That Darn Fringe Ruins Everything

“Important principles may and must be inflexible” – Abraham Lincoln

I caught an article from the Washington Post the other day by David Ignatius called “Gridlock Breaker: Country First.” Real Clear Politics has a copy here.

In the article, Ignatius excerpts an apparently brief interview with former congressman Lee Hamilton. Hamilton goes on to lament the dysfunctional nature of politics in this country (clearly the topic of the article). And to what does Hamilton attribute current difficulties? To quote him, “The big question in politics today is, what happened to the center?” and “The centrifugal forces have become dominant.” A prognosis with which Ignatius apparently agrees.

Really? Is this what these guys really believe? The problem in American politics is “fringe” elements on the left and right who stake out principled positions which are important to them and refuse to bend or compromise for the sake of pragmatism? You have got to be kidding me.

How dare the free people do that! How dare they presume to think for themselves! How dare they express their own personal views to their elected officials – an assembly of their betters. How dare they believe that their opinions or principles or heartfelt convictions have any importance whatsoever in the grand scheme of things. Do they not understand that the benevolent, intelligent, kind-hearted politicians in Washington could make the country run a whole lot better if the citizenry would just keep quiet and do as they’re told? Don’t they understand that the ruling elites do everything for the benefit of the common man? The least the common man could do is learn his place!

The article speaks clearly to the utter misguided mindset that dominates the Washington elites. Those pesky voters are always getting in the way when legislators are trying to make progress. Freedom is a tricky thing.

The article closes with a nice bit of revisionist history: “I asked Hamilton if he thought that America, with its political problems, is a country in decline. He quoted Lincoln’s famous Civil War speech asking whether a divided nation ‘can long endure.'”

This is a misquote to say the least. The Gettysburg Address, up to Hamilton’s quote, is this: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

While Lincoln certainly had things to say about “a house divided,” the question being asked was whether a nation conceived in liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, can endure. While Hamilton and Ignatius and the ruling establishment lament about a country that won’t lay down principles for the sake of progress, while they lament that the government can’t get back to its true purpose of “making the country work” – the words of Lincoln express something greater.

This nation was founded in liberty, and the proposition that all men are created equal. There is no ruling class whose principles are greater than ours, whose mental faculties are more advanced than ours, whose benevolence is beyond question. In such a country, the purpose of the government is not to make the country work, but to ensure the rights of the people, and to defend liberty.

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3 Responses to That Darn Fringe Ruins Everything

  1. Eric says:

    When I first read the title, which was admittedly on my Blackberry without the best view, I thought I was reading “That Darn Fridge Ruins Everything.” Where is he going with this, I wondered?

    I think I could not disagree more with this post. On one hand, I understand the sentiment. People deserve to believe what they want, firmly and even dogmatically if it suits them. But I think the center has its advantages, not because of its position in the center of whatever spectrum of belief we are talking about, but because of its flexibility. This, to me, is at the heart of a scientific perspective. I have argued about this before regarding the conflict between faith and reason: if we are unwilling to change our ideas, then our ideas have no chance of getting better. Faith is the belief that no other idea is better.

    • nomasir says:

      I have no brief (or none at this time) for “centrism” or flexibility, both are valid and viable in a free society. My contention is with the claims of Hamilton and Ignatius that the problem with American politics is extremism. If the center is as large as believed then perhaps it should vote more often and carry the day. That said, I doubt the center is as big or shapely as popular conjecture would have it. The political spectrum has more than one dimension (left or right), and sometimes the middle ground on a particular issue is not held by anybody. That is, the distribution is multi-modal.

      I should say that the real problem with American politics is much simpler than this. The problem IS the legislators themselves. Having usurped ever greater authority over the lives of men, they sit waiting to take larger and larger bribes from corporations, unions, special interests, etc. Recognizing this, though, would require the politicians to examine themselves, something they’re not so good at doing. They hold a religious zeal in regards to their own benevolence towards men, their own goodness and wisdom, and their concept of the proper role of government – “to make this country work.”

      Hamilton and Ignatius inherently know that something is broken with the system. They then strain to come up with an answer of “it’s the extremism” when the more obvious answer sits right in front of them. Alas, they cannot violate their tenets of faith.

      As for the extremists, they really can be reasoned with, for the most part. If a valid argument of “this solution is better” were presented, you may be surprised at just how many would listen. And this is where the fight ought to be – in rational discourse amongst free men.

  2. Pingback: That Darn Fringe Again | Freedom at Bethsaida

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