In defense of heated debate

Published 8:32 am Friday, April 22, 2016

Just about every presidential race I can recall, I can also recall nasty, bitter fighting and, just as routine, hand-wringing pundits who predict the whole process is debased and splitting the country or, in primary season, a political party, into opposing factions.

Such a view ignores history — especially United States history — for our country in particular offers a lesson in the value of bitter divide.

Some of our country’s greatest accomplishments — the Emancipation Proclamation or, more recently, President Johnson’s civil rights legislative victories — came at a cost of great internecine bickering.

Those legislative victories in particular ought to be instructive, as the abolition of slavery and the Civil Rights Act are so manifestly good and yet their passages to victory so fraught with opposition we can draw no other conclusion than the fact that if there is more than one person in a room then there will be more than one opinion.

To be clear, there is great value in honest debate and if two people do not agree over something, then all that disagreement should suggest is that an issue isn’t easy. And this isn’t true only of national politics, but of state and local politics, too.

This brings us to the Bogalusa City Hall, a chamber that, in recent weeks, has been the scene of no small amount of bickering. After each meeting, invariably someone will ask if I’ve ever seen anything like it. And yes, I have. And no, I am not surprised or concerned.

In fact, I am not even opposed to bickering.

Yes, one could argue, the issue of paving a road, for example, is on its face a simple matter. But we see from the debates that roadwork is more than about the gravel and tar. It’s about neighborhoods, it’s about history and it’s about commerce and hospital safety—and these are important issues over which reasonable people can disagree.

The whole idea that a public body should operate in one accord seems to me to be antithetical to democracy, because it’s unrealistic to expect that the interests of the city government will always align with the interests of every citizen or of the residents of every district. For the most part, I can see the people who sometimes oppose the city council have some good points.

To be clear: The anger and the criticism is good. The decisions city councils make are important. These decisions affect how taxes are used, how parks are funded and, as we know, what streets get paved. It is easy enough to find examples of bitter city council meetings in large cities — New Orleans, anyone? — or small towns; rich cities and poor ones.

I don’t pretend I believe all political arguments are worthwhile. Like anyone else, I think some fights are petty and small-minded. And it’s absurd for anyone to take this political theater personally, though hurt feelings seem to be inevitable.

But, at the end of the day, I’m happy there is discussion — even if it is heated — because it means our citizens care what our elected leadership does.

And even if we don’t agree with the argument, I hope we can appreciate the passion.

Jesse Wright is the managing editor of The Daily News. You can call him at 985-732-2565, ext. 301, or email him at