Times call for center to counter the crazy | Whale

Guess I’ve heard it one too many times.

That is, the idea that compromise is a dirty word, that the only thing you’ll find in the middle of the road is a yellow stripe, that moderation is a form of treason.

Every time someone says something like that, I ask myself, where in the heck did they get that notion?

Not from our founders. As men of The Enlightenment and students of history, Mr. Madison, Mr. Franklin, Mr. Jefferson and others were canny judges of human nature, and well aware that you can’t put dozens of people in a room to hash over policies and work out legislation without a lot of hollering, red faces, disagreement, perhaps even a snide question or two about the marital state of someone’s parents at the time of his birth.

But the founders also believed so strongly that the bickering people would find a way to work things out — bit to me, bit to you — that they staked the infant governmental system to it.

As even a cursory reading of founding documents shows, compromise, like all those fancy governmental checks and balances, is essential to our system.

It makes for a slow, messy, plodding process, but it works — most of the time.

One glaring instance where it didn’t was the establishment of the United States in independence from Great Britain with slavery still a part of its heritage. Failure to deal with that problem — Thomas Jefferson called it “the title page to a great tragic volume” — led the young nation to civil war and its near dissolution a mere 85 years after its founding.

Now, once again we are a nation riven by factions, where too many have latched themselves to extreme positions that brook no middle ground. And our unwillingness to meet in the middle, even to pay the other guy the respect of actually listening to him, is killing us.

I am no saint in this regard. I have also found myself in heated arguments that blew up in overt or sullen fury. The other night I watched on television as a famous personality gleefully bashed one side of the political aisle for its behavior.

He wasn’t wrong. But what he had to say just didn’t square with the actual world I have lived in for 59 years. I thought, dude, look around. In this world, there are preposterous people everywhere saying and doing goofy things. And if the extremes of side A are nutso, so are the extremes of side B.

As happens so often, we are too quick to heap scorn on the very things we ourselves are doing. What astonishes me is how often the very thing Jones accuses Smith of doing, Jones is doing himself. Our capacity as human beings for self deception leaves me slackjawed.

I have never understood it. The claim that somehow the entire truth about life, the universe and everything else has taken up residence only in minds on one side of the argument — and people on the other side are devils.

What we need is a rebirth of something that appears to have greatly diminished in recent years: a real center party.

Fill it with the sort of people who can actually admit from time to time, “Hey, I was wrong.”

A central party that takes ideas from either side. Because let’s face it: life demands both liberal and conservative perspectives at different times.

Abraham Lincoln was a moderate at a time when the nation was chock full of fire eaters. People with their hair on fire. Not a bad role model. I’ll follow him.

Robert Whale can be reached at rwhale@soundpublishing.com.