Friday, February 9, 2001
Compromise or Polarize
Many years ago, I wrote a Forum essay with a similar title. I bemoaned the fact that too many issues had become polarized and the art of political compromise had essentially disappeared. Proponents on either side of an issue staked out their positions and then refused to budge. Many of the issues I wrote about then have remained polarized: abortion rights, gun control, health care, taxes and tax cuts, environmental concerns. Now consider the current situation. We have a president who lost the popular vote. The Senate is divided 50:50. The House of Representatives has a very slim Republican majority. The president's cabinet is composed of conservatives. The confirmation hearings on cabinet nominees was at times quite contentious, especially those dealing with the Attorney General nominee, John Ashcroft. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Ashcroft reminded me of the Bork Supreme Court nomination, with Senator Kennedy again leading the charge.
We all need to be reminded of the election night TV network maps of the United States, divided into red (Republican) and blue (Democrat) areas. A great portion of middle America, north to south, was boldly red. Many people in these states believed they had been disenfranchised during the Clinton years. A patient of mine from the deep South came to my office just after the electoral college voted. When asked how she felt, she replied, "I'm walking in high cotton. George W. is in the White House!" The country does seem to have proclaimed a preference for a centrist government, not one controlled by extremists, liberal or conservative. In a way, this should be beneficial. The extremists on either side of the aisle will not be able to push their agenda as they just don't have the votes to support their positions.
Many major issues must be addressed now: health care coverage for the 40+ million uninsured, shoring up Social Security to be ready for the retirement of the Baby Boomers, how to deal with the large expected budget surpluses and our now faltering economy. These issues cannot be put on the shelf for four years in hopes that one party can gain complete control of the Congress such that bills can be quickly passed and presidential vetoes can be overridden. Despite the conservative makeup of the new administration and some of the initial actions of President George W. Bush, he does seem to be making serious overtures to the opposition and signaling a willingness to compromise on some issues. I am therefore hopeful that we will begin to see efforts from all parties involved to work together for the common good, something that has not been apparent recently.
And while on the subject of tackling difficult issues, let me suggest that the nature of effective leadership and the art of compromise are just as relevant at the local level. Our town leaders should encourage and listen to input from all sides on potentially polarizing issues such as walkways, land use and affordable housing. Even without the drama of partisan politics, leadership and cooperation should be key ingredients in public policy.
Good Morning, Carlisle 2020!
As Jane backs out of her Maple Street driveway at 6:30 a.m. for her daily commute to her job in the Cisco City Megaplex in Littleton she listens for the traffic report. The rapid-fire announcer ticks off the trouble spots along Route 225 and other major Metro West commuter arteries. "Give yourself 35 minutes to get through Carlisle." The first tie-up comes as soon as she turns onto Bedford Roadit's the usual heavy traffic coming out of the Carlisle Gardens development. Neither the traffic light nor the policeman stationed at the busy intersection can keep the flow of cars moving. It didn't used to be this way, Jane remembers. Ten years ago, with no affordable housing built in Carlisle, the state set aside the town's zoning by-laws and permitted Bustello Builders to develop the 80-unit affordable housing complex and a sewage treatment plant on 35 acres of land. It could have been worse. Town residents are grateful that the sister complex, Carlisle Gardens West (which will bring the total number of affordable units to a more respectable 160) will be routed into Route 27, which will have less impact on the congested town center.
The most difficult spot on the drive remains the town rotarywhich was not appreciably improved by the addition of a second circle of traffic (on land taken by eminent domain). So far citizens have resisted moving the Civil War monument to the Town Green to permit a larger intersection with traffic lights.
Jane knows that if she can make it through the rotary before 7 a.m., she will miss the constant parade of school buses turning at the traffic light into the Castle Rock Middle School campus on the Conant Land. Although a group of vocal conservationists had tried to argue that the scenic tract with glacial boulders should be preserved as open land, the town had no other options for siting the school. Residential development had consumed most buildable land by 2008.
Don't worry, be happyit's fiction. But local and regional development is not slowing down; and many believe we will need a new school; and the state can suspend our by-laws to force the development of the mandated ten percent affordable housing; and.
If this is not your vision of Carlisle 2020, check the lime green postcard that came in your mail and join your fellow citizens at Municipal Planning Day tomorrow morning, February 10 at the Town Hall, 9 a.m. to noon. While we still can do something about it.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito