What is to be done about all the political mischief, all the ills and evils, so many of them grown from seeds of reform, that mar and beset politics in the United States?
The fundamental genius of the American polity is a spirit of compromise between ideological purity and zeal on one hand and freedom of thought and action on the other. This is reflected in the history and the content of the U.S. Constitution. Since its very inception in the hot Philadelphia summer of 1787, reformers have tried to make its prohibitions more stringent, and other reformers have tried to make its freedoms more broad.
Although it is not usually couched in these terms, the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches us (in Genesis 3) that the first reformer was the serpent in the Garden of Eden, who persuaded Eve that he had a better idea. So to get knowledge, the First Man, and his First Lady, ate the forbidden fruit. They discovered, and covered, their nakedness and got thrown out of paradise.
Not all subsequent efforts at reform have been so disastrous, but few have brought results as benign as their motivations. Once paradise is lost, one reformer's good is another's evil; and when zeal and fury run high on both sides, the resulting polarization has repeatedly sabotaged working arrangements that may be less than heavenly but still useful. In the United States, the real victim often has been tripartite government and its checks and balances. In such times the trickery, deceit, and bloodthirsty spirit appropriate to the campaigns of war permeate the campaigns of politics.
Still, corruption continues to flourish and the need for reform persists, as