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The Great Decision

Choosing between "kind" and "tough"...

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?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Péralte Paul September 09, 2012 at 01:01 AM
I agree mostly with what you said. Compromise, though, is seen as weakness, since your side, whatever side that is, has to "win." So then neither side is will yield for fear of being seen as "losing." But it could just an inherent byproduct of our two-party system. If we had coalition governments like those found in Europe or Israël, I think our elected officials would be forced to compromise more than they have to now.
Chris Callahan September 09, 2012 at 01:10 PM
I agree that Congressional politics has devolved into a "zero sum game" wherein I can't win unless you lose. Until very recently, though, there was an inkling, or maybe a charade of our public officials pursuing "a greater good" that meant real progress and benefits for the electorate. Now, sadly, I feel that "self-interest" has replaced "greater good" as the watchword for most Congressional representatives.

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