Well, the conventions are over, the battle lines have been drawn, and we're off to eight-and-a-half weeks of hyperbole, pandering, rhetoric and outright lies. So has it always been in American politics; so, likely, shall it ever be.
This election year has been promoted as the time of The Great Decision -- the pundits are gushing that voters have a clear choice about the direction this nation will take in coming generations. And while that might be true, I don't find Twitter "trending" toward any really coherent articulation of what that "clear choice" might be.
In his seminal work, Democracy in America, Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville observed that "America is great because it is good." A dozen years earlier, President James Monroe proclaimed what is now know as The Monroe Doctrine, declaring that the United States would not tolerate any foreign power dominating any country in the New World. This ongoing dynamic of "kind" and "tough" has dominated the American Character since the beginning. When the Confederacy was formed in 1861, the Federal Government was tough; when contemplating Reconstruction, Lincoln's plan (though largely abandoned due to his assassination) was to forgive and reunite.
In both World Wars, America was a reluctant participant. It was only when directly attacked that we "got tough." Throughout the Cold War, the US played the role of the benevolent patron of liberty, as opposed to those "godless Communists." But the interplay of "kind" and "tough" defined those years as much as any other era in American history.
The delicate balance of these two forces -- kind and tough -- is in our collective DNA. One without the other is unthinkable to most Americans. Yet, with the polarization of national politics -- starting with Watergate and accelerating through Iran-Contra, Whitewater, Lewinsky, Guantamano-sidestepping of the Geneva Convention, torture declared "legal," animosity over Obamacare -- it seems to me that the binding relationship of "kind" and "tough" is beginning to fray.
Which brings us back to The Great Decision with which we are faced. Has the refusal to compromise really led us to choosing between compassion and intransigence? Listening to the cacophony of commentators weighing in from the media, it would appear so. We might be well-served to heed de Tocqueville's corollary: "...when America ceases to be good, it will no longer be great." It will take true compromise -- not finger-pointing and rhetoric -- to get this nation back on track. We must be both good and tough. It's what makes us uniquely American. Lose this balance and we lose part of Who We Are. What do you think?