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Someone much smarter than most of us warned that if we forget the lessons of history we are doomed to repeat them.  Since the beginning of the 1980s, we have drifted apart politically and economically for all the reasons thoroughly thrashed on these and other pages.  I watched (for the third time) Ken Burns' The Civil War recently and I drew some parallels between the mid-19th century national agony and the one occurring today.  Most of you get it already, but a reminder can't hurt to underscore the urgency of finding our way out of the current wilderness.

    The late historian Shelby Foote made two significant points during his opening comments in Ken Burns’ The Civil War.  He stated that the war itself defined who we are as a nation and that the decades leading up to the war illustrated how we lost or forgot how to practice the most unique and important aspect of our form of government:  COMPROMISE.  By entrenching political and economic positions in intransigency, we created the atmosphere for the greatest bloodbath this country has ever endured.

    What began as an argument about state’s rights evolved into a war over the moral horror show called slavery.  The real issues were economic.  The South, primarily an agrarian society and culture, was run by relatively few very wealthy land owners who owned and operated over 90% of the slave population.  The vast majority of southern whites owned no slaves.  When moderates tried to limit the spread of slavery economics to other, new territories, the entrenched southern aristocrats fought it, because they thought it would eventually impact their way of life.

    In watching the film I was reminded that hateful rhetoric directed at politicians is nothing new.  Lincoln himself was called names like “baboon” and “gorilla” as well as other less complimentary terms.  Why?  Because he advocated limiting slavery; he did not advocate abolishing it in his campaign or the first years of his presidency.  That came after the South showed they were adamant against reforming the union.  It wasn’t until January 1, 1863 that the Emancipation Proclamation became law.

    Few argue that the decades leading up to 1861 weren’t the darkest and most divisive in our political history.  Intransigence, not compromise, was the order of the day and the nation split apart as a result.  Our greatest political “invention”, compromise, was replaced with rancor, self-serving hostility and vicious attacks on opposing views to the point that emotions replaced reason and war replaced civilized resolution.

    If this sounds familiar, we seem to be in the midst of a similar atmosphere today.  The parallels are too obvious to ignore, but we’d better pay attention to fixing them before they once again get out of hand.

    With the entry into our political arena of scorched earth operatives like Karl Rove and Grover Norquist, the art and intent of compromise is replaced with ideological certainty, wedge issues that do nothing but inflame emotions and election rigging to ensure victory for a particular party.  Compromise, in this environment, is a sign of weakness.  Pledges are forced on politicians to ensure funding from political machinery.

    Perhaps worst of all is the blatant name-calling and hostility directed at the President.  Bill Clinton received a flood of invective the minute his hand came off the Bible.  Barack Obama has stimulated an unprecedented avalanche of hatred and invective from the moment he announced his candidacy.  New code words like multiculturalism arose to mask the true intent and meaning of those darts.

        When the minority mouth of the Senate says that their number one priority is to oust the President, compromise is the victim.  The machine of conservatism and compromise has been replaced by the lesser angels of fear, hate, greed, prejudice and power.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    len chaitin, Dude1701, wader

    "Have a beginner's mind at all times, for a beginner knows nothing and learns all while a sophisticate knows all and learns nothing." - Suzuki

    by dolfin66 on Thu Oct 11, 2012 at 05:56:12 AM PDT

  •  Quotes and misquotes (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dolfin66, wader

    It was Santayana who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

    On the other hand, a girl I once knew used to say, “Why bother to study history?  You’re just going to have to relive it again anyway.”

    •  Thanks. (0+ / 0-)

      I seem to remember Chruchill saying it also.  I hope he cited the source.

      "Have a beginner's mind at all times, for a beginner knows nothing and learns all while a sophisticate knows all and learns nothing." - Suzuki

      by dolfin66 on Thu Oct 11, 2012 at 08:34:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Cynic. (0+ / 0-)

      Your old acquaintance is part of the problem we now face.  Read Chris Hedges' book, The Death of the Liberal Class for a view into how things got to be the way they are with barely a whimper.

      We liberals have only ourselves to blame from 1981 to the present.

      Those of us going nuts on this, and other similar blogs remain a distinct minority who claim to be liberal or vote Democrat.  

      There are 40 million Americans who are buying the Republican bullshit line in the hopes that by voting that way they will become rich also.  The racism is just another reason for them to justify their cravenness.  

      In the 1920s, the Republicans promised eternal prosperity and sold the gullible citizenry on buying stocks on margin until THAT paper tower crumbled.  The Glass-Steagall Act in 1933 prevented investment banking to use depositor money to buy stocks.  Well, in 1999 the Gingrich Congress rammed the repeal through and we got another round of greed-induced disaster...just as John Kenneth Galbreath predicted.

      Yeah.  Let's just blow off history.  Who cares?

      "Have a beginner's mind at all times, for a beginner knows nothing and learns all while a sophisticate knows all and learns nothing." - Suzuki

      by dolfin66 on Thu Oct 11, 2012 at 08:48:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Perhaps a good idea in theory - but what about (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dolfin66

    in reality? I find the notion of looking for ways to compromise with conservatives so far-fetched as to be practically impossible. Just how would you suggest we do that, and which of our principles would you suggest we give up? Sure, there are some trivial matters we could probably compromise on, but as to anything consequential, I just can't see it.

