Time for a new politics of the center


So, Michelle Bachman is endorsed for Congress in the 6th District by a Republican Party faction and Keith Ellison in the 5th by a Democratic Party faction. Unfortunately, the people are left behind.

These endorsements reveal that the two major parties in Minnesota have gone astray, seeking fidelity with their base of ideologues. Each party proposes to save America through moral conformity. America, however, needs saving from the cultural attacks of these two self-centered extremes: on the right, intolerance and self-righteousness; on the left, intolerance and self-righteousness. In the center, apathy and resignation.

Republics, however, grow from the center; they die when passions, ideology or self-interest take over. To destroy the center is to destroy America.

Michelle Bachman’s Christian holiness is not patriotic. Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution provide for religious tests for holding office. In fact, the Constitution outlaws such intrusion of messianic fervor into republican deliberations over policy and social regulation.

Nor is Keith Ellison’s multi-culturalism patriotic. A passion for all values is a commitment to none. As Dostoevsky once put it: “when everything is permitted, nothing is permitted.” Under such moral and intellectual conditions, Dostoevsky knew that there could be no anchor for the state, no security for the psyche, no grounding for conduct — only power, money and selfishness as guides to politics.

Under the open norms of multi-culturalism, everyone is a perpetual victim, always slighted and denigrated by others who demonstrate lack of empathy with one’s values and lifestyle choices. The struggle for equality and justice under multi-culturalism must go on forever as long as “others” are out there to be intimidated and cowed into acquiescence.

Tellingly, Keith Ellison is not out of the mainstream of today’s Democratic Party. His endorsement was warmly greeted by 4th District Congresswoman Betty McCollum, who said “Keith Ellison has the heart, and his values reflect the best of our Democratic values – he will be a voice in Congress for justice, for hope and for opportunity for all Americans.”

Patriotism implies loyalty to a national community that has a redemptive vision and a purpose. Michelle Bachman’s would-be America is too narrow in its redemptive possibilities; it is a cult gathered out of fear and living in the hubris of its own superiority. On the other hand, Keith Ellison’s community has no core, no discipline, nothing but the un-redemptive energies of self-absorption. This is not a patriotism but more an agenda for endless indulgence.

American patriotism was best expressed in the consensus-building loyalties of Washington and Lincoln to a greater good respectful of human dignity. Had either President been divisive and self-righteous, he would have failed in his charge of leadership during terrible times of ideological strife. Both the right and the left have today abandoned the American dream of responsible individualism. It is time for a new politics of the center.

Stephen B. Young is executive director of the Caux Round Table, an international organization that promotes the implementation of ethical business practices worldwide, and author of Moral Capitalism.