What’s in a name (a post-9/11-anniversary reflection)



Words (Photo credit: sirwiseowl)

What’s in a name?

The word “liberal” is derived from the same root as the word “liberty.”

The word “conservative” comes from the same root as the word “conservation.”

“Democrat,” of course, is derived from “democracy,” meaning “rule by the people.” That’s using the Greek root “demos” for “the people.”

“Republican” is derived from “republic,” also meaning a form of government in which the ultimate authority rests with the people. It uses the Latin root for “the people,” as in the word “public.” (Those Romans loved to copy the Greeks.)

I don’t know. It seems to me we all started from the same place. And we’re not that different. So, what are we arguing about?  Why is there so much heat and so little light?  Why such a need to vilify the other side? To make it sound like, if they win, it will be the end of the world? (It won’t, you know, because we are the people, and we won’t let it happen.)

After 9/11, we saw a lot of the slogan, “united, we stand.”

You know how the other half of that goes…  Yeah, that’s right:

Divided, we fall.

I’m not talking about silencing dissent, here. We’re never all going to agree, and the day we stop speaking our minds, or stop being allowed to speak our minds, will be a dark day indeed. But with any freedom (of speech, for example) comes responsibility (to at least try to communicate, in this case).

There will always be differences of opinion in any large, diverse group of people. There will always be conflicting interests.  But we ought to be able to talk about these things – really talk about them, in clear, honest, practical terms.

The essence of government by the people should be that a group of elected representatives -representing all the conflicting interests – gets together to talk things out, honestly, respectfully, and in good faith.  And –yes- they have to be willing to compromise, if they’re ever going to be able to balance those conflicting interests. The idea that one side can “win” at the ballot box with 52% of the vote and thereby get everything its own way, ignoring whatever the other 48% wants, is as destructive as it is absurd. It pretty much guarantees that the other side is going to get mad, rally, and come back to “win” the next election and stick it right back to them. The U.S. government is not a football, guys. This isn’t a game.

Divided, we fall…

I really don’t want to think that I might be watching the “fall” of the United States of America, but I don’t like what I’m seeing (or hearing).  Has there ever been a time in our history when our political leaders were so rigidly and uncompromisingly divided?  As an advocate of clear communication, I am appalled by the dearth of civil discourse, the scarcity of honest efforts at persuasion, the stunning lack of simple, clear communication with respect to anything concerning politics in this country.

I, for one, am sick of it.

And, frankly, I’m a little bit scared.

Leave a comment


  1. I share your concern. It seems the word ‘compromise’ has become obsolete in a partisan divide. And congress members signing pledges promosing they’ll never do such and such is at best childish and at worst paralyzing. I don’t have a solution. I only hope a common thread can be grasped.

  2. And what so many people have forgotten, or perhaps never learned, is that compromise is one of the fundamental tenets of democracy. If the Founding Fathers hadn’t compromised for the terms of the Declaration of Independence, we would have lost the revolution before it truly began. And if they hadn’t compromised in the Articles of Confederation and later the Constitution, the country would never have survived the first few years of its childhood.

    Did some of those compromises lead to future problems? Of course. The Civil War was the result of compromise over the issue of slavery. But overall, they led to a stable country that was a beacon of hope and inspiration for generations of immigrants.

    Now, this partisan/class/ethnic/religious division and obstinacy? If we tear ourselves apart and try to force one view on all citizens, the terrorists of the world win.

    I’m also sick of it—and I don’t hold out much hope for our long-term future. (Although my one novel is ultimately more optimistic than I am.)

  3. Thanks, Carol. I am not scared, but that is my faith kicking in. I am tired of the fighting and the arguing and, you are right, it’s just back and forth and the only people winning (just for now) are the politicians. When they have milked us all enough they will try to put things back, but I don’t know that it will happen this time. I can understand the scared. I suppose, in that sense, the entire world should be scared. If we do go under most of the rest of the world will follow. It’s a shame, too. We can turn this around…we will see.

  4. G M Barlean

     /  September 13, 2012

    Thank you, Carol. I couldn’t agree more. The constant childish behavior and bickering makes a mockery of our country. How can we ever take our leaders seriously?

  5. IMO, I think the leaders know this lousy situation too. But, they are so far deep into this game, that they think any compromise on their side would come off as flip-flopping or not sticking by the ‘core’ values of the party. I think it is this childish obstinacy, that is the blight of the partisan politics we see today.
    Very well-written, thoughtful post!

    • You make some very good points. I think a lot of them are trapped in it, as you say. Some may be naive enough to really believe they can win this way. Others – and these are the ones I really fault – are cynically manipulating the situation.

      It’s a real problem when people make it a “principle” not to compromise. Then they can’t compromise even if they want to without “compromising their principles.”

  6. Well said, Carol. I am totally with you on this! I am just amazed at how rude and selfish people have become. There is FAR less “tolerance” today for other opinions, than there ever was before.

  7. Kourtney Heintz

     /  September 27, 2012

    I think compromise is important, but how would they compromise on the right to abortion? Beliefs and experiences will make people be pro or con on this issue. Of course, there are other issues where a compromise can be reached because a spectrum of options exist, but some issues force people to fall into one camp or another.

    • There are instances where compromise is hard, of course. I disagree that abortion rights is one where it’s impossible. People have to be willing to listen to each other and think about whether their uncompromising position really makes sense. If a “person” is defined as having capacity for conscious awareness it makes more sense than saying it’s a person from conception. (Early stage embryos of most species are designed by nature to be expendable. Removing an acorn from your neighbor’s yard is not the same as cutting down his oak tree. Natural miscarriage rates in humans are high.) The consciousness definition makes a lot of sense both scientifically and ethically and would require both “choice” and “life” sides to give some ground. Late stage abortion would be out, but early stage would be acceptable. In particular, use of the morning after pill in cases of rape would be allowable since the embryo at that stage (if one is even present) is a ball of cells the size of a pinhead with no brain, no consciousness, and a one in four chance of dying on its own.


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