PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE: DIALOGUE AND COMPROMISE, By Joel Mark

Wasn’t it Ben Franklin’s point in crafting a constitution for the emerging United States of America that the diversity of the people even then made it highly unlikely that there would be complete agreement on every point in the document? Rather, if I recall my history lessons, he advised dialogue and compromise were required if the framers were to create a document that would portend any chance of having their new nation survive beyond its birth.

Dialogue and compromise were required to set the rules of commerce among the states so that they might become far more economically viable standing together than going it alone. Among other things, this required individual states to give up their own taxing authority for the good of the nation’s commerce.

The same was true of devising a mechanism for protecting the fledgling nation from foreign dangers. The lessons learned from the Revolution included that it took the might and cooperation of all thirteen colonies for their union to survive.

And, of course, the issue of slavery had to be addressed if the States in the North and in the South were to remain together as the country evolved from a confederation primarily concerned with gaining its freedom from England into a sovereign nation capable of setting its own direction once the Revolution had been won.

Now, I think I have been a good boy since I began crafting these President’s Messages.

I have tried my best over the past ten months to be topical, and I have tried my best not to be divisive. But, I hope you will forgive me this one departure from the second objective. It is just that the lack of dialogue and compromise regarding two issues In our recent civic discourse have just made it too difficult not to use the “bully pulpit” you have given me to say something.

Hopefully, by the time this prints, one or more of these issues will be solved, but I fear that the best we can hope for by then is the cans simply being kicked down the road once again. So, for now I felt compelled.

Congress: What have they been thinking?!?

It seems that, with this Congress, dialogue and compromise have been thrown under the bus driven by ideology. The Affordable Health Care Act, or Obamacare depending on your political affiliation, has been the law for some time and has survived some forty-plus attempts to overturn it. Why did Congress attempt to shut down the entire government over a law that, by many measures, improves the health and welfare of so many citizens? I read an article in the LA Times a few days ago that pointed out how well that type of system works in the United Kingdom, while health care providers in the United States continue to charge outrageous amounts for even routine health care services. Sure the website has had some problems, but the food stamp website that has been up for over a decade also just crashed. Get over it.

Love or hate Obamacare, the shutdown  itself threatens the health and welfare of all Americans. The Centers for Disease Control ceased to function. Air traffic has been in jeopardy. Firefighters have had to work for free. Thousands and thousands of American workers have received no paychecks.

What has Congress been thinking? Not enough about the citizens they were elected to serve, at least that is how I see things.

Gun Control: Haven’t we had enough?

I was struck by the rhetoric that emerged out of the Navy Yard shooting incident. There was such a hue and cry about how we had missed so many signs that could have and should have alerted authorities to revoke the shooter’s security clearance. Yet, many of the same people who were so ready to criticize on that issue also have been absolutely opposed to any kind of background checks for purchasers of guns without which otherwise can permit people who should not be entrusted with firearms to have them.

I do get it that the Second Amendment to the Constitution grants to the “people” the right to keep and bear arms. There seems to be no dispute that, despite the preamble to the amendment referring to the need to maintain armed militias, the context of the amendment refers to individual rights to keep and bear arms.

Indeed, it was not lost on the framers that, when Paul Revere rode out to warn that the British were coming, the specific thing they were coming for that night was to confiscate weapons and gunpowder that had been illegally imported to the Colonies (at least according to the British) in violation of British law.

But, I do not think that it ever was the framers’ intent that, once written, the Constitution would be impervious to review based upon events that came after. I do think that the framers assumed that there always would be continuing dialogue and compromise as we adjusted our most  important organic document to the changing needs of our times.

For instance, article I, section 2 of the original Constitution defined all other Persons” than free Persons” as three-fifths of a person for purposes of determining the number of Congressional representatives each locality would have, and was silent on the issue of slavery. Because there was far too little dialogue and compromise on that watershed issue as time went on, the argument ultimately was settled by civil war with hundreds of thousands giving their lives to the debate.

The United States is not alone when it comes to gun violence, but it certainly is a world leader. I have heard it said that guns don’t kill people, only people kill people. But, as so many recent episodes have shown us, guns certainly make people much more efficient in the endeavor of killing. Isn’t it time we had some constructive dialogue on that issue as well?

I have worked with many successful businesses over the years as an attorney. The successful ones have it as a regular part of their culture that they sit down from time to time as a team and discuss how they can improve their products and services. The successful companies do not let ideology deter them from exploring constructively how they can do better as a business.

Our country is a business. Why won’t Congress start running it like one – and start improving the fortunes and welfare of all of its shareholders, us?

I know I have personal views on all these issues. But, my point is simply that it is time for our elected officials to return to constructive dialogue and compromise to improve all of our lives, and to spend less time espousing ideologies that work well for some, but not all, of our citizens.

Joel Mark is of counsel to Hathaway, Perrett, Webster, Powers, Chrisman & Gutierrez in Ventura. Despite this rant, Mr. Mark still expects to see each and every one of you at the VCBA Annual Installation Dinner on November 23 at the Spanish Hills Country Club. It’s not too late to sign up to sponsor or attend what is shaping up as a wonderful celebration.

About Bar