‘Future Developments Uncertain’ is good kicker

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 5, 2004

Commentary by Bill Brown

Many newspapers once used a style of headline that featured a line of smaller type – called a kicker – above the regular headline. It gave the headline writer an opportunity to highlight two different aspects of the story.

Early on in my newspaper career, I arrived at an all purpose kicker, one that could be used over almost any headline on any newspaper story. It said: Future Developments Uncertain.

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That kicker could be put to use now.

The seers will pore over the entrails of this election and pronounce its meaning; seeking to read meaning into events is a human preoccupation. No matter what they read into it – and what we expect of the next few years – there will be a lot that we and the seers will have missed.

We float along on the currents of history, paddling as best we can toward what we think is the desirable destination. But it will be our grandchildren’s generation, or perhaps the generation after, that really will be able to see how true a course we have steered.

Many of us thought that this presidential election was of paramount importance. The strong voter turnout confirmed that feeling. A look at the election numbers shows something else: All of us may be in the same boat, but we’re pretty evenly split on which way to go.

The presidential election four years ago left many voters with the bitter feeling that the election had been stolen from them.

This year, the Republican candidate clearly won the electoral vote and the popular vote.

I wonder whether the untarnished victory will harden positions or will make it easier for Democrats and Republicans to find some middle ground. Both parties seem to have driven out their middle-of-the-roaders.

I had an archly conservative friend who observed tartly that the only thing you find in the middle of the road is a yellow stripe.

That might apply to moral issues, but most matters of public policy are not starkly moral or immoral. Yet many of the ideologues in Congress have made compromise of any kind a dirty word.

We’re lucky that they weren’t writing the Constitution.

The framers certainly had as strong a claim to Divine guidance as the current crop of political leaders, but that did not negate seeking a middle ground.

Benjamin Franklin, who represented the pragmatic, benevolent side of the American character, was the oldest delegate to the Constitutional Convention. (Walter Issacson’s 2003 biography of Franklin is a wonderful portrait of a complex character.) None of Franklin’s major ideas for the new form of government were adopted, but he was one of the most influential delegates because of his ability to smooth disputes and encourage compromises.

When delegates from large and small states were stalled on how the states’ representation in the national Congress should be determined, Franklin found a middle ground. “When a broad table is to be made, and the planks do not fit, the artist takes a little from both and makes a good joint,” he said.

Franklin did not approve of every part of the new Constitution, but when signing time came, he asked his fellow delegates to lend their unanimous support, urging them to doubt a little of their own infallibility.

More than a decade earlier, Franklin had been the oldest signer of the Declaration of Independence. When he had affixed his signature to the document, he remarked to his fellow drafters, “Gentlemen, we must now all hang together, or we shall most assuredly all hang separately.”

In 2004, there still are plenty of reasons for us to all hang together.

Bill Brown can be contacted at 377 Quail Hollow Drive, Dadeville AL 36853 or by e-mail at williambrown1@charter.net.