Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Goodbye To All That

The law of gravity, as was inevitable, prevailed on Tuesday, November 2. The truth is that government is not the World Series, Super Bowl or “Dancing with the Stars.” The “people’s business” is a serious matter with serious consequences. Both political parties have confused the “people’s business” with their own businesses and predilections, and have elevated gamesmanship over statesmanship. On election night, 2010, the voting citizens said “Goodbye to all that.”

We now enter a provisional period in which the institution of elected officials at all levels of government are given relatively short intervals in which to do the business “the people” require. Words are not deeds, and deeds will be the currency of public business in the era ahead.

The tendency may be to interpret the 2010 mid-term elections as a defeat of the Democratic Party, and a victory for the Republicans. In the technical sense, it was that, but simply to tally up the numbers is to miss the point of what the voters said and did.

I have, throughout my life of public affairs commentary, always argued that the very nature of the American republic is that most of its citizens occupy a great political center. The genius of the U.S. constitution is that from the very beginning, and in new and expanded ways as it was amended over time, it fostered that political center and enabled the course of American public life to be guided by the rule of law, and central principles balancing the individual and the government which serves them.

The conservative and liberal factions of the political center have been part of the nation’s public life since an unprecedented insurrection against the English monarchy put the British colony on the map as the United States of America. Over time, our governments at the state and national levels have alternated between the liberal and conservative factions, but almost always the political center prevailed.

Occasionally, leaders and movements that function beyond the political center arise in the U.S., but almost always the voters have rejected them. In 2008, the majority of voters elected Barack Obama, believing him to be in that long and inherent American tradition, and seeking change from the difficult economic conditions then unfolding. A man with almost no background or preparation for assuming the complex and immensely challenging U.S. presidency, Mr. Obama has allowed his administration to drift outside the political center, albeit the left center, and into areas which trespass the limits of which most Americans feel their government belongs.

John Boehner, soon to be the new speaker of the House of representatives, got it exactly right on Tuesday evening when he said that the American voters had told President Obama to “change course.”

These are times of extreme American vulnerability, facing dangers and threats of a magnitude not ever seen since a few citizens of Boston threw quantities of tea into Boston Harbor more than two centuries ago. President Obama acquired the always temporary right to hold the steering wheel of the American state for a term of office, but as we can only hope he learned on election night, 2010, the captains in our republic always report to the civilians.

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