Much ink has been spilled (and Internet bandwidth occupied) recently by various opinionators decrying the lack of “compromise” in our highly charged political system.

Where once (or so the narrative goes) people would routinely give up some portion of what they desired to assure “progress,” we are now told that polarization dominates our public life.

But what if an issue is so important, so vital to our national welfare, that it is compromise instead that is the fatal flaw? And what if one side routinely defines compromise as “you agree with us, or no deal”?

There’s a long list of current examples of one or the other of those cases, from health care to entitlements to social issues to illegal immigration to the war on terror (and many more). And our history is replete with parallel situations and issues.

Sadly, such disputes have not always been resolved by political means. The greatest number of casualties this country has ever suffered in wartime didn’t happen in World War II, when we had 12 million men and women in uniform, fighting foreign enemies with modern weapons all over the globe.

Instead, we suffered our worst losses fighting each other in our Civil War, when weapons were relatively crude (but so was battlefield medicine) and the issues that spurred the fighting, including (but not limited to) Southern slavery, proved incapable of political solution.

Modern social scientists have written volumes on the “demise of the middle” in each political party. There were once “blue dog Democrats” and “moderate Republicans” galore, but since the polarized days of the ’60s, they have been in decline, becoming so rare as to be eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

So, when a metaphor popped into my mind, that “It’s almost as if we were in a Cold Civil War” – a nonviolent but widespread conflict of worldviews, like the Cold War between East and West, but contained in one nation – I Googled the phrase to see how original my thought might be.

Not very, as it turned out. The “cold civil war” string turned up 60.3 million hits from sources including blogs, columns, academic essays and even in the titles of published books.

Charles Lane, an editorial writer for The Washington Post, said in a Monday column that strong disagreement isn’t unknown in our history: “… the United States periodically redefines the role of the federal government in society, in a process that is both political and legal — and, sometimes, more revolutionary than evolutionary. In that sense, we do have a ‘living Constitution.’“

But where once huge federal programs were seen as innovative and substantive, “Today … there is nothing new about federal intervention — and much evidence from the past 70 years that big programs produce inefficiencies and unintended consequences.”

He added, “The post-New Deal consensus about the scope of federal power has broken down amid national, and global, concern over the welfare state’s cost and intrusiveness — a sea change of which the tea party is but one manifestation.”

Another, but far more acerbic, comment came from Michael Walsh, a conservative author and columnist, who wrote on June 26 that “principles, not programs” are what count in political life. He said the upcoming election is parallel to the one in 1860 that involved a clash of cultures. We suppose that this time around, “both sides are playing by the same rules, and have a shared interest in the outcome,” and even “accept the foundational idea of the American experiment, and that the argument is over how best of adhere to it.”

However, he said, “That is false.”

Instead, we are in “an existential struggle for the soul of America.” But we don’t recognize it because we have failed to take Barack Obama at his word, when he said just before the 2008 election, “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”

By that, Walsh believes, Obama meant not just the repudiation of his predecessor’s policies, but “the utter destruction of the founding principles of limited government, individual self-reliance and personal freedom,” replacing them with the “poisoned gifts” of “central planning and rule by a credentialed aristocracy of like-minded fellow travelers.”

That may be a tad apocalyptic, but it’s hard to deny that we live in a nation generally divided between those who look back seven decades to an era of huge governmental economic interventions, and those who see that such interventions can only end one way.

It’s the way they are now ending in Europe, and the way they will eventually end here, unless our Cold Civil War is won at the ballot box by the side that values freedom and self-reliance over the false security the nanny state promises — but cannot enduringly provide.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at:

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