Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin represents the new right's unwillingness to compromise. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
You may recall from your junior high history textbook that Henry Clay, who served as a senator from Kentucky, secretary of state, and speaker of the House of Representatives during the early and mid-19th century, was known as "the Great Compromiser." This honorific was bestowed upon Clay in recognition of his role in a series of legislative compromises that delayed the Civil War by a few decades. In the end, of course, the war happened anyway. Fortunately for Clay, he was already dead, no doubt having departed for the great deliberative body in the sky, secure in the knowledge that his carefully wrought compromises had spared the country a bloodbath.
In 1852, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Life of Franklin Pierce about his friend and Bowdoin College classmate who was running for president. If they wished, Hawthorne wrote, Americans could elect Pierce's opponent and "retard the steps of human progress," or they could "put their trust in a new man, whom a life of energy and various activity has tested, but not worn out, and advance with him into the auspicious epoch upon which we are about to enter." The biography might not have caused quite the sensation of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, published two years earlier, but the book about Pierce, which arrived in the heat of the campaign, no doubt persuaded at least some voters that Pierce was just the kind of man to guide the country into that auspicious epoch.
House Majority Leader John Boehner last year(AP/J. Scott
Late last week, we heard that Republicans and Democrats in Congress may have an agreement to delay -- at least for two weeks -- the looming shutdown of the federal government. To keep the government running, the two parties will have to come to an agreement on the budget for the remainder of the year. But things don't look good, since the fundamental disagreement between the parties remains unchanged: Republicans want radical cuts to the programs Democrats like, and Democrats don't want them. If those two weeks run out without an agreement, hundreds of thousands of workers will be furloughed, government offices will close, and services will be curtailed. Given that a shutdown is still more likely than not, this becomes the most important question: How will it end?
Then-acting Chief Justice Brent Benjamin, listening in 2008 to arguments in a rehearing of a $76 million judgment awarded to Harman Mining against Massey Energy (AP Photo/Bob Bird, File)
Most of us will never be indicted for a crime or involved in a lawsuit, but imagine that you were. What sort of person would you want the judge to be? Impartial, of course. Wise, learned, and open-minded would help, too. The judicial system's trappings send the message that judges are, in fact, all these things: Judges sit higher than everyone else in the courtroom, demand we stand at their entrance and exit, and wear priestly robes to denote their special status and mastery of sacred legal texts. They are supposed to be beyond the pettiness of momentary emotion or partisan political concerns, a class imbued with intellectual and moral superiority.
Last week's news that AOL is buying The Huffington Post for a cool $315 million made me feel a bit wistful, since I too once created an online news enterprise, albeit one worth somewhat less than nine figures. It was called the Gadflyer (it's no longer live on the Web; if you want to read it today, you'll have to visit the Internet Archive). Looking back, The Huffington Post's success sheds some light on why the Gadflyer proved unsustainable while some similar sites survived and flourished.