*for certain values of the words “we”, “choose”, and “together”.
The words in the quote that comprises the title of this post were said by Barney Frank and, with the caveats in my footnote and apparently unlike Heather Wilhelm, I agree with it.
But those are substantial caveats. For example, when a law is enacted by the votes of one half plus one of the members of the House, many of whom were elected by narrow majorities of the 30% of the eligible voters who actually voted, I don’t think there’s a meaningful “we” to speak of, particularly if those who voted “aye” by and large hailed from large cities within eyeshot of the ocean. Silence may signify assent legally but it doesn’t imply agreement, support, or commitment. When the president veers away from the requirements of the law in a desperate attempt at getting something done despite the objections of a recalcitrant Congress that further dilutes any idea of “we”.
When most of my neighbors and I turn out to shovel our front steps, sidewalks, and street and those of our elderly neighbors following a big now, that’s something we choose to do together. It makes us feel good about ourselves and about each other. We have cleared walks and street. It’s something we choose to do together. If we were to break into the homes of those who didn’t turn out with us, drag them from their beds, and put shovels in their hands, shovelling would no longer be something we chose to do together. It would be something that some of us chose and which was imposed on others.
Or if we hired a snowplow (something the neighborhood association does, indeed, do) to plow our streets it might be practical but it wouldn’t be something we chose to do together. It would be something we chose to have done together.
There’s more consensus among the people on my block than in my neighborhood, more consensus in my neighborhood than in my ward, more consensus in my ward than in the city, in the city than in the state, and in the state than in the country. IMO that increasingly attenuated consensus confers decreasing legitimacy. Once upon a time we generally felt that the federal government should leave most things other than the common currency, the military, and foreign policy to the states. That was a recognition of the decreasing legitimacy, support, and commitment that decreasing consensus and distance bring. That practice is no more.