…aren’t always as deep as they seem…

“But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.  We have called by different names brethren of the same principle.  We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.  If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it. ”

~ Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, 04 March 1801


We are a deeply divided society.  Which one would think means we have some intensely polarizing issue at debate.  You know, something wrought with grave meaning about our society and political culture.  Maybe something intensely divisive, like how the issue of slavery entrenched our nation into hard factions, even caused a civil war.  You know, something meaningful that affected millions of lives and put the entire democratic experiment about liberty and freedom at stake.  Sadly, the things that divide us so deeply aren’t quite up to that level… or really anywhere even close to it.  We have people and politicians making mountains out of molehills, etching hard and deep lines in the sand over virtually meaningless matters of everyday governance.  Instead of working together or trying to understand the other side’s views, everyone digs in deeper, convinced that only they are right and that whatever they are arguing about is the most important thing in the universe.  Yet most of the time, these things are barely important to the nation as a whole.  We shut down the government over government spending.  And both sides spend incredible amounts of money on whatever pet project they have, regardless of that project’s long-term relevance or Constitutionality or whether the public even cares.  Think about what incredible irony that is.  Both parties happily take insanely unreasonable positions on things that don’t matter, and then get the public all excited about it, AND IT STILL WON’T MATTER in the long run.

That’s the reason the Founding Fathers so feared factions, so feared political parties as we see them today.  Because every difference of opinion isn’t a difference of principle.  It doesn’t really matter whether we bring oranges or apples to the picnic, so long as someone brings a fruit.  And yet, our political parties would happily dig in and argue about the merits of the orange versus the merits of the apple, and how one fruit is clearly far superior to the other, like it is all some great matter of principle that desperately needs to be defended.  I mean really, besides Congress and our political parties, who does that?  Are we really so self-centered that now every difference of opinion becomes a difference in principle automatically?  Of course there is never any actual negotiation, never any discussion, never any compromise.  Everyone is too busy concentrating on why apples are better than oranges or oranges are better than apples.  The big picture (let’s call it: someone needs to bring fruit to the picnic) goes completely unnoticed and unheeded.  Because the thing is apples versus oranges isn’t what a difference in principle looks like.  In terms of picnics, that would probably be a healthy food versus junk food divide (and guess what, even that is surmountable…I will bring the brownies, you bring the apples, and we will all be happy, and full too).  Until we can actually learn to focus on the big picture and our long term goals, our short term is going to continually be a mess.  Because all that time spent on apples and oranges meant we forgot the rest of the food for lunch.


Res Publica


Documentation without Representation:

Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, 04 March 1801 (emphasis added)


Electronic Copy Courtesy of The Avalon Project at Yale Law School

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