By Jim Manfre
Three years after he left office, Dwight Eisenhower wrote: “People talk about the middle of the road as though it were unacceptable. Actually, all human problems, excepting morals, come into the gray areas. Things are not black and white. There have to be compromises. The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters.”
I am sure what was once a statement of rationality by one of our beloved figures in American history may now appear controversial by many Americans. But it is where most people are when you avoid the emotions of political ideology. It is ironic that in every area of our lives we apply practicality when it comes to the choices we make and avoid those most basic pragmatic instincts when it comes to public policy. No one asks the emergency room doctor what his or her ideology is on health care. Our only need is to have our medical problem solved in the least painful and least costly way.
So it should be when it comes to public policy, though I have to say that having spent twenty five years in government, it often appeared that the chosen path by some leaders I’ve known was the most painful and costly.
So here I stand in the middle of the road with most Americans, watching and hoping for some common sense to be injected into our political discourse, and concerned about what Margaret Thatcher once said was the risk of getting “knocked down by traffic from both sides.”
But what do both sides really believe, and why would the other side–whichever side it happens to be–oppose those most fundamentally-held beliefs? Without using labels, this is my understanding of what is most important to those in the political fray:
1. Reduce healthcare and prescription drug costs.
2. Balance the federal budget in a bipartisan way.
3. Protect the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink and the waterways we use.
4. Operate government at every level in an efficient and customer friendly manner.
5. Assist those most in need in our community.
6. Protect our freedoms through a strong defense.
7. Reduce crime through community-oriented policing methods, and divert the mentally ill and the alcohol and drug-addicted out of the prison system, into rehabilitation programs.
8. Respect our military and first responders past and present for their service and willingness to place their lives on the line for the good of the community.
9. Regulate consumer practices to avoid fraud and abuse of the public.
10. Create a robust business climate to encourage small, medium and large businesses to expand job growth.
I hope that most would agree that these common-sense principles should form the bedrock of our public policy. It is an essential component of the democracy that the founding fathers created that there would be robust debate–perhaps heated debate regarding certain controversial issues, no doubt. But there must be some common ground that we the people can rely on, common ground that binds us together as Americans and distinguishes us from authoritarian or dictatorial governments.
I believe by reminding ourselves of President Eisenhower’s admonition and of our shared beliefs as Americans, we can and will find those compromises so vital to the health of a community and the nation.
Jim Manfre was Flagler County sheriff from 2001 to 2004, and from 2009 to 2012.