• 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, 2009

You lie.

Joe Wilson
Congressman, South Carolina

The debate over health-care reform in America is being dominated by two extreme political factions. Ideologues on the far left threaten to torpedo any bill that fails to have a public insurance option. Ideologues on the far right are doing what they can to torpedo the entire process.

During the debates over the ratification of the Constitution in 1787–88, James Madison had observed that liberty is to faction what air is to fire. If we are to have liberty, then we will inevitably have factions.

The … causes of faction are … sown in the nature of man … A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points … have divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.

The Federalist No. 10
James Madison

Factions have been with us since America’s founding. And as Madison so wisely observed they are too often much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.

And so it is today in the debate over health care.

Based on available evidence, it’s quite possible that proactively encouraging honest dialogue about death, both with the dying and with members of their family, might result in a better quality of life for the dying while also saving 10% of Medicare costs. But we may never know; not after Sarah Palin raised the specter of “death squads.”

And it’s likely that a well-conceived system of cooperative insurance exchanges could exceed any government-managed public insurance option. But we may never know; too many on the far-left are ideologically opposed to the concept.

It’s even likely that letting illegal immigrants — who tend to be younger and healthier than the average American — buy into the pool of insured would lower everyone else’s cost of health care. But Joe Wilson made sure that this option would never see the light of day.

So while factions are as American as Motherhood and Apple Pie, here we are, we, the people, seemingly paralyzed by factions. And while one can often make the case that government paralysis might be a good thing, this is not one of these times; not with the aging of America and the increasing proportion of our national wealth being consumed by ever-rising healthcare costs.

America loses when factions become ideologically frozen, when they paralyze the nation, when they become disrespectful, when they become more interested in the other side losing than in America winning. America loses when factions become much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.

And right now, at this moment in our history, America is losing.

People are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.
Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life.
The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.

Tao Te Ching

This is the good news. In their ideological inflexibility, their intolerance, their disrespect for one another and for the rest of us, the old American factions of the far-left and the far-right have become hard and stiff, brittle and dry. They have become disciples of death.

The right takes delight in the fall of ACORN, brought to its knees by the seeming absence of a secular moral compass. The left takes delight in the fall of South Carolina’s governor, brought to his knees by his seeming disregard of his own self-professed Christian moral compass. Caught up in the paroxysm of their own death, they bring each other down. Greed, stupidity and hypocrisy seem to be the order of the day.

What are we, the people, to do? Are we to allow ourselves to be taken down – frozen into bad decisions – by these dying political factions?

Or will we, the people, seize the moment and create a new American faction, one capable not just of curing America’s sick health care system but, more generally, of providing the pragmatic leadership required to meet the other monumental challenges America — and the world — faces in the 21st century?

Perhaps pragmatic leadership is being born right now in the Senate Finance Committee. Perhaps it still exists in the bipartisan Senators — the Gang of 14 — who stood together in 2005 against the tyranny of the ideologues in their own parties. Perhaps, President Obama will be successful in his attempt at pragmatic leadership.

However it happens though, my reading of history — coupled with my faith in the vision of the founders — is that this new pragmatic American faction is already emerging.

— a new American pragmatism that understands that the most important job is to intelligently get the job done

— a new American pragmatism conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal

— a new American pragmatism committed to liberty and justice for all

— a new American pragmatism able to rejoice in the rambunctious give and take of faction, seeing in it the playing out of liberty; able to smile at Joe Wilson’s perhaps over-enthusiastic outburst the way one would treat an inadvertent belch from a friend— rather than seeking to rebuke him for it

— a new American pragmatism that embodies Lincoln’s simple wisdom about getting along: If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which is the high road to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause be a just one.

— a new American pragmatism that also embodies Learned Hand’s Spirit of Liberty: that spirit which is not too sure that it is right; which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; which weighs the interests of others alongside its own without bias; and that remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded.

— a new American pragmatism committed to co-operate for the common good, treating everyone — friend and foe alike — by the Golden Rule, recognizing that this simple 2,500 year-old homily is the true source of the blessings of liberty.

Let freedom ring.

Copyright © 2009. 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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