Why can't we meet in the middle?

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ELISE PATKOTAK
COMMENT

A couple hundred years ago, a group of men met in Philadelphia for less than four months and, despite wide differences in religion, ethics, philosophy and lifestyles, managed to produce our Constitution. They used discretion in expressing these differences, confiding in friends and spouses who understood what privacy meant and that sometimes you just needed to blow off a little steam without actually meaning that your political rival’s mother wasn’t married when she had him. Discretion was a viable concept back then.

Our founding fathers believed that having been charged with drafting a constitution that would create a country out of a group of disparate states, they needed to put the common good over their personal feelings and biases. They were willing to indulge in the time-honored tradition of compromise to achieve the greater good versus promoting their particular state’s issues above all else.

     

It seems as though being a politician in America today means needing a legal defense fund. I’m not sure if that says more about the quality of politician we have representing us, in which case shame on us for electing them, or more about the polarization that has occurred in America’s political discourse.

Compromise is an art that seems to have fallen into disrepute in public life. It has gone from being time honored to being viewed with downright suspicion, as though compromise and selling out your moral and ethical values were equivalent concepts. No matter how many extremists on either end of the spectrum try to tell you that, it’s simply not true.

Democracy is a balancing act; a very delicate, dangerous, high wire balancing act in which the smallest of breezes can topple the mightiest of governments. Watergate was such a breeze. In retrospect, it was a bunch of third-rate criminals bungling a fourth-rate burglary followed by unbelievably sleazy attempts at intimidation and cover up. It was more suited to the story line in a Marx Brothers’ comedy than actions happening at the highest echelons of our government. But because it did happen at that high level, the breeze became a tornado and took an administration down.

It seems that in today’s America, we try to make a tornado out of every breeze we even imagine is blowing in the hope that if we keep trying long enough, something will stick and we will be able to bring our political rival down. The overall good of our country or state is totally superseded by our complete dedication to the idea that we are right, they are wrong and we must destroy them even if that destruction causes our nation to fail with it.

How else to interpret the words of Rush Limbaugh when he said he hoped Barack Obama’s policies would fail? His being right was more important to him than his country’s welfare. If America had to fail to prove his point, so be it.

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Is this what we’ve really become just a few hundred years after those men in Philadelphia managed to somehow check their egos and prejudices at the door in order to make the compromises necessary to get this country started? Are we so politicized? So driven to one extreme or the other that there is no longer a viable middle? Are we really willing to continually sling mud at our political rivals rather than try to sit down with them and work out the agreements that keep our government running through good times and bad?

That Sarah Palin needs a legal defense fund is sad, even if she is responsible for filing at least one of those ethics complaints that led her to need legal representation. It’s sad because it’s another sign that the fight continues, that people refuse to budge from their positions on the far end of either line. The only real losers are the people in the middle, who wonder whatever happened to civil discourse and the ability to put the greater good of the aggregate above the selfish wishes of the few.

Where are our Founding Fathers when we need them? I’m afraid they are somewhere in heaven with their heads leaning on their arms in profound sadness at what’s become of their carefully crafted democracy.

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