    How do you compromise with people who insist that universal health-care coverage is socialism? How do you compromise with people who insist that taxes never be raised and want to cut them even further for the 1%? How do you compromise with people who insist that war and foreign adventurism in the service of economic self-interest (as they see it) is good and desirable? How do you compromise with people who insist that the right to vote is sacred for conservative white folk, and anyone else must be cheating. How do you compromise with people who insist that rape victims must bear the children of their attackers? How do you compromise with people who insist that government must be destroyed, and functions like education converted to for-profit venture capital opportunities?

    I could go on and on, because the list is endless, but I think the point is made. Reality is, we can't compromise with conservatives. Depending on your viewpoint, they're either empty-headed lowlife from another planet or deceitful, greedy, evil bastards. But regardless, their agenda, if fully enacted, would simply destroy this country. We can't let them do that, and any compromise is only going to encourage them.

    I say: no compromise, no way, no how. Stand tall as a progressive and fight the good fight against those people on every front.

    I believe that in every country the people themselves are more peaceably and liberally inclined than their governments. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

    by Blue Knight on Thu Oct 11, 2012 at 07:21:51 AM PDT

    •  I think that they have forgotten how to (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dolfin66

      compromise, as their money-backed, one-sided politics have whipped conservatives of many stripes into far-right extremists on various points that have become litmus tests for being a Republican in many locales.

      We've shown a willingness to compromise with the new era of extremism and it's only made our society's pitch into a moat around the 1%'s castle slower than it otherwise would have been if we entirely capitulated and went along with the selfish lies from the start, I suspect.

      "So, please stay where you are. Don't move and don't panic. Don't take off your shoes! Jobs is on the way."

      by wader on Thu Oct 11, 2012 at 08:39:11 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I see your point. (0+ / 0-)

      And that's why I wrote the piece.  Your position, which I mostly agree with, is precisely the problem.  We've crossed some sort of Rubicon in governing where we no longer practice governing the people or the nation; we're only looking out for special interests irrespective of the side one is on.

      I am an old, FDR Democrat, so when it comes to defending the legacy of the New Deal and the social services that makes us a better, more educated, more productive nation, I'm your newest best friend.  

      I write for two newspapers saying basically the same things as you've said here.  The extreme right wing has yanked any reason and sense of duty to compromise over to the right edge of a very steep social cliff.

      You'll have noted that my parallel with the Civil War is suggestive of where I think we're headed if something important doesn't happen.....like amending the Constitution to outlaw lobbying, Citizens United type actions and a much shorter election cycle.

      Nice quote from my hero, by the way.

      "Have a beginner's mind at all times, for a beginner knows nothing and learns all while a sophisticate knows all and learns nothing." - Suzuki

      by dolfin66 on Thu Oct 11, 2012 at 08:42:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  There is a difference between capitulation and (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dolfin66

    compromise. It is also no compromise if I triple or quadruple my demands before starting to negotiate in order to achieve my starting position as a "compromise" In focusing on the 1800s you seem to have missed most of what happened in the 1900s and 2000s.

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

    by enhydra lutris on Thu Oct 11, 2012 at 10:18:20 AM PDT

    •  Nope. (0+ / 0-)

      This is a modified version of my weekly column that appears in the Oklahoma Observer.  I only get so many words and couldn't discuss the entire socio-economic debate over a century.  You'll have to buy my book to get that.

      "Have a beginner's mind at all times, for a beginner knows nothing and learns all while a sophisticate knows all and learns nothing." - Suzuki

      by dolfin66 on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 07:17:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  BTW, that version of the history of the Civil (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dolfin66

    War is from being universally acepted outside of in the south and among groups like League of the South, Sons of Confederate Veterans, etc.

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

    by enhydra lutris on Thu Oct 11, 2012 at 10:21:16 AM PDT

    •  I live in Texas. (0+ / 0-)

      You're telling me?  I'm not a Texan, but some of the righties here think the South won the war and that slavery is normal to the existence of man.  They fail to grasp the truth that states rights prevented the South from executing the necessary economics to sustain the war.  If it weren't for incredibly bad generals in the Union army and incredibly capable generals in the Confederate army, the war would have been finished in 6-9 months.  

      The result of the long slog and blood bath was an evolution of purpose from an economic war to a moral war (slavery) to a war of hatred.  The hate was a stronger motive to fight than the other two, but was inevitable.

      Down here the hatred still exists.  The lashing out at President Obama by the TP strongholds here, among others, is an extension of all of the 3 motives into modern times.  

      The joke around here is that Jesus himself could run as a Democrat and he'd lose 72-28.

      "Have a beginner's mind at all times, for a beginner knows nothing and learns all while a sophisticate knows all and learns nothing." - Suzuki

      by dolfin66 on Fri Oct 12, 2012 at 07:21:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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