By Blaney Pridgen
All of my adult life I have heard conversation and debate about matters from both liberal and conservative positions in every sphere of influence, concern, and power in our national life. This is our national dialogue, which makes us a workable democracy. This coming together of liberals, who serve their values but can work with and respect conservatives, and conservatives who serve their values but can work with and respect liberals, is our nation at her best. And the genius of our Constitution and the rule of law preserve this. Also, an energetic and inquisitive electorate preserve this, whether they are liberal or conservative. Furthermore, it logically has to be that one pole or the other will hold sway from time to time. But something has gone gravely haywire. I have said this before.
Conservative and liberals, in the highest and best sensibilities of their dispositions, are moving toward extinction. Together they are a minority in my estimation. At the best, they add up to forty percent of the population, but I fear less. Those who have taken their place are the reactionaries and the radicals. There are too many folk who think they are conservatives, but they are really reactionaries. They will react to anything that doesn’t fit their beliefs and the exact way they want their culture to be. Any proposition that does not conform to their mythology is fightin’ words. Likewise, there are too many folk who think they are liberals, but they are really radicals. They will willy-nilly put forth visions of the way they think things ought to be and tear down whatever stands in their way. Any reservation that does not conform to their enlightened quest is fightin’ words. Now here is a difference. True conservatives and true liberals consider themselves to be partners in the grand enterprise of democracy. Reactionaries and radicals consider themselves to be combatants in a war to subjugate the other. I will go so far as to claim that both the reactionaries and the radicals are blatantly autocratic and look at their adulterated definitions of democracy as merely a means to an end in gaining ultimate power. I suspect that if we add up all of the reactionaries and the radicals in and out of political office, in and out of power in any other grouping like religion, education, and economics, then we have sixty percent of the population. Something has gone gravely haywire.
I earnestly and desperately beg both liberally minded folk and conservatively minded folk of moderate and sensible disposition to close the doors of the clown cars out of which the radical and reactionary characters come hopping and hooting with their antics. I also earnestly and desperately beg both the radicals and reactionaries to turn down their volume and to cultivate listening and to cultivate something akin to the common good of a healthy republic made up of all sorts of conditions of human experience. More specifically, I call upon the Republican Party to moderate their reactionaries and to keep them on the back row. Likewise, I call upon the Democrat Party to moderate their radicals and to keep them on the back row. We can’t get rid of either of them in a free society, but we can model good manners for them and insist that they at least behave.
I know in times past I have written similar editorials to this one, but we are living amidst new dangers which require us to come together united against common enemies within and without. I am repeating myself with heightened concern. Mean-spirited, inflexible anger is a deadly sin at any level and from any quarter. Compromise and earnest desire for a united consensus can be a virtue. We can create a better society with more humility and less hostility. If we are going to continue to be the leaders of the free world, then we need to act like it. If we are intending to be the best model of a democracy for all the world to see, then we need a bit more humility in our work together for common goals. Fierce, feisty, and tempestuous partisanship will ruin us as it continually side-tracks us with destructive allegiances to divisive issues and skirmishes in the culture wars. I believe we Americans will always have a lot of rough-cut rowdy boys and girls and pointy-headed elites among us. We need them. Some of us are them. But they are vociferous fringe elements who protest too much, while our greater challenges go unmet and our international prestige slides into the shadowlands of history. Both of our political parties seem oblivious to this.
No one wins in the end unless we all win. And our enemies shall surely win or at least diminish us if we do not get our house in good order. What we risk losing is the best historical model of democracy getting even better and our leadership of the free world. I cannot stress this enough.