these conflicts appear on the ballot, citizens are often unable to intelligently decide what should be common and what should be private.
Following the last two presidential elections, there was much discussion about upgrading the competence of the voters. Legislatures mandated that certain civic subjects be taught.
In North Dakota, voters are without enough information to vote for most state officials, most state legislators and all judges. Most people have no idea of the duties, qualifications or performance of incumbents or challengers.
At one time, North Dakota had a “publicity pamphlet” that was sent to every voter in the state. Every candidate, for a nominal sum, could buy a page so voters would at least know who was running. Supporters and opponents of ballot issues were also eligible to buy a page. It levelled the playing field a little.
Back to the common good and the private good, American history teaches us that the common good has been expanding as the country became more diverse and humane. For example, the depression of the 1930s taught us that the common good needed Social Security to prevent poverty.
In World War II and subsequent conflicts, we thought the common good required military action to protect the security of the country against fascism and communism. Millions of Americans had to set aside the private good by surrendering their freedom to the draft.
Most decisions involving the common and private good have been made by a consensus of the president, Congress and the Supreme Court. Changes in the balance between the common and personal goods have been slow and arduous, requiring considerable agreement.
While we have been able to alter the balance between the common good and the private good by a majority vote, we are now confronted with the need for 100% consensus to end the COVID epidemic that threatens the health of every living person in America.
We are so accustomed to tolerating assertive individualism that it is part of our culture, especially in North Dakota where our pioneer legacy has been individualism. That’s why North Dakota lags behind the rest of the nation in
vaccinations. We are a private good state.
Because the COVID has given way to delta we face the possibility that delta will breed even more varieties of the virus. The threat to American health will continue unabated, perhaps become worse, with time. The damage to reproductive and other systems may be intergenerational. We are playing with fire.
To stop this pandemic, the common good requires 100% participation. Less than that will maintain a breeding ground for the delta virus -and other unknown viruses- and it will never end.
Less than 50% of North Dakotans have consented to vaccination. That means COVID, delta and their variants will continue to reign in our health for years to come.
Omdahl is a former N.D. lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email email@example.com
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.