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Can we restore compromise and civility to politics?

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Our Founders were moral philosophers as well as political activists. They founded a country to protect unalienable, Creator-endowed rights. At the same time, they structured a government to constrain the foibles of human nature.

Because concentrated authority was seen throughout history to have led to abuses, it was assumed that anyone entrusted with political authority was implacably vulnerable to the temptations of power. Accordingly, the Founders, led by James Madison, insisted on a separation-of-powers arrangement for the national government and duplicated the model at the state, county, and city levels.

Tensions between and within branches and levels of government came to characterize the American way. The implicit assumption was that a bifurcated and decentralized partnership in decisionmaking would check the hubris of overreaching officials.

The best and brightest have let us down

The case for a good row is particularly high this year. During the past decade, the best and brightest in government and finance let the public down. It is understandable that many citizens have reached the conclusion that there is a compelling case for change, which, depending on their perspective, could be liberal or conservative.

But all sides should recognize that while there is a vital role for laying out rival political ideas, there is no case for defining political opponents or rival parties as enemies.

Tea Party Top 10 biggest winners and losers

For Americans to declare war on one another is a debilitating, no-win proposition.

Country comes before party. What we need is a revival of old-fashioned notions like concern for the common good or what the 19th-century British utilitarians termed "the greatest good of the greatest number."

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