‘… the centre cannot hold… while the worst are full of passionate intensity.’

Today I pulled from my bookshelf a volume of William Butler Yeats, which I’ve had since college. Someone had recently mentioned the source of the phrase “no country for old men,” and I wanted to look it up.

Eventually, as I browsed, my eyes fell on this:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

W. B. Yeats

Which is a pretty good evocation of what it feels like to be an UnPartisan these days.

And it took me back to what I read in the paper this morning, a story about how SC Republicans (who “are full of passionate intensity”) are reconciling themselves to the man who had turned out to be their best — the one who is widely known  to “lack all conviction.”

I was dismayed throughout the piece. First, there was this quote from Tom Davis — someone I’ve always seen, in person, as a reasonable man, but who continually takes unreasonable positions:

Davis, who backed U.S. Rep. Ron Paul for president in the state’s January GOP primary, now has some good things to say about Romney. But his words sound as much like a warning as an endorsement.

“If he frames the debate between President Obama’s agenda of an ever-growing and more powerful government versus faith in free markets and individual liberty, I think he’s got a good chance of winning,” said Davis, a lawyer in Beaufort. “If he doesn’t draw the line that sharply and tries to tack toward the center, then I think it will be very difficult.”

In other words, my friend Tom is saying that if Romney does anything to make himself more appealing to nonpartisans like me, then people like Tom won’t support him.

This is distressing. It’s distressing that Tom actually seems to believe that the president’s agenda, rather than being the good of the country, is “an ever-growing and more powerful government,” and that he actually doesn’t believe in “individual liberty.” The first is mere hyperbole; the second completely delegitimizes the president, for what American doesn’t believe in liberty?

But this is mild stuff. Tom is the very soul of moderation compared to GOP Chair Chad Connelly:

“He’s a better candidate than he was a year ago. He’s able to articulate all the reasons we need to make sure Obama is just the worst one-term president ever.”…

“When Gov. Romney is the eventual nominee, (those voters) will excited because they’re so disgusted at what Obama has done, trashing the Constitution and pushing Obamacare down our throats,” Connelly predicted.

What?!? “Worst… president ever?” “Disgusted?” “Trashing the Constitution?” “Pushing Obamacare [legislation shaped and legally passed by the Congress) down our throats?”

You would think the leader of our country were Caligula. There has never been a president of the United States who deserved that sort of language, although we’ve had some sorry ones. Yes, I know Chad is the head of a party, but still — I’ve sat and talked pleasantly with him. He’s not a raving lunatic. Yet he speaks as though he’s lost all sense of proportion. This is the way people in the mainstream of the major parties speak these days.

To end on a positive note, I was struck by the language used by Tea Party Freshman Congressman Jeff Duncan:

“Gov. Romney’s policies would be a clear departure from the dubious tactics of the Obama administration,” said Duncan, who hasn’t endorsed Romney or any other Republican candidate.

“I’m confident that Gov. Romney can win over the American people on the promise of limited government, defending individual liberties and a return to common-sense solutions to our country’s biggest problems,” Duncan said.

See, now? That’s the way civilized men speak of others with whom they disagree. “Dubious tactics.” That says one disagrees with the man’s ideas (while at the same time, admitting that the other man could be right, since you are merely calling his approach “dubious”), but one’s sense of proportion is still intact.

Sad, isn’t it, that such rational speech stands out so starkly these days?

25 thoughts on “‘… the centre cannot hold… while the worst are full of passionate intensity.’

  1. bud

    Kathryn, that is an excellent argument. To suggest both parties are equally to blame is just ridiculous. When one major political party starts to talk about communists in the ranks of congress we know where to assign the blame.

  2. Bart


    I don’t have the links to share but the same can be said coming from the other side as well, “lets just say it the Democrats are the problem”. It all depends on your particular ideology.

    On one side, you have those who believe the government is the “be all and end all” for every problem and issue and on the other side, you have those who believe because the government is trying to be the “be all and end all” for everything, that is the problem.

