• We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. -Benjamin Franklin, Freedom Fighter

  • We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. -Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Fighter

  • Let us be cautious in making assertions and critical in examining them, but tolerant in permitting linguistic forms. -Rudolf Carnap, Philosopher

  • A clash of doctrines is not a disaster—it is an opportunity. -Alfred North Whitehead, Philosopher

  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poet

  • Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi, Mystic

  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. – Rene Descartes, Philosopher

  • A house divided against itself cannot stand. -Abraham Lincoln, President

  • Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einstein, Scientist

  • Be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi, Freedom Fighter

Constitution Day, 2007

We, the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Preamble to the Constitution
United States of America

In the 1790s, Benjamin Franklin’s grandson, Benjamin Franklin Bache, was a leading newspaperman and Anti-Federalist in Philadelphia. A strong critic of George Washington, Bache’s anti-federalist tirades were little more than character assassinations of the President. In one of these attacks, Bache even accused Washington of having been a British spy during the Revolution, planning to sell out the country until Benedict Arnold beat him to the punch!

So vitriolic were the Anti-Federalists that in 1796, Thomas Paine – whose words these are the times that try men’s souls had 20 years earlier helped ignite the American Revolution – published an essay in Bache’s newspaper in which he wrote of the President:

the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an impostor; whether you have abandoned good principles, or whether you ever had any.

Several events these last few weeks have brought the story of these attacks on Washington to mind. The first is watching the speed at which conservative Republicans distanced themselves from Idaho Senator Larry Craig after Craig’s sexual orientation became suspect. The second was an email I received from the ultra-Liberal organization MoveOn with the subject “Democrats in Name Only.” Then just last week, MoveOn published a full page ad in the New York Times in which they suggested that General Petraeus should be renamed “General Betray Us.”

If two people work for me and they agree all the time, one of them is worthless. If they disagree all the time, they’re both worthless.

Sam Goldwyn

As Paine’s denunciation of the Father of Our Country so well illustrates, factions are as American as apple pie.

Less obvious though, is that factions come along with freedom and liberty, like some kind of Siamese triplets.

Liberty, as James Madison so wisely understood, was the very cause of faction. Different people think differently and have different interests. Those with similar attitudes and objectives often bond together, seeking to accomplish their agenda in the political marketplace. The result is faction.

To eliminate factions was to destroy liberty, replacing it with tyranny. For Madison “the remedy … was worse than the disease.” Factions are evidence of the resiliency of liberty and it is through their growth and decay that the blessings of liberty evolve through history.

So factions we must have. Indeed we should glory in them, for they are the very expression of the liberties we hold so dear.

But we’ve also got work to do. Difficult challenges to solve. A future to build.

And right now, at this moment in America’s history, when the world needs our leadership more than ever, we, the people, are being held captive by factions of the right and the left that have taken control of our Government. These factions subject us to never-ending inconsequential debates whose every nuance is designed to win – or at least not lose – the support of some intolerant faction.

To use Iraq as an example, all these debates simply aren’t solving the problem. America doesn’t need nuanced debates and less-nuanced arguments over how many troops can come home when. And we certainly don’t need factions taking cheap shots at fellow Americans who are doing their very best in a very difficult, incredibly challenging situation.

What we do need is for our elected officials to sit down in a room and not come out until they have a unified plan for dealing with Iraq. The plan must be realistic, it has to reflect America’s legitimate interests, and, particularly since we brought this devastation to Iraq, it has to reflect our moral principles. And it must be based on a consensus that can win the support of the American people.

Solving our Iraqi morass is just one example of what America needs at this moment of our history. America has lots of challenges and we need to start working together to solve them: security, health care, social security, the economy, immigration, global warming, etc, etc, etc.

What we do not need are factions that paralyze our ability to get anything done. And all the anger, all the hostility, all the distrust, all the if they’re for it, I must be against it mentality of the true believer factions; their very attitude of us vs them puts America, perhaps the world, at great risk. This we do not need.

America needs a new kind of faction, not a true believer faction but a pragmatic faction. A faction dedicated to meeting our political challenges with the same kind of wisdom and courage the founders showed 220 years ago when they produced our Constitution. A no-faction faction committed to practical results reflecting America at our best.

True believer factions are dangerous precisely because they insist that the outcome be the way they want. In this they reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of liberty, for liberty requires compromise. Without compromise, it’s me or you. Either you force me to give up some of my liberty or I force you to give up some of yours. That’s not America. It’s tyranny.

American pragmatism understands the necessity of compromise. More importantly it understands that the blessings of liberty flow from the creative act of win-win-win compromise. Understanding this, the pragmatist is not afraid to let the outcome freely evolve based on the needs and wisdom of the people.

In this way, American pragmatism reflects the deeply spiritual American point-of-view that Jefferson captured in the words of the Declaration – we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …. American pragmatism is deeply spiritual without being specific to any religion or other belief system. In this, it honors them all.

This new American pragmatism is already emerging. We have seen it in the Senators who compromised on judges in the last Session. And the ones who tried to pass an immigration reform bill. And in the States where Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, is governing with an explicitly pragmatic agenda.

There was a painting of the sun on the back of the chair from which George Washington presided over the Constitutional convention. The painting made it impossible to tell whether the sun was rising or setting. Benjamin Franklin – grandfather both of the Revolution and of Washington’s future arch-enemy — recognized as much when he said “All through the convention I have wondered if this was a rising or a setting sun. Now I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.”

Now it’s up to us. We, the people.

Is it to remain a rising sun for us, too, that we may bequeath the blessings of liberty to our children? Or is it for us to be a setting sun?

The answer depends on how quickly we break the tyrannical shackles of the true believer factions, forming a new American majority dedicated to pragmatically meeting our responsibility to form that ever-more perfect union.

Let freedom ring.

Copyright © 2007. Stan Stahl. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay in its entirety provided its source is identified asThe Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org and this copyright is included.

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