Convenient Historical Perspectives

Tuesday was primary election day in Indiana. The state continued its shift to the far right, selecting several candidates for the general election who have narrow views of both US history and how our nation should be governed going forward.

I’m fascinated by how many politicians run around saying that they want to return our government to the ideals that the Founding Fathers had in mind. Why are so many voters so dumb as to believe the Founders had a monolithic view of government? There were a shitload of Founders, and they didn’t all agree on everything. The constitutional process was contentious and many of those involved in creating our government left with bad feelings about the final result. Yet to hear some folks today, the Founders were all on the same page and their 18th Century view of the world is unquestionably the best way to govern in the 21st Century.

Tuesday, long-time Indiana senator Dick Lugar was trounced in the Republican primary by a candidate who toes the Tea Party line and has said he will refuse to ever compromise with senators who hold differing views. The nominee, Richard Mourdock, said that Lugar – a genuinely decent man who spent his entire career carving out a place in the Senate where all views were aired and respected even if eventually voted against – and his style are to blame for all that ills America. So the “constitutionalist” is saying that a man who represented Indiana in a manner that most Founding Fathers would likely approve of, regardless of their ideology, is the one who has caused the problems while narrow-minded, obstructionists like Mourdock are the ones who will cure what ails our country.

Our country is in trouble because members of both parties, in all branches of government, have refused to make tough choices and ask America to make sacrifices for generations. Republicans see spending cuts/tax reductions as the only way to get the economy back on track, and are intent on gutting every part of government except for Defense. Democrats have pushed forward new spending programs while refusing to take honest, long-overdue assessments of existing programs that could result in significant changes in benefits and budget savings.

To get this nation back on track, it will not take conservative or liberal policies, or even some wishy-washy centrist solution. It will take members of both parties, in all offices, talking honestly and openly about what things we need to change to move forward. There will be new taxes, whether the Republicans like it or not. There will be fundamental changes to the old school entitlement programs, whether Democrats like it or not. And to get there without completely wrecking the economy in the process, it will take open-minded, contentious debate, not digging their heels in and refusing to move away from narrow views. Politicians must take political risks and actually be honest with Americans for a change, instead of blaming the other side and insisting that their plan is the only way to fix things. And we’re all going to have to give something up. Wall Street and Main Street. The 1% and the 99%. Majority and minorities. Cities, suburbs, and farms.

Richard Mourdock is right that fixing our country will involve honoring what the Founding Fathers did when they built the foundations for our government. Where he’s wrong, though, is in his imagined belief that the Founders were a singular entity with one view of the world and how government should work. He’s forgetting that the Founders were many, had different perspectives, and believed in the power of debate and compromise. The “miracle” of American government that has allowed this nation to survive civil and global war, economic catastrophe, and political turmoil, is their compromises to ensure that all segments of the country were represented in government. Something the Tea Partiers seem to forget.