Thursday, May 10, 2007

Politics of passion -- politics of prudence

But he saw that no kind of conservatism is possible in America unless political democracy first is made secure and just.

America had no political alternative: she could choose only between democracy defecated of popular delusion and democracy corrupted by passion.

The regular aim of his literary endeavors was to demonstrate how any society, if it would be civilized, must submit to moral discipline, permanent institutions and the beneficent claims of property.

This general subjection of appetite to reason is possible only if a society consents to be led by gentlemen. Very English, this idea; but of greater importance in the United States, perhaps, than our age tends to think.

--Russell Kirk, writing about James Fenimore Cooper's views on democracy

Everyone is waiting to see what the final deal is up in Helena. While it will be technically a compromise, one doubts, based on initial reports, that it will represent a "subjection of appetite to reason." But then, we have in general been observing a "democracy corrupted by passion" this legislative session.

Whether it is in hysterical (all too frequently calculated and faux) finger-pointing by both sides, skillful and successful attempts to infuriate and bring out the worst in the other party, or in smirking back-stabbing -- we've had plenty of passion, in the negative sense of the word, for months.

Montanans, being sensible folks, were largely tired of this kind of passion before the regular session began, and the rapidity with which the special session was called, after initial indications that the return to Helena would be considered at leisure, indicates that popular opinion was running strongly in the "pox on both their houses" direction.

As for gentlemen, well, ungentlemanly moments have received some vivid press -- whether intemperate speech by Rep. Lange, broken promises by Sen. Kitzenberg, or the sheer rudeness of giving virtually no notice to legislators or legislative staff regarding when they would have to drop their jobs and summer plans to rush back to Helena -- and one suspects that there may yet be more coming.

As for appetite, while Democrats might point fingers at the greedy Republicans (greedy being defined as wanting all Montanans to keep a little more of their own money,) the gaping maw of state spending -- growing at more than twice the rate of inflation for four years running -- is for now assured of winning the prize when it comes to the thirst that shows no sign of being slaked. This, of course, is without beginning to discuss more personal appetites for raw power.

In the coming elections, voters will be looking at the policy positions of the candidates, but one suspects that a critical number will likely be looking closely, as much as is possible, at personal qualities of prudence, courtesy, temperance, and selflessness -- from the top of the ticket down to the bottom.

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