August 5, 2022
“No matter where you are – left or right, conservative or liberal – our interests are actually aligned,” said Rep. John Curtis recently at a Sutherland Institute Congressional Series event. He went on to list four goals related to energy and environmental policy – energy independence, strong economy, affordable/reliable power, and reduced emissions – that he believes are “absolutely, positively possible” and which may be shared by Americans of many, if not all, partisan and ideological stripes.
Curtis’ remarks highlight a crucial insight for finding workable policy solutions in a time of significant partisan division: build discussions on a foundation of what you can agree on. This beginning can be shared goals or desired outcomes that can potentially be approached through a variety of policy paths. Or it could be a shared set of principles that do not have a predetermined policy outcome.
By building on what we agree on, we establish a framework for policy discussions at the outset that can help us navigate the inevitable disagreements on policy particulars. We also establish commonality across any political, partisan or philosophical differences that can lead to better understanding of people who support different solutions than we do – lead us to conclude things like “I don’t agree that’s the best policy, but I understand where you’re coming from and the reasoning behind why you support it.” This is the basis for principled compromise that can generate consensus policy solutions.
Arriving at consensus – even forcing it, at times – is a key feature of our system of government. As Sutherland wrote earlier this year regarding the state lawmaking body, “Utah’s state constitution … designed the state legislature to create what we might call consensus rule, or a general public agreement about our laws and public policies.”
This intent of our state constitution is revealed by examination of the fact that a House of Representatives, a Senate and a governor – who are ultimately elected by the same voters, but in different geographic proportions and at different times – must agree before proposed laws can confidently succeed. In other words, by design, the political pressures to get reelected will tend to push lawmakers to seek for new laws that generate broad support (i.e., consensus) across both time and place.
This design in our state constitution reflects a similar intent in the U.S. Constitution. As American Enterprise Institute scholar Jay Cost has written:
There is a unifying principle to the [American] constitutional system, one grounded in the framers’ particular understanding of republican government. The system is purposeful in its demand that consensus among the people be achieved before government action. In that way, the Constitution reduces the chances that the government is corrupted into a majoritarian tyranny.
Noting why and how the framers intended broad consensus to be a general requirement of lasting policy reform, Cost continues:
The American founders were in a deeper conversation with the ancients, who likewise struggled with securing a good and just government. Although they had embraced popular sovereignty as the only legitimate form of government, Americans were still wary of its dangers and put together a more nuanced solution to the danger of republics being corrupted into mob rule. The American idea can be summarized simply as the search for consensus.
The U.S. Constitution forces consensus by requiring agreement for significant policy reforms among a geographic majority of the American people (elected members of the U.S. House of Representatives, each representing a roughly equal number of Americans) and the states (U.S. senators, each representing a state no matter its population). Consensus is further reinforced by requiring approval of newly passed laws, before they can be enacted, from a president who is elected by voters nationwide, and ensuring that representatives, senators and the president are elected at different time intervals – again pushing for agreement across time and space for policy reforms to be passable and sustainable.
In other words, the inclination to seek for shared goals or principles upon which to base proposed policy reforms is driven by the broad geographic and chronological consensus intentionally required by our state and federal constitutions. Seeking common ground in politics and policymaking is not simply a feel-good, kumbaya approach – it is nothing less than the fulfillment of the design of the American Constitution.
Claiming the mantle of America’s founding while fighting against the intent of America’s Founders is a deep and profound contradiction. It also injects a harmful political poison into America’s civic fabric by claiming civic virtue while practicing civic vice. Remember that the next time you see an elected official being criticized by a political organization – liberal or conservative – for seeking compromise grounded in common goals or shared principles. Then speak up in support of seeking consensus like our Constitution envisions and the framers intended.
At a Sutherland Institute Congressional Series event this week, Rep. Chris Stewart said that if people lose confidence in elections, “you have lost the foundation … for a government and society to survive.” Fortunately, Utahns trust in elections is high.
Speaking at a Sutherland Institute Congressional Series event this week, Rep. Chris Stewart said he believes that federalism is the only way for America to overcome its divisions.
Sutherland Institute announced today the addition of Nic Dunn as vice president of strategy & communications.