Nation divided by reactions, not party

Published 4:41 pm Monday, January 8, 2007

By By Tray Smith
The reactionary is always willing to take a progressive attitude on any issue that is dead."-Theodore Roosevelt
Political analysts of the modern area are often apt to divide our nation among Republican and Democratic, conservative and liberal, Christian and non-Christian and even white and minority lines. Yet, our nation's true division lies between those who merely react to the problems they confront and those who work to solve the challenges before them, despite their position on the ideological spectrum. Indeed, our nation is not divided between parties and beliefs but between problem solvers and reactionaries, those who determine the course of events and those who allow the course of events to determine them.
Traditionally, reactionaries are defined as members of the ultra right while progressives, commonly associated with the far left, are their opposite. Just as conservative political operatives have succeeded in converting the term liberal into a derogatory statement in the United States; progressives have succeeded in labeling their opponents reactionaries while describing themselves with a word indicative of progress. But when the political definitions of these terms are cast aside, I cannot help but see a reactionary as someone who responds to a situation based on an immediate impulse rather than long-term observation, someone whose true opposite is not a progressive but a problem solver. In effect the opposite of a reactionary is someone who acts not based on what is happening in the world today but based on what he hopes will happen in the world fifty years from now.
That thought brings us to our new Congressional majority, hastily hammering its "100 Hours" agenda through to passage in the U.S. House of Representatives. These proposed policies are the epitome of what results from reactionary impulses. Based on the false premise that the government can solve our problems, delegates to the 110th Congress are now implementing an increase in the minimum wage to fight poverty, caps on drugs to control Medicare prescription drug prices, PAYGO spending rules to restrain budget growth, and stem cell research programs. Yet, they move forward with these propositions without considering the inverse affect a minimum wage hike can have on high school graduation rates and the overall size of the labor market, the drastic supply limitations caused by pharmaceutical price controls, the benefits of supply side economics excluded from budget calculations under PAYGO, and the moral qualms concerning the use of one life for the benefit of another.
Yet, conservative political figures can often times be just as reactionary, believing that the only way to secure our boarders is to build a wall while ignoring the economic conditions critical to resolving our immigration woes, insisting that Iraq can be solved by a larger presence of U.S. troops while ignoring cultural complexities on the ground that make a troop drawdown a more plausible option, and insisting the only way to reduce crime is through tougher penalties and longer sentences administered at the peril of rehabilitation efforts that are more effective in reducing the number of re-incarcerations.
Thus, we find that the terms "reactionary" and "problem solver" know no ideological bounds and are in fact character traits that transcend into every area of our life. No person belongs to one camp or the other, but the way each person responds to each issue can be classified as either the response of someone merely reacting to events or someone trying to avoid anticipated problems. Along the same lines, solving any problem is ultimately a reaction to some piece of information, but the defining point is rather that reaction is seeking to avoid a future problem through much analysis and reflection or to hastily respond to an occurrence of the present.
There will always be those who respond to a fire by fleeing their home, calling the Fire Department, and praying no one is left behind, and there will always be those who avoid fatal injuries in fire by installing an alarm system and developing a family emergency plan. After fire strikes, either will favor having an alarm system, but for the reactionary, the alarm system will not have been in use when it could have been of the most benefit. As Teddy Roosevelt said, the reactionary will take a progressive attitude on an issue that is dead.
Because these character traits affect not only our national politic but also our personal life, there is a fundamental difference between problem solvers and reactionaries that may even prevent them from getting along on a personal level. When included with the fact that problem solvers, who can often find consensus, are vastly outnumbered, the lack of creative thought and bipartisan cooperation in Washington can easily be explained. Unfortunately, the past and the present have already been decided. The future is the only area over which we can yield influence. I pray the newly sworn in Democratic Congress will look to the future and solve problems.
That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a sophomore at ECHS and former intern in the Riley administration. He can be reached for comment at

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