Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Quote of the Day: This is Why I Teach History

A quote I came across this morning from the late Edward Said...

"What our leaders and their intellectual lackeys seem incapable of understanding is that history cannot be swept clean like a blackboard, clean so that 'we' might inscribe our own future there and impose our own forms of life for these lesser people to follow."
--preface to the 25th anniversary edition of Orientalism

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Jeb Bush on Orthodoxy

Jeb Bush to a gathering of reporters and editors on Monday:

"Ronald Reagan would have, based on his record of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground, similar to my dad, they would have had a hard time if you define the Republican Party--and I don't--as having an orthodoxy that doesn't allow for disagreement.  Back to my dad's time or Ronald Reagan's time, they got a lot of stuff done with bipartisan support that right now would be difficult to imagine happening."

Bush is absolutely right.  (It is important to note, in the interest of accuracy, that he went on to decry similar orthodoxy in the Democratic Party.)  There is an irony in contemporary appeals to the principles of the "Founders," because historically speaking, one of the primary motivating forces behind the original structure of the American governmental system was to provide for a system in which independent representatives could use their informed judgment to make decisions in the country's best interests.  This system in its original form was not without its (major!) problems, from overwhelming suffrage exclusions to brutal institutionalized racism.  I think it's safe to say, however, that Hamilton, Madison and Jefferson would all have been scandalized by the thought of pledging fealty to Grover Norquist or mounting legislative battles predicated exclusively upon the foundation of making the other side look silly.

In partisan terms, the scale of our preoccupation with orthodoxy is a relatively recent problem.  Knee-jerk issues have a long and storied history, but until recently they tended to be aligned more closely with region (for example, at various points in history, South = pro-slavery and then pro-segregation; Northeast = pro-tariff; Midwest = isolationist).  The reality that in many cases, these regional blocs shared party identity with others of very different ideological ilk created conditions ripe for deal-making and compromise.  Today's situation is more dangerous insofar as we lack countervailing forces to oppose the pressure of the knee-jerk position.  It is encouraging to see someone of Bush's stature speak out; it will be interesting to see whether and how the conversation progresses from here.

[Quotation taken from wire report in the Oregonian, Tuesday, June 12, 2012.]