    Then, you have the radicals who are on the extreme left or right and they dominate the conversation. Those of us who believe the government has a place at the table on essential issues but not on everything are left in the wake of the press driven idiocy and voices of reason are not heeded.

  3. Bart


    I do believe both sides are equally to blame. As I said to Kathryn, they are different sides of the same coin. I think it is ridiculous to think otherwise.

  4. Brad

    Those two bits of quote I used as my headline speak particularly eloquently to me, because they sum up one of the main problems we’ve had in SC since I came back here in ’87.

    All the passion and energy and determination is almost always with the people with the worst ideas, those who would make our state worse rather than better. People with ideas like the state lottery and tax credits for private education and such — they never, ever give up. Whereas people who have good ideas — real education reform (district consolidation, empowering principals to hire and fire, merit pay and the like), or comprehensive tax reform, or Home Rule — always seem to give up before the battle is really joined.

    And so things don’t get better. And sometimes, they get worse.

  5. Brad

    That piece that Kathryn and Bud like, headlined “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem,” misses the target by a bit.

    A better way to put it would be that whatever has taken possession of the Republican Party is a huge part of the problem. But the problem existed before the GOP became so radicalized. And real Republicans are as besieged by this extremism as the rest of the country; you can see it in their eyes, and in decisions such as that of SC Ways and Means chair Dan Cooper just to toss it all rather than continue to wallow in the madness.

    My liberal friends unfortunately can’t see the glint of ideological extremism in their own eyes. I can. And if I describe it in even the mildest terms, we’ll be off on another 100-comment argument that leads nowhere. But just look at any of our recent arguments over these useless cultural flashpoints, and you see why it’s impossible for me to see the left as innocent in our polarization.

    I actually used to believe that the Republicans had some sort of patent on stubborn, ferocious resistance to reason. Chalk that prejudice up to my being a newspaperman and constantly subjected to their unreasoning hostility to the “liberal media.” Then I had some interesting experiences that opened my eyes. The three main experiences that led to this were the following:

    1. When Bill Clinton admitted he’d been lying all those months over Monica Lewinsky — lying self-righteously, shaking his finger at us in admonition — we said he should resign. That was the only defensible position to take. And the tidal wave of hostility, enduring hostility, that we experienced from Democrats was really something to behold.
    2. When Jim Hodges was elected governor, Democrats were ecstatic, because they thought they’d never have a governor of their own party. Our constant strong criticism of the policies he followed at the advice of Kevin Geddings earned us a major backlash, and enduring resentment, from the state’s few liberals. (The irony is that, on the hot-button issues of that time, we said nothing that Jim Hodges himself hadn’t said before he hooked up with Geddings.)
    3. The eight years that George W. Bush was president. I had thought the unreasoning hatred that Republicans had directed against Bill Clinton was a one-party phenomenon. I saw clearly that it cut both ways.

    Yep, the Republicans have been off the rails since losing the 2008 election. But the unreasoning enmity that prevents agreement on the major issues of the day is a bipartisan disease.

  6. Brad

    My liberal friends also need to realize how I am constantly bombarded by hysterical, emotional nonsense from the DCCC, of the type that I’ve often quoted here.

    In the last 18 hours alone, I have received THREE of these — one from Nancy Pelosi, one from Robby Mook and one from someone named Jason Rosenbaum — designed to stir fear and loathing of the Republicans and get me to give money.

    OK, wait — the Rosenbaum one is from the DSCC, not the DCCC. Big diff. They say the same things, and try to hit the same buttons.

    What I have to wonder about is how this can possibly be effective. Even if I were their target audience, even if I were the most diehard kneejerk liberal and an implacable hater of conservatives, wouldn’t I get sick of being pestered for money this often? And wouldn’t I at some point react to this CONSTANT attempt to persuade my that we’re in a crisis that demands that I give RIGHT NOW by saying to myself, “Wait a minute…”

  7. bud

    Show me someone on the left who claims 70+ Republicans are Communists. Show me someone on the left who brings up long ago settled issues like the GOP is doing with contraception and abortion. Show me someone on the left who would risk government default rather than raise the debt ceiling as a way of protesting runaway tax cuts for the wealthy. Show me someone on the left who proposes a return to the defense spending levels of the pre-WW II days. Show me someone in a position of power who still proposes a single-payer approach to health care. Show me someone on the left who proposes we cut off aid to Israel. Show me someone on the left who proposes a ban on handguns. Show me someone on the left in the United States congress who advocates for a ban on the death penalty. Show me someone on the left who proposes a large increase in government spending to help bring down the unemployment rate. Show me someone on the left who proposes a return to the highest tax bracket above 40%.

