World War Two in Europe was winding down. There was talk of an armistice – a mutually agreeable peace treaty. The allies, Soviet, English, and American, called for an unconditional surrender – there would be no armistice. Some criticized ‘unconditional’ as too severe. These terms seem to apply to the current atmosphere in Washington D. C. Today – 2010 – we observe the war in our United States Congress – the war between the left and the right, the war between the Democrats and Republicans, the war between the Republicans and the White House. What is meant by an armistice – a negotiated peace settlement? And what is meant by ‘unconditional surrender’? Why would Democrats or Republicans trust the other ‘unconditionally’?
Winston Churchill addressed the critics of unconditional surrender, “the Germans know full well ‘… how strict are the moral limits within which our action in confined… We are no extirpators of nations, or butchers of peoples. We make no bargain with you. We accord you nothing as a right. Abandon your resistance unconditionally. We remain bound by our customs and our nature.'” This is very important to understand – ‘… moral limits…’ and ‘… bound by our customs and nature.’
When the Democrats owned the House, the Senate, and the White House they seemed to say to the Republicans that they would accept nothing but unconditional surrender. “We won. Too bad for you.” The Democrats seemed to be saying, ‘you must have faith in our customs and nature.’ The Republicans did not have faith, they held firm in their resistance. In the course of events a battle was won by the Republicans in Massachusetts. With leverage shifting after only one battle – the Democrats seem to be leaning toward an armistice.
And so it goes in Washington D. C. Continued partisan wrangling. This wrangling begs questions: Is there any trust between the political parties? Do either of the political parties recognize ‘moral limits’ in the other party? What are the ‘customs and nature’ of each of the political parties? How can bipartisanship be forged if there is not common moral ground, common customs, and common nature?
The by-lines of party denigration is simple enough. The Republicans label the Democrats as ‘tax and spend liberals.’ The Democrats label the Republicans as ‘pro big business, anti union – and thus anti working class people.’ These are nice tag lines for voter competition – but do they serve well as a system of governing?
America is a Republic – with representatives elected by the people. Effective government exists when the representatives work together for the common good. Essentially – effective government requires compromise – a sort of armistice, if you will. But doesn’t compromise, the ability to work with others, require that we trust the other? Are the two political parties so different in ‘moral limits’, in ‘nature’, or in ‘custom’?
It seems the root of the questions, in a truly representative government, would rest in the ‘moral limits’ and ‘custom and nature’ of the people, all of the people. In order to understand the fundamental custom and nature of the American people we need only look at our history. There are many moral failings in our history – but every single identified moral failing has been addressed by either Constitutional Amendment, Act of Congress, Judicial ruling, or Presidential Executive Order. We refer historically to a variety of concepts – business monopolies, military integration, civil rights, voting rights, criminal rights, privacy rights, eminent domain, corporate rights, individual rights, list others in the comments section of this post if you choose – suffice it to say that our nature and custom is to continually evaluate ourselves as a nation and to make corrections when we identify faulty governance. The definition of our ‘moral limits’ is found in the action taken over time to address moral issues.
And the action taken in the United State is based on concepts identified in the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence. One might think we have common moral limits and a common nature – but one would not know this based on watching our government in action at any given moment.