Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series.
“Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself.”— John Adams
When asked what the Founders created in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin replied: “A Republic, madam; if you can keep it.”
MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN in the last few years regarding the contemptuousness and division of the American political system. Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein in “It’s Even Worse than it Looks” lay the blame for political polarization and ineffectual governing at the feet of the Republicans as a whole, and specifically the Tea Party. They brand the Republican Right as extremists unwilling and unable to work with Democrats, especially with President Obama, to achieve lasting good and to promote the public interest.
Amy Gutman and Dennis Thompson in “The Spirit of Compromise” are more conciliatory. They contend that political compromise is lost, swallowed up by inflated egos and the constant demand to campaign rather than govern. Thus, politicians are ensnared in their own trappings of power and prestige, foregoing the needs of the public. Only a return to the true “art” of compromise can save the Republic.
E.J.Dionne, Jr.’s newest book, “Our Divided Political Heart,” comes closer to the truth of the problem: “Americans can’t agree on who we are because we can’t agree on who we’ve been.” He points out that American tradition is not rooted in “radical self-reliance and self-interest, but a balance between our love of individual freedom and our devotion to community.”
Thus, “hyper individualism” is the poison infecting the American political system. Dionne heralds the federal government’s position in society while chastising his Liberal brethren’s distortion of the benefits of Progressivism.
More recently, two former politicians, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Rep. Dan Glickman (D-Kansas), co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform, released a document outlining 60 “concrete and achievable” recommendations that will enable the federal government to better govern “regardless of the deep ideological divides that exist both among lawmakers and the American public.”