The days of political camaraderie are over, writes Washington Post columnist Dionne (Foundations of Democracy and Culture/Georgetown Univ.; Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right, 2008, etc.), who nonetheless offers some possible correctives to the current poisonous political climate.
The clash between Republicans and Democrats, writes the author, has devolved into the struggle of individualism versus community, local versus national and the Right versus the Middle. Philosophical boundaries are tilted, and moderates are now often painted as left wing. Rampant historical revisionism divides us. Dionne decries interpretations of the Founding Fathers’ intentions by the courts as well as politicians; originalists have little basis to claim definite knowledge of the intentions of the framers of the Constitution. Knowing that the Constitution was a work in progress that would grow and adapt to the times, they continued to argue, balance and compromise. Hamilton, Clay, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt used republican nationalism to better the American community. The communitarian reforms of the New Deal established the idealistic American Century. Now the resurgence of radical individualism threatens to dissolve those reforms. Populist methods are the favored tool to promote individualistic objectives and attack the elites, especially Wall Street. However, it is not so much that the wealthy have too much; it’s that they have failed in their stewardship of our economy. The men who founded our country were elites and elitist. The difference is that those founders knew that they also had a social obligation to provide for the common good. Dionne condemns the current partisanship as destructive and demands the return to moderation, balance and compromise.
The author’s extensive knowledge of Washington allows him to ably illustrate our remarkable political history, and he renews our hope that cooler heads can prevail with a renewed balance of individual rights and the needs of the community.