Recently on CNN a young man was trying to explain why rigidly adhering to personal principles isn’t always a good thing. He floundered a bit before reading a note a friend had sent to him:
It’s okay to stick to your principles as long as it only hurts you; it’s not okay when it hurts me.
Not eloquent, but an excellent point. They could have been referring to the situation in Washington, to the downside inherent in steadfastly refusing to “compromise” one’s principles no matter what. People who adopt this stance take great pride in not budging, in not yielding an inch — even if it hurts someone else. Stubbornly standing on principle when solutions need to be found, decisions need to be made, and action needs to be taken is neither constructive nor helpful. And it is certainly not admirable. It is just obstructionist and selfish.
Ideally, elected representatives should have high standards and high principles. They should be our best and brightest citizens, dedicated to doing what’s right for the country even when it’s difficult — especially when it’s difficult. Their highest principles should be held up as guides, as ideals and worthy goals. But principles must be wielded constructively and instructively, not destructively. They should not be used merely as monkey wrenches to jam the gears of the political process. We don’t need more monkey wrenches in Washington.
Principles, ideals, and ideologies — our nation was founded on them. But then as now they were meant to be a framework of guides; they were not designed or intended to solve knotty everyday problems like balancing the budget, fixing the economy, or reducing unemployment. It was expected, or at least hoped, that such problems would be solved by reasonable, responsible adults cooperating for the good of the country, not for personal and political gain.
High ideals and principles are great, but there’s a time for idealism and a time for realism. Right now the nation desperately needs realists.
Finally, a few less-than-lofty words for those politicians so proud of their uncompromising stances: Goodie for you. Now lead, follow, or get the f*** out of the way.