G. Washington, S. Brown & Idealism

This is both interesting and sad:

Over at dotCommonweal, Robert Imbelli had a brief post on the buzz-producing “Yes” from Scott Brown on yesterday’s jobs bill. While many analysts have spent the last little while dissecting the vote itself, Imbelli noticed a much quieter (yet much more depressing) note in the story:

Three hours before the jobs-bill vote, the Senate chamber opened with its 117-year tradition of reading Washington’s Farewell Address on his birthday. The current lawmakers evidently didn’t think much of the tradition, for they assigned the reading to Roland Burris, the senator from Blagojevich. Total number of senators at their desks for the reading: zero.


Writes Joseph Susanka:

That’s truly demoralizing, and more troubling to me than whatever the nation’s youngest senator may or may not have meant by his “Yea.” The Farewell Address . . . certainly seems like the sort of thing that could be heard with good effect about now:

Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Our first and perhaps best president, identifying -from his close perspective- the corrupting nature of power, even when granted to those with the very best intentions in the world, by a people who respect and believe in the system that delivers it.

It is not enough to say you are all about “liberty” or that you are committed to “helping” others. Unless our leadership truly enters the political arena with the heart of a servant, with all the humility that implies, sooner or later the acquisition and maintenance of power will distort an office-holder’s perspective, and unravel a party’s ideals: the party that promotes equality forgets that equality of opportunity sets free, while equality of outcome necessarily sets the shackles. The party that speaks compellingly of individual liberty goes into mild hysterics when a moderate conservative votes “with” the opposition.

Yesterday, at the news of Scott Brown’s (and a few other Republican’s) decision to vote for the barely-there “jobs” bill, I tweeted:

Glad some GOPers r voting 4 weak “jobs” bill; wrecks “govt broken” narrative WH trying to build. Passing bipart bill sez otherwise

Within my 140 character limitation, I expressed satisfaction with Brown’s vote, believing it accomplished rather a lot at comparatively little cost, either politically or economically. Given the way this administration is spending money it doesn’t have, a $15 billion dollar bill for anything seems like chump-change, and in the meantime, passing a weak “bi-partisan” bill completely destroys a dishonest narrative that we have watched the White House, the Democrats and the press construct, these past weeks. One cannot simultaneously argue that a government is “broken” while bi-partisan jobs bills are being passed with relative alacrity -even if one is Barack Obama, or Nancy Pelosi- without one’s connivance going transparent.

Mine was an unpopular opinion in some forums. In one, a great deal was made of the fact that I am an Irish-Catholic former Democrat from New York, which apparently translates into “untrustworthy” Conservative/Republican in Name Only (CRINO), just like the non-Catholic, non-New Yorker Scott Brown.

Anyone with a lick of sense had to know that Brown would be called out for CRINO-ism within a month of being seated. As I wrote to some staunchly conservative friends a few weeks ago:

You’ll be calling Scott Brown a RINO in short order. Ideals are fine; we need them. But ideals are also what put McCain against Obama when “no” candidate on the right could pass the purity test.

When “issues” become utterly non-negotiable -to the point where good people are dismissed because they’re not “perfect” on “the issues”- then they have become more than issues; they’ve become our godlings, and we’ve become their idolators.

It’s something I worried about a little when Bush’ popularity was soaring. I worried about it again when his numbers were in the toilet because both the hateful left and the “purists” on the right were pummeling him; the idolatry of “perfection” was behind much of the hate. If we allow perfect to be the enemy of the good, we doom ourselves. Reagan understood this.

Rush Limbaugh said [January 21, 2010] that Brown is “essentially” a conservative. What he said was “except for on spending, he could be George W. Bush.”

Well, no. Bush was staunchly pro-life, and anti-gay marriage. Brown is pro-choice (draws the line at partial-birth abortion) and pro-gay marriage.

Hmmm…there we go – God or political mammon, once again.


The question is, can men like Bush and Brown
live in the “conservative/republican” tent, or must they be expelled as CRINO’s, with all commensurate tarring-and-feathering, and rendered utterly ineffective? Or is it time for the “purists” to realize that a perfect unwillingness to compromise strands us all?

The illegal immigration issue demonstrates this very well. From that same email:

I am weary of this narrative that no patriotic person with conservative values can be on the side of “amnesty” for illegals.

Good and reasonable people can disagree on this very complicated issue without being dismissed as “irredeemably wrong.” A blanket amnesty is a non-solution that will never fly. But the “ship them all back” mentality is never going to fly, either; nothing constructive will ever be done on the issue until good people from both sides can manage to move just a little bit toward the center. Just a tad.

I have this debate all the time, and I’m sick of it. I had a woman on twitter telling me that all the illegals have to “be shipped back” before anything can be done. When I asked her how we should do that (by train? at gunpoint? How, exactly?) She didn’t know or care. “They need to go back to Mexico” she wrote “then they can come in legally.”

