Saturday, September 02, 2006

Tired of the politics? Take heart.

Reflecting on the debates over the School Wellness Policy here in Arlington (see previous post), and on some recent excruciatingly long arguments about arcane provisions of a faculty appointments policy, I began to get discouraged about how "politics" were taking too much time and distracting me from "important work" such as research and teaching.

Then, as part of class preparation this morning, I read John Roche's 1961 article, "The Founding Fathers: A Reform Caucus in Action" (anthology link). While we are accustomed to thinking of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention as brilliant inventors of a new federalist political theory, Roche describes them as mere democratic politicians hammering out clumsy compromise after compromise in exhausting detail. It had me laughing out loud to imagine that something good could come from this type of painful labor.
The Constitution, then, was not an apotheosis of "constitutionalism," a triumph of architectonic genius; it was a patch-work sewn together under the pressure of both time and events by a group of extremely talented democratic politicians.... For two years, they worked to get a convention established. For over three months, in what must have seemed to the faithful participants an endless process of give-and-take, they reasoned, cajoled, threatened, and bargained amongst themselves. The result was a Constitution which the people, in fact, by democratic processes, did accept, and a new and far better national government was established.

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