Today's politicians could learn a thing or two from St. Patrick

Today's politicians could learn a thing or two from St. Patrick
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So, I'm sipping a Guinness and thinking about today's politics and St. Patrick's Day.

Everyone knows that St. Patrick was the Irish saint who drove the snakes from Ireland. The problem is … none of that is true. It is purely fake news. He wasn’t Irish at all; he was Roman, Patricus. He was never officially canonized by Rome as a saint, although his local fans did elect him to sainthood by acclamation. And there were no snakes — it was a metaphor for his on-again, off-again relations with the Druids.


In spite of that, over the past 1,600 years, St. Patrick has morphed into the Irish nationalism symbol he is today. But don’t head for New York with pitchforks and burn down St. Patrick’s Cathedral just yet, and please don’t stop the parades or close down the bars. St. Patrick deserves to be celebrated. In fact, he was a far greater hero and historical giant than his cartoon imagery today.

To begin with, we should all thank him for helping save Western civilization. During the period of the Viking and you-name-it invasions of Ireland, Britain and the Roman Empire, Patrick, along with Columba, set up a network of fortified monasteries to protect and reproduce all available Western literature going back beyond the Greeks. Without the two of them, most of that knowledge and history might have been lost forever.

Next, he was a diversity and inclusiveness kind of guy. He was a pragmatic churchman, but avoided Church politics. To spread the word in Ireland, he brought in the pagans and integrated some of their ideas and rituals into his services and teachings. And, of course, living with the pagans, Patrick likely would have been a partier, so don’t close the bars. Given his time in history, he probably would have understood microbrews better than microaggressions — in his day, he only had time to deal with macroaggressions. And parades — he would have marched with advocates for social justice as a matter of human dignity and inclusion. He was a big tent guy.

And he was green! After all, he hung out in Ireland with the Druids, the great worshippers of nature. He certainly would have been an environmentalist today, although, as a pragmatist, he probably would have compromised a lot on the Green New Deal to get it done, framing it as the “Green Real Deal.”

But, most importantly, as a pragmatist he was not doctrinaire. And herein lies the most important lesson for the left and the right today. So often these days, the political parties deal in absolutes. We hear that the other side is “immoral” and there is no room for compromise. That certainly is not how St. Patrick rolled. He compromised, brought in the best ideas of his opponents, took huge (and unpopular, at least within the church) personal and political gambles, and truly advanced civilization and Western heritage. There have been few like him since, and none that I can point to today.

My government career began in the Nixon administration. Personally flawed as he may have been, Richard Nixon worked closely with the Democrats on Capitol Hill to create the Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration. He expanded Head Start and food stamps, sponsored progressive reforms of health care and welfare, initiated detente with Russia, and created new openings with China. Leading Democrats such as Sen. Russell Long and Rep. Wilbur Mills worked with him.

Later, Ronald Reagan crushed the Soviet Union and restructured American capital markets to set the stage for global market expansion and private investment that created a foundation for the country’s prosperity over the past 30 years. It was legendary how he worked with the Hill and Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-Mass).

Certainly Jack Kennedy's "New Frontier," Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were enacted with bipartisan support. A tremendous amount of legislative and social progress occurred between 1960 and 1990. Very little of any real significance on that scale has happened since, in this era of rapidly escalating political polarization.

Today’s modern political Savonarolas say no and they mean it. There is no room for compromise and those who suggest it are burned at the stake … oops, I meant to say “primaried.” History is clear that little good will come of that.

St. Patrick should be a role model for discussion, inclusion, compromise, courage, pragmatism and real progress today. I'd certainly join that parade.

Grady Means is a writer and former corporate strategy consultant. He served in the White House as a policy assistant to Nelson Rockefeller and a staff economist in the Office of Elliott Richardson, the Secretary of the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.