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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Jane Addams and the Tea Party

I am re-reading Jane Addams’ wonderful memoir, Twenty Years at Hull-House.  In explaining the spirit with which she founded her settlement house in 1890s Chicago, she wrote that it was driven, in part by “the conviction, in the words of Canon Barnett, that the things which make men alike are finer and better than the things that keep them apart, and that these basic likenesses, if they are properly accentuated, easily transcend the less essential differences of race, language, creed, and tradition.”  Addams, of course, was speaking about the importance of integrating into American life the millions of immigrants who had been attracted to the United States at the height of the Industrial Revolution.  However, her words also set an expectation for us today.

American-style democracy thrives on our ability to find a workable middle—a place where are “basic likenesses” outweigh the things that keep us apart enough for us to fulfill the purpose of our federal government as declared in the opening sentence of the Constitution: “. . . to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity . . .” I would like to think that I could identify some “basic likenesses” with the Tea Party members of Congress.  However, it does not come easily.

The Tea Party, which declared its purpose during the last election as being “to take back our country” (they did not say from whom), can be expected to become even more radical and less prone to compromise now that they have won a big victory.  These rightwing extremists have set themselves so arrogantly apart from the mainstream of our country, that, right now at least, I cannot find common ground with them.  They, in turn, seek no common ground with anyone who does not share their ideology.

I hope that our politicians are able to find a way to build a workable middle ground in this environment.