    These are some of the traditional left-wing positions of just a few years ago that might be a comparable balance to the mainstream GOP agenda of 2012. Yet they are nowhere to be found in todays political environment. This so-called lack of middle ground in politics is really about a lack of a left combined with an extreme movement to the right that has moved very, very far to the right making the middle or even slightly to the right factions appear extreme left by comparison. But its only relative. There is no extreme left anymore.

  8. Tim

    I think the problems began in the administration of GHW Bush, when he made the no-new-taxes pledge, then compromised. He was vilified on the right, courtesy of Grover Norquist. When, surprise surprise, a democrat benefited from the division in the ranks, the GOP became apoplectic that they lost a re-election, and spent the next 8 years de-legitimizing Clinton. It was not the case when Carter lost. Nor in any of the previous ousters of Johnson, and Truman. Even Nixon. De-legitimizing became the new legal tender in politics, and Gingrich was the biggest spender of it.

  9. Phillip

    Are progressives and Democrats immune from engaging in “hysterical, emotional” partisan rhetoric or a “stubborn, ferocious resistance to reason”? Of course not.

    But to Brad and Bart, both very sensible observers of the political scene, let me ask these questions: in which overall direction have the goal posts been moved (let’s talk now of domestic and primarily economic policy) in the past 30-plus years, since Reagan? Is it not true that even prominent Republicans acknowledge that even Reagan, were he running today, would be accused of RINO-ism on many issues? Though many “Blue Dog” Dems have lost their seats, is it really true that on economic policy the Dems are dominated by the Kucinich wing of the party, or have the relatively centrist Clinton-era economic policies now become the new “liberalism” at least as defined by the right wing? Are we having ferocious fights about just bringing tax rates for the wealthy back to pre-“W” levels?

    The WaPo article is spot on, because the “reasonableness” of those who just say “well, both parties do this” with the concomitant conclusion “well, the best solution is in the middle” helps assure that whichever ideology is more successful at moving the fringe of the argument will therefore be more successful at moving the definition of “centrism” or “moderation.”

    But the big point of the WaPo article, or my view on this, is NOT NOT NOT that Republicans, or conservatives, or even far-right-wingers are evil, bad people.

    The question that we must ask ourselves instead is: what is inherent in the right-wing ideology that feeds on itself, or rather, that extends its push to the extreme more successfully? To me, the answer is obvious: money. Conservative ideology is not only strongly against, of course, any sort of redistributionist tinkering in the society, but is enthusiastically in favor of the concentration and enhancement of wealth and power.

    A few days ago, Brad posted about Paul Ryan and his religious views as regards his budgetary/political philosophy. My observation is that while classic conservatism CAN and DOES sometimes make valid arguments for their theories that the poor and lower-middle-class would ultimately benefit from “government getting out the way,” by and large in the modern far-right version of conservatism that dominates today there is not a conservative equivalent to a John Edwards (flawed example I know, but…) making a Two Americas the centerpiece of a campaign, from a conservative perspective. FAR more often there is demonization of those less successful, less thriving financially in our society. Why is that?

    Fundamentally, far-right economic and tax policy has been more successful over the past 30 years in moving the goalposts because in a democratic capitalist society, this ideology best serves the interests of unfettered and dogmatically pursued capitalism, which ultimately trumps and democratic values (unless there is tweaking or oversight by the state, which is the “social democrat” or “liberal” position, vehemently opposed today). If you asked most Republicans today “if you had to pick only one value, capitalism or democracy, which would you choose?” it would be a slam-dunk, don’t you think?

