Civility in political discourse has been a big subject during the past few years. I certainly don't expect to be able to improve it, especially on an Internet discussion board, but we can still talk about it - even in an uncivil manner. I think the anonymity of the Internet simply provides too large a temptation to be hyperbolic and over-the-top caustic to be resisted. And, of course, that's part of the fun of it for many.
But when it comes to serious political debate out in the real world, it becomes another matter entirely. This attitude now seems to be spilling over into the actual political discourse of the country, out where things actually get done - or don't. The incivility is also encouraged by the Limbaughs and the Olbermanns. What hard-core ideologues don't seem to understand is that these people are getting paid to be outrageous. I have heard it said that these pundits on Fox News, MSNBC, etc. are perfectly reasonable people, for the most part, in the green room, and then go on TV and proceed to say the most outrageous things. And their followers lap it all up.
The problem with this is, as we have seen in recent years in Washington DC, that a republic cannot function in such an environment. The two sides don't have to agree on issues, but they do need to be able to discuss their differences and reach a compromise. But if each side is going to demonize the other, and even worse, when that is used as a tactic toward winning the next election, the system breaks down.
We've now grown so accustomed to this mode of operation, that I'm not sure how it will ever change, short of some sort of radical step like a Constitutional Convention. Our form of government was intended to function with an enlightened population, a population which realizes that all members are a part of a social compact by necessity. Such enlightened people would realize that it's okay to look out for their own enlightened self-interest, rather than their more narrow unenlightened self-interest, but that part of being an enlightened society means looking out for the best interests of the larger society as well. While you may not agree with the other side, you need to have the attitude, or at least pretend to have the attitude, that the other side is also made up of basically decent, well-meaning, individuals who simply have a different perspective. It's good if this level of civility is genuine, but the art of pretending has its place as well.
Jefferson and Hamilton did not get along at all. In private, Jefferson on occasion even said he "hated" Hamilton and thought he was a danger to the Republic. Yet, when meeting for official business, Jefferson could pour a glass of wine for Hamilton, just as easily as he could for his good friend Madison, and would even go for strolls with Hamilton through the garden. What is kind of amusing now, is that we have some people on the far right who imagine themselves to be Jeffersonians, who embody only a very narrow set of facets of Jefferson. Yet they ardently believe that they are truly "Jeffersonian", and that they embody what the country was "truly" intended to be. Many on the far left, of course, are in fact socialists or communists, and embody nothing of what this country was supposed to be like. But most mainstream liberals embody facets of both Jefferson and Hamilton within their belief systems. Most mainstream conservatives do this as well, and the difference between them is just a slight difference of degree, or an emphasis on economic issues vs. social issues.
Jefferson did believe in a very limited federal government, in government in general as a necessary evil. But he also believed that people living within a society had to have a social compact, and believing that all men are created equal, he theorized about ways that the social compact could be built to keep them as equal as possible. This sums up much of Jefferson, and I suspect that most will recognize the first aspect in today's political right, but the latter aspect goes more with the stereotypical political left of today.
Hamilton, on the other hand, did not think the people were capable of self governance. He thought that a select group of elites needed to run things in Washington, that this central federal government needed to be very strong, and that the people needed to leave the running of the country to them. Most conservatives would see this as a part of today's political left as well.
So it seems that today's left, in fact, encompasses most of Hamilton and about half of Jefferson. Today's right, on the other hand, has taken the limited government lesson from Jefferson, but only that single part of Jefferson, and made a virtual religion out of it, leaving behind the enlightened compassion of Jefferson.
The other side of the argument in conservatives' favor, though, is that if you look at the country today, we have completely failed Jefferson's vision. Instead, we have become almost a purely Hamiltonian country, with the very strong federal government inserting itself into all affairs, completely overwhelming the sovereignty of the individual states. The nearly total focus on being as much of a financial and economic powerhouse as possible, rather than being more focused on culture, is very Hamiltonian as well. It is very true that with more government intrusion comes less individual freedom, so the conservatives - even those of today - can provide a valuable function by helping to push us toward keeping government from getting even further out of control than it already has.
We live in a much, much, more complex society today than that of the 18th century, and we need correspondingly much more government, but it is also in the nature of society for government to grow stronger over time, even if all else remains the same. The ideal government would only do what is needed, and not actively - on its own - go around seeking out new things to do. Of course, we differ on what it is that government needs to do, but I suspect that most recognize that the federal government has been in the proactive mode for quite a long time now. Jefferson's solution for this was for each new generation to reinvent the Constitution for it's own time.
Well, I'm afraid that this turned into a bit of a ramble, but it gets some thoughts out there that I've been wanting to express.