Miss Louise Owen taught senior Government classes at LaGrange High School. By the time I came to her stimulating classroom in 1956, I had already become politically aware. Conservative economic and liberal sociological positions attracted me even then.
Liberal, Conservative, Centrist
During one class discussion, I came up with a not-too original observation: The Democratic conservative and Republican liberal wings had many similarities, while the centers of both parties presented almost identical positions. The major differences occurred in the extremely liberal Democrats versus the extremely conservative Republicans.
Miss Owen asked, “You’re right but what’s your real point?”
I replied that we ought to realign the political parties to Liberal and Conservative, thereby ending the confusion in the system.
Miss Owen pointed out that the dependability of our system rested on the centers of each party providing stability, keeping extremists out of real power. She observed that if a realignment were to take place, we would want Liberal, Conservative, and Centrist.
Ideal Versus Pragmatic
In my senior year at LaGrange College, I took an introductory course in Philosophy under Prof. Franz Joseph Kovar, a former Jesuit priest. Had I instead enrolled in Differential Equations, I would have graduated with a triple major in Biology, Chemistry, and Mathematics. Many years later I realized the course in Philosophy produced more value to me than would have resulted from pursuing the triple major. That is, we often can best see the will of God by looking back rather than by looking ahead.
Prof. Kovar opened one class by stating that all discerning and serious individuals face the complexities of life from the ideal and the pragmatic. We sometimes must act not on our ideals but on our perception of current reality, what can be reasonably achieved at any given time and place. The ensuing lively discussion simultaneously pleased Prof. Kovar and flummoxed the pre-ministerial students who saw reality as absolute good versus absolute evil.
Not A Saint
For perhaps the only time at LaGrange College, I was sympathetic to the pre-ministerial students. I insisted we must always strive to live according to what we were taught in church, Sunday School, and our religion courses at the college.
Prof. Kovar replied, “Only saints live thoroughly in keeping with such ideals and most saints come to bad ends, not to mention the fact that saints are difficult to live with.” Prof. Kovar went on to say he was confident, based upon what he knew about my mind, and me that I would not be a saint. The best I could do would be to bring my ideals and pragmatics as close together as possible; I would never achieve a complete synthesis between the two.
Professor Kovar ended the class with a smile and quote from the American literary giant, F. Scott Fitzgerald: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still function.”
Many of my liberal and conservative friends share the same opinion: Yellow lines and road kill occupy the center. Such sentiments reflect partisan politics. While I would like to see the emergence of a strong centrist party in this country, I believe the strength of our system requires rational partisanship. I purposefully emphasized the word, rational.
Today, whichever party can move the political center toward the more liberal (Democratic) or more conservative (Republican) position usually wins elections. We’re beginning the 2016 electoral season. The Democrats will do their best to convert the center away from the Republicans, who want to retain the majority of centrist voters. Both sides will use “wedge” issues and fear tactics. Sometimes conservative forces carry elections, at other times liberal forces win; however, the American electorate has always come back to the center. What will happen in 2016?
Our job as enlightened Christian citizens and voters will be to shift through the campaign rhetoric and catch phrases to determine which party can best lead this country in these perilous times. We need to ensure that the center is reestablished and holds against both Democratic and Republican extremists, if we want this great country to remain functional and avoid the dysfunction of irrational partisan politics.