Talk about idealistic pie-in-the-sky.

Another person chimed in that his grandfather came from Italy and he “did it the right way, legally, through Ellis Island.” Well, lah-de-freaking dah, so did my grandfather, but he was able to do that because Ellis Island was in place, as was a realistic and workable immigration policy and procedure, none of which we currently have. I will suggest that had the Ellis Island option not been open to them, my grandfather (and his) in trying to escape the poverty and crime of Sicily, would likely have entered America anyway, quite illegally.

Our immigration policy has been broken since the 1970’s; and almost nothing enraged me more than the right screaming to Bush (after an election-year provocation provided by the left): “fix this now, and fix it the way WE say to fix it, all other options are unacceptable and if you pursue them, you’re not a REAL American!” The throwing under the bus of “Jorge Arbushto” -who told you when you elected him that he was for some sort of workable grandfathering-in of illegals- was to me one of the most shameful acts of the far-right. In demanding the “ideal” of Bush and the GOP – in being unwilling to be realistic about the world as it is – they ended up accomplishing nothing.

In this case, “ideals” served the nation exactly how?

We need a new immigration policy and it needs to include a means for people who have lived here peaceably and productively -sometimes for decades- to be grandfathered in as contributing citizens, not criminals. By all means, let us raise a barrier, but also – by ALL means – let us create an “Ellis Island West” with stations along the border from California to Texas, where people who wish to immigrate may do so legally and with documentation. Let us set up “Little Ellis Islands” where those immigrants who ARE peaceful and productive can come with their families, without risk of deportation, to begin the process of citizenship. That is the American way: purposeful, orderly and humane.

There will have to be some criteria. They’ll need to have been here at least 5 years, be able to prove they’ve been working and that they’re willing to learn English. Let’s get them on the rolls and contributing to the tax-base. Those who do not fit the criteria go back. Those who try to evade the process, they get shipped back, too, and with stiff restrictions on their ever getting back in.

I have no problem with peaceful, hard-working folk who want to live here doing so, and while I wish they’d all come over legally, I can’t fault them for being too poor to be able to jump through the dysfunctional, sometimes decade-long hoops our current (and badly need of reform) immigration policies can demand.


The American who can manage to develop and put into action
a functional, sensible and sturdy immigration policy that is neither “blanket amnesty” nor “ship them all back” is the American who will win for his/her party the everlasting gratitude of the fastest-growing voting bloc in the nation.

There is no “perfect” conservative. And if someone tells me “Palin” I will suggest to you that she is rather quiet on immigration and that if she were pushed on it, she would expose herself as more lenient than most would expect, because if Palin has nothing else, she has common sense.

Scott Brown is a “conservative” by the standards of Massachusetts. We’ll see him called a CRINO very soon, by those very same purists who were willing to overlook a few things about him to defeat the Democrats in that state.

Which means, perhaps, that pragmatism and expediency still do have their place, even with the world of purists and ideals. But the bill always comes due, and if the pragmatism does not hold, then people with what Rush calls “essentially” conservative values balkanize themselves into incoherent “life” or “fiscal” or “social” factions, and the search for “purity” again narrows the choices down to extremists or mediocrities, neither of which will do.

Washington was not an extremist or a mediocrity, but as a general he had failed and succeeded enough to know that the world was imperfect and must be dealt with as it is. The world as it is may not trump ideals, but it does demand that both parties and their “absolute” ideals take a civil seat at the table, and refrain from banging their shoes.

There are some indications that -on the right, anyway– some ideals are evolving and coalescing in interesting ways:

[80% of CPAC attendees -nearly half of whom were college students- said that their “most important goal is to promote individual freedom by reducing the size and scope of government and its intrusions into the lives of its citizens.”] While voter priorities change, political positions don’t. These people are still pro-life, but they’re not voting on the issue right now. What do you think? Is this a sign of a larger shift, or just part of the political ebb and flow?

Perhaps it is both. President Washington outlined that tumbling cycle of politics, parties and issues; there will always be ideals, and ideals will always be subject to recalculation due to the larger influences. If you are employed and feeling confident in your nation and your rights, you can prioritize your pro-life leanings; if you are unemployed, feeling doubtful about the future of your nation and your rights, then “securing” them becomes the priority, because without your rights, and your children’s full bellies, your activism is dead.

The Bush presidency showed us that a pro-life president with both houses still cannot change the abortion laws in this country. That will be a job for legislators and courts, always and ever. And even a pro-choice president can appoint excellent jurists, which is what matters. The Obama presidency demonstrates that a socialist agenda, with both houses, still cannot ethically do all they want.

I quoted this a while back:

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
–Lincoln’s Second Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862.

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