Goals vs. Purposes

In Uncategorized on November 9, 2010 at 12:00 pm

A recent New York Times article analyzing the foundations of Republican gains in this election cycle highlighted a presentation given to House Republicans given in 2009. One particular slide caught my attention, asking “If the goal of the majority is to govern, what is the purpose of the minority?” The answer—which formed the basis of Republican strategy for the last two years—was “the purpose of the minority is to become the majority.”

To me, this concept is the fundamental problem with American democracy at this point in history. It confuses “goals” with “purposes” in two different ways. First, it suggests that the goal of the majority is to govern. This is fundamentally wrong—the purpose of the majority is to govern. They have been elected by a majority to do just that. More alarmingly, the purpose of the minority is both to help the majority govern or, when appropriate, to adjust the policies of the majority to reflect the wishes of the minority. It is perfectly acceptable for the minority to hold a goal of becoming the majority, but for that to become its over-riding purpose makes democratic governance untenable.

While this may seem an idle semantic argument, I believe it has serious consequences for American democracy. If both parties adopt this view—rejecting the idea of “loyal opposition”—the US government will be increasingly ineffective. Unfortunately, for now at least, Republican midterm gains give credence to the political benefits of disloyalty.


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