  10. Mark Stewart

    Bud, you might want to go check out the politics in some states far away from South Carolina. There you will find crazy leftists as surely as you see reactionaries around here.

    Everywhere that people fall into the trap of groupthink one will find a serious lack of reasonableness.

  11. bud

    Mark, I would only suggest that what qualifies as a “crazy lefty” in 2012 would have seemed like a moderate in 1972. Just ask Mr. Nixon how those wage and price controls worked. Imagine if someone tried something like that today. And let’s not forget that Nixon was a Republican. Imagine what kind of anti-inflation policy a true liberal of 1972 would have proposed.

    But the Dems did have a liberal nominee in 1972. He proposed reducing our carrier fleet to just 7 large carriers from the 14 that existed then. And that was during the cold war. We have 11 now with no real threat on the open seas. Has anyone proposed a reduction to just 8 or 9? Yet somehow this myth remains in peoples minds that the Democratic party has moved to the left. I have to give the conservative spin machine credit, they could probably make people believe in the tooth fairy.

  12. Mark Stewart

    Bud, I would totally support retiring 4 of the carriers. But it wouldn’t be for any reason having to do with either Republicans or Democrats.

  13. tavis micklash

    Am I wrong or saying BOTH parties are to blame?

    In 1984 they talked about 3 super countries engaging in a perpetual war. The purpose of this was to burn up excess resources and give their people a rallying point. They constantly traded the same small territories back and forth end an endless pointless struggle.

    First of all I’m not calling either parties Communists. Please don’t demagogue this post. Instead I’m accusing each party of merely holding serve. They clutch on to their base and maintain the vast majority of their support. Then they just trade a few battleground states back and forth.

    No one is willing to risk their hard fought victories so they just appeal to the fringes of the parties.

    Case in point. Joe Wilson has almost 0 chance to lose. He is part of congress with record low approval rate. By maintaining the status quo he can point across the aisle and show his constituency exactly what the problem is. Meanwhile a Dem somewhere is doing exactly the same thing.

    Sad thing they both are right.

  14. Karen McLeod

    Tavis, you’re right, more the pity. And it should outrage responsible members of both parties. Yet, I don’t see anyone on either side identifying their partisan fringe for what they are.

  15. `Kathryn Fenner

    Nixon promulgated the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. Communism, I tell you!

  16. Silence

    ‘Kathryn – you are forgetting one thing. There WERE communists infiltrating the US State Department.

  17. bud

    There WERE communists infiltrating the US State Department.

    So. This is free country that SHOULD allow people to be communists. Not sure how is ever became acceptable to deny folks their constitutional rights because of their political beliefs.

  18. Brad

    No, Bud. These were not average citizens simply holding opinions. These were people in sensitive government posts who were in sympathy with the nation’s greatest strategic threat at the time.

    There’s a difference. Everyone in this country is entitled to an opinion. Not everyone is entitled to, or fit for, critical government posts.

  19. bud

    If members of the US State Department were guilty of some type of espionage that benefited a foreign nation then yes they should be punished. Otherwise what opinion one holds should not be cause for punishment. Basically a communist is merely someone who believes the the government should control all the productive assets of the nation rather than private companies controlling those assets which is what capitalism is. The US has a mostly capitalist form of economy but we do have some socialist eliments. To suggest someone is a traitor just because they hold the view that government should become MORE involved in the economy is nothing short of tyranny.

  20. `Kathryn Fenner

    There is a huge difference between being a Soviet agent and being a communist.

    and bud, for the record–government control of productive assets is socialism. Communism is ownership by the people. The Soviet Socialist Republics were just that—extreme, totalitarian, authoritarian socialism, not communism. An Israeli kibbutz–or an employee-owned company are more communism.

  21. Mark Stewart


    That is a very slippery slope; at the same time, sensitive government positions have to be vetted. I’m just not sure that someone’s political leanings should be a factor – which is very different from evaluating their actions.

    Forget an old label like Communism; think Muslim vs. Radical Islamist. Or a Libertarian vs. a Paranoid Survivalist.

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