Thursday, December 30, 2010

Patriotism

Before the Senate passed the new START treaty with Russia, a number of senators threatened to vote against the treaty for no other reason than that they did not want Obama to have another political victory. In the end they relented but this sort of partisan politics has become excessively familiar in the last years. Members of both parties seem more intent on winning small victories for their party than voting in the interest of the country as a whole.

When the US Constitution was being considered by different states for ratification, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay wrote a series of articles--now known to us as the Federalist Papers--in praise of the new Constitution. In article number 10, Madison describes narrowminded party politics:

A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, . . . have, in turn, 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. ”

Madison believed that representative democracy is the cure for this kind of partisan politics. If people select representatives “whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.” A representative democracy allows the election of the wisest representatives who have the common good at heart and place it above partisan interests.

But now we have a representative system and the party bickering and maneuvering is as bad as what Madison described. What went wrong?

Our world is very different from that of the late 18th century. We think and act differently. Madison expected representative democracy to select patriotic representatives with a love of justice who were willing to put the “true interest of their country” ahead of partisan considerations.

For the founders of our country the word “virtue” was very important. For the new Republic to thrive, they thought, citizens needed to value morality above all, they needed to love justice, and care for the well-being of the country as a whole. They needed to be, above all, public spirited persons of impeccable integrity. 
 
Our motto today is the famous saying of Calvin Coolidge “America’s business is business” or “what’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” Hence the bailout of the rich and the advice to the unemployed to go out and find a job and not depend on government handouts. Aare you sense of justice or caring for their common good are no longer honored. Selfishness has become the supreme virtue and partisan politics in Congress is simply one example of that.