On January 21, 2013, on a cold and possibly snowy day in Washington, DC, President Barack Obama will, again, take the oath of office as President of the United States. Months of contentious political debate will cease, and civility will return, not only to the Capital City, but to the rest of the country as well.
Since Colonial times, distinct differences, heated words, and sometimes controversial actions have characterized the American political experiment as people have tried to properly define the extent of individual rights, executive power, legislative authority, judicial reach, social responsibility, and financial discipline. The thirteen original colonies struggled with such issues as taxes, trade, commerce, and rule from abroad.
America’s first attempt at collective governance was found to be inadequate and ineffective, and in February 1787 Congress invited the states to send delegates to Philadelphia in May to revise the Articles of Confederation. The delegates instead wrote a constitution, which was ratified only with the promised addition of a bill of rights.
In the more than two centuries that have followed ratification, citizens and non-citizens of the United States have continued to debate and define the proper role of government, including the definition of citizenship itself.
Although it may still be too close to the federal, state, and local elections of November 6 and the months of messages that preceded them to even want to contemplate more debate and definition, the political reality is that such vital issues as taxes, jobs, education, infrastructure investment, the national debt, and regulation are still with us. Still needing national debate. Still needing national definition. And not just by a re-elected president and a new Congress.
About ten years ago, an Amtrak conductor expressed to me his wish that trains in the Northeast Corridor not have quiet cars—passenger cars in which no cell-phone use was allowed—because people in the quiet cars were so unbelievably rude to him when he asked them to turn off their cell phones.
I shudder at the prospect of a federal, state, or local conductor telling us to turn off the political equivalents of cell phones. We still need debate. We still need definition. But we also need to listen. We all need some quiet time to reflect on what is possible, even if it is not perfect. We could all benefit from some time in a quieter car.
As we recall our history and continue to debate issues great and small, let us proceed with passionate thoughtfulness, with respect, and not with rudeness or hate.
This is one of a series of occasional essays by John S. McClenahen, who retired from IndustryWeek in 2006 and remains a keen observer of the global manufacturing environment.