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Alex Hammer

The Problem With Moral Victories
By Alex Hammer
Feb 18, 2006 - 7:54:00 PM

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In a number of Op-Ed pieces in this and other newspapers throughout Maine I have detailed what I perceive to be some of the limitations of excessive partisanship (see copies of Op-Eds on our campaign website, In the 21st century information-rich global economy that the world has become (I use this phrasing often because we need to “get this” and have it sink in) the world is full of external competitive economic pressures, both nationally and internationally, and if Maine is in a divided state within itself it is at a major disadvantage as a state in regard to competing successfully against these economic forces.

But why are we so partisan (and for those few that may doubt we are, see for example my Op-Ed “Words to Live By”, which recounts contentious 2005 Maine partisan budget battle among other factors)?

Why do (some) children who want candy throw temper tantrums at home or in a store because they did not get what they want?

We are of course not children but we are capable of giving in to our less than altruistic natures. We want what we want because we want it. Yeah, the other guy or gal wants what he or she wants, but they’re misinformed. They’re trying to hurt Maine, etc.

Boundaries in life (and advocacy) are essential. But side-effect damages of pressure when overused outweigh the gains that are achieved. It is damage to the combatants themselves and also collateral damage.

At this point you’re (perhaps) going to jump in and call me a relativist, that I believe that any point is as good as any other and that there is nothing worth standing up for.


I stand up for a lot but I attempt to do so (I hope I always do so) in a highly civilized manner, encouraging respect for differing philosophical viewpoints and encouraging (where desirable) constructive-languaged dialogue. I know that even if I am 100% right and you are 100% incorrect (or vice versa) if the process is antagonistic we’re most likely not going anywhere but in circles or increased conflict. Are you moving out of state (collectively, not likely). Am I moving out of state (collectively, not likely. And in my own personal case I missed the state too much and worked too hard to get back here). So in practical terms, how much is generally really being accomplished?

We know all this intellectually but then we rationalize. We’re being antagonistic for the other’s own good or for the good of the state we tell ourselves. And more than that, if we didn’t oppose strongly the other side would get a foothold and win out. We have an obligation to oppose.

But then we get stalemate. Or if one side has the numbers or leverage they get more of their things through but the other side certainly isn’t a partner and the populace becomes disenfranchised from all the rancor and lack of bipartisan results and tunes out or jumps on both sides - majority and minority - and says politicians are as good as lawyers or used car salesmen (with apologies to those professions also, no one should be stereotyped in a blanketed manner).

And we relish in moral victories. What we prevented the other side from accomplishing becomes more prominent and a source of pride than what we individually (or collaboratively with the other side) would have been able to produce in terms of positive effects. It’s that famous “politics of destruction”. It may seem easier to tear down than build up, and possibly more fun. But while it takes great skill to build a beautiful building, any bulldozer can demolish it in short order.

Isn’t this a little bit sad?

Nor am I am a utopian. I am glad that we have police when people break the law (and jails). I think that Afghanistan was a good war after 9-11 but I worry that the Iraq invasion was premature (lack of world consensus and postwar planning and apparent direct evidence of weapons of mass destruction though I am also very glad that dictator Saddam Hussein is removed from power) and now should be handled responsibly (not an immediate pullout) but is costing us very heavily financially and in other ways. A Governor isn’t focused on foreign policy, but this is the idea of responsible balance and also pragmatics that came to mind.

My personal motto is “Don’t look for trouble, don’t run from trouble”. If we are weak on crime or terrorists we invite trouble. We should never forget this But at the same time, there is a saying that the only way to keep someone in a ditch is to stay down there with them, and is that really where we would choose to live and be?

Just as we can give a hand-up but not a hand out, certainly we can find the right combination of both incentives and accountability that foster an optimum process towards results among those with differing agendas and world views in Maine.

The past is the past and the present is here now.

But the future is still to be written.

Imagination is a powerful force. We are writing the future together, and that is the beauty of it. And power. And with that power comes responsibility. Future generations will judge us as we have judged our predecessors. Did we make the world a better place? Did we try to do the best with what we have? Did we settle for moral victories in Maine or did we really compete in an effective and bipartisan way in this global economy?

Many say they love Maine, but if this is not too harsh as they say “the proof is in the pudding”. Can you reconcile your views with your neighbor who disagrees? Are you into real victories for Maine or moral victories for your group or yourself?

There is a famous story of a hand that said that it wasn’t going to feed food to the mouth, because the mouth got all the pleasure of eating and the hand did all this unrewarded work! So it stopped out of stubbornness, wouldn’t listen to reason and the person starved. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face! In Maine we have many great resources and parts and individual and collective efforts that make up the whole. And sometimes we have hands that – clinging to those moral victories – will not feed those mouths.

I’d like to see strong parties (and Independents) within a more productive Maine. When well managed, a team can have stars (i.e. political party-based ideas that win out) without undermining the fundamental concept of team. Sometimes one idea is more right and can carry more of the lead. But it is a delicate balance and the team concept must come first for optimal success (how many superstars, not well integrated or accepted or accepting of the contributions of others, reside on losing teams?).

Use your imagination to picture increased opportunities for Maine and for Maine problem-solving than perhaps has – at least in recent memory – ever existed before.

And no more being satisfied with only moral victories in Maine.

Alex Hammer is an Independent Candidate for Governor residing in Bangor.

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