With liberal principles in peril, with a call to racism having galvanized an opposition, with antipathy between parties boiling over from emotional cauldrons, we have in this country reached a place where we have been before, but more so, in the past.
We cannot compare our current state to that of 1860, when racism and sectional hatred, when conflict between rural America and the industrialized urban centers found a coalescing and animating cause: Slavery. Slavery and its defense encapsulated all the inchoate animosities between rural/ urban, north/south, educated/uneducated, a social order of landed aristocracy versus an urban order of commercial meritocracy.
|Glamorous and Ineffective|
Though we have not reached the same level of conflict by several orders of magnitude in the early part of the 21st century, we have come to the point where mid 20th century arrangements and attitudes have ceased to function. Bill Bradley in today's New York Times describes how he worked across the aisle with Republicans to pass the 1986 tax reform law which lowered the top tax bracket to 38% by closing loop holes for a whole variety of special interests. He describes laws being passed in the Senate by a vote of 97-3, something which is today unimaginable.
The fact is in today's environment, there is no virtue in accommodation, no reason to extol comity.
When Democrats look to our leaders in Congress and the Senate, we have to ask ourselves: Do we have in these people the leaders we need?
In 1860, many leaders were called to the colors. Ambrose Burnside, Benjamin Butler, George McClellan put themselves forward to lead Union forces into the field. But they were dreadfully inadequate leaders and the Union cause nearly collapsed under their leadership, or lack of it.
|General Benjamin Butler, Right Colors. Wrong Stuff.|
Meanwhile, the South fielded generals of great daring and pugnacity--Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and they nearly won the day. Wearing the blue was not enough. What was important was that the men who wore the blue could win.
The Union generals who showed promise were each flawed in his own way: Sherman was depressive, self doubting and thought to be prone to nervous breakdown. Grant was said to be a drunk, often drunk on duty.
|Drank the right whiskey|
But Lincoln said, "Tell me what whiskey Grant drinks. I want to send a bottle to every one of my generals. He fights."
Facing the Southern armies standing between the Union forces and Richmond, Grant's generals kept coming to him with warnings about what would happen if they moved in one direction or thrust in another against Lee, how Lee would counter, how he would outflank them.
"Don't come to me with your fears about what Lee might do to you," Grant told them. "Go back to camp and think about what you are going to do to Lee."
|More fight in the dog|
The Union generals, Grant and Sheridan were small men, but they proved it was not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.
And, eventually, Sherman proved to have plenty of fight in him. He had spent much of his life in the South, in Louisiana, but when he determined the way to end the war was to bring the war to the people who supported it, he fastened on that strategy with resolve.
"I will make the people of Georgia howl," he said.
|Fierce when aroused|
When asked about his troops burning down homes, scorching fields, destroying railroads, he said, famously, "War is not popularity seeking. War is all hell."
And he brought that hell to those who sustained the South and its army.
I'm not yet convinced Carol Shea Porter or Maggie Hassan have that kind of toughness, or that fire in the belly.
Bernie Sanders does.
We need leaders with that quality now.