To: Uncle Sam, Washington D.C.
From: Your Northern Neighbour*
Re: Ending the Ideological Civil War
Dear Uncle Sam:
As an old friend who wishes nothing but the best for your country, I am worried about what one election night commentator described as the ongoing "ideological civil war" in America.
Those of us in Canada who visit your country frequently, realize that a strong degree of "polarization" has always been part of the American political culture. When an important issue comes up, your politicians, interest groups, and citizens quickly take sides, go to their corners, and then proceed to "duke it out." In the process, the strengths and weaknesses of alternative positions become much clearer than when proponents of conflicting views, out of feigned politeness or distaste for confrontation, compromise their positions before the debate has scarcely begun.
But usually, in the past, after this initial polarization, there is a seeking for common ground and a coming together in order to "get things done." In recent years, however, this has not occurred -- with the divisions and conflicts between Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, religious believers and secularists, whites and non-whites, young and old, becoming ever greater and more vicious.
The issue on which I know this extreme polarization is most worrisome to you is that of the fiscal and economic crisis predicted for early in the New Year if Congress and the President cannot find the right combination of spending and tax changes required to avert it. Continued polarization and conflict over this issue is also of great concern to us in Canada, since our economic prosperity is very much tied to that of our largest trading partner.
If the ideological civil war in the United States is to end in an honourable peace and positive reconstruction of the U.S. economy, we were hoping that one or both of the presidential candidates would have started that process on election night.
We were hoping, for example, that somewhere in Mr. Romney's remarks, bitter as the hour must have been for him and his family, he would have said something like the following:
"Notwithstanding the significant ideological and policy differences between myself and the President, I am resolved that there must be a 'coming together' of our two great parties on the serious, unresolved fiscal issues that divide us and the country.
In particular there needs to be a coming together of the President and the Congress to resolve the impasse over necessary spending and tax changes required to avert the financial crisis which threatens to harm us all. To that end, I am offering my services to the President, in whatever capacity large or small that he may consider useful, to achieve that coming together and that resolution."
Likewise we were hoping that somewhere in the President's acceptance speech, tempting as it must have been for him to ignore or denigrate his opponent in the hour of victory, that he would have said something similar:
"Notwithstanding the significant ideological and policy differences between myself and Mr. Romney, I am resolved that there must be a 'coming together' of our two great parties on the serious, unresolved fiscal issues that divide us and the country.
In particular there needs to be a coming together of myself and the Congress to resolve the impasse over necessary spending and tax changes required to avert the financial crisis which threatens to harm us all. To that end, I am inviting Governor Romney to join with a prominent Democrat (Bill Clinton?) to head a Reconciliation Task Force to find common ground for action by myself and the Congress on the fiscal issue before January 1, 2013."
Of course, regrettably, neither speech contained such an element, and the ideological civil war continues. But for the President and for the Republicans there is still opportunity to assert such leadership. The President, at a time when the ideological civil war needs to end, must begin preparing his Second Inaugural Address -- just as Abraham Lincoln began preparing his Second Inaugural Address as the 19th century Civil War that so nearly destroyed America drew to its close.
President Lincoln believed "reconciliation" to be as much a spiritual process as a political process and saw the hand of Providence in both the coming and the passing of the Civil War. Perhaps in this age of skepticism and disbelief in any power greater than ourselves, it may seem pointless to invoke the help of Providence. But since both your presidential candidates ended their election night remarks with "God bless America," I too will close with an invocation.
Our prayer for America is that its President and his party will make whatever changes in their positions are necessary to resolve the fiscal crisis, and that they will regard those changes, not as compromises, but as those self sacrificial acts without which reconciliation at its most profound level cannot occur.
Our prayer for America is that the Congress and the leadership of the Republicans will also adopt whatever changes in their positions are necessary to resolve the fiscal crisis, and resist the temptation (as General Robert E. Lee once did) to prolong the current civil war through guerrilla tactics.
Our prayer for America is that your mass and social media -- for whom controversy and conflict are usually more newsworthy than cooperation -- will rediscover the truth that the word "media" comes from the same root as "mediator" and begin more often to play that role.
Our prayer for America is that the weeks ahead may mark the beginning of the end of the ideological civil war and the beginning of an honorable and lasting peace.
To paraphrase one of your own most beloved anthems, "America, America, God shed his grace on thee. And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea."
With every best wish for the future,
Your Northern Neighbour*
*Note: The forgoing was composed by Preston Manning, President and CEO of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy and a former Leader of the Opposition in the Canadian House of Commons.