I am not a professional writer nor am I a political junkie. I have only had minimal direct involvement with elections, doing phone banks for Bush senior and Dole. I almost never put bumper stickers on my car and have never purchased a yard sign. I haven't been excited about a presidential election for as long as I have been able to vote.
Recently I was cleaning out closets and came across a bag of election paraphernalia from the 80's. I found buttons, posters and other political flotsam from the Reagan years and realized that the last time I was really excited about the race for the White House was back when I was ten.
Looking back, I realize that every Republican president since Ronald Reagan has run on a “conservative” platform without actually having a clue what conservatism means. This has lead to a string of so-called conservatives moving what defines conservatism farther and farther left; whether it was the aimless conservatism of Bush Sr., the “compassionate conservatism” of Bush Jr. or the “reaching across the aisle to kick conservatives” conservatism of McCain, or the “electability over principles” conservatism of Hugh Hewitt and other supposed conservatives.
I realized during college that there wasn't any reason to get excited about our presidential candidates because none of them really cared about our founding principles or following the Constitution. I'm one of those Americans that believes that as long as we have a constitution, we have to follow what it says for the good of the country. If the country wants to change it, by all means, let's change it and redefine what American principles are.
As I look over the wreckage of the current election with McCain getting his maverickness handed to him on a platter and squishy Republican senators (Dole, Sununu, et. al.) going down in flames, I would like to humbly propose that it is time for Americans who believe that the Constitution should be a foundational document and not just a decoration in the American History Museum, to sit down and have a real discussion about what it means to be Americans who support Constitutional principles over parties, candidates and power.
I believe that the term “conservative” has been damaged beyond repair by the Bush administration and that the term “constitutionalists” needs to be adopted in its place. We can let the neo-cons keep their meaningless label while they fritter away what is left of their failing power in pursuit of the electable candidate.
Such a project can't start with candidates. If anyone thinks we can start putting forward candidates now, he is already putting the cart before the horse.
This project to take back America is going to have to start in the same place that it did over two hundred years ago – with the basic philosophic principles that our founders ruminated and fought about as they hammered out the Constitution.
We must be willing to take a hard look at what our national government has become and not only say that certain parts of it need to go but also be able to explain WHY those parts are better left to the states instead of to faceless, unaccountable bureaucracies at the national level.
We must be able to not only explain why the right to life is the foundation of all our God-given rights and essential to the long-term prosperity of America, but also explain how, on the local level, we are going to make the excuses for the destruction of the most defenseless moot.
This is a time for pet ideologies to be put aside and to go through all our political positions to see if they actually line up with what our Founding Fathers envisioned.
Many of us reflexively support the death penalty but can we explain why? Should the laws concerning the death penalty be revised to bring greater justice to the system? Why is it that people can argue with straight faces that pro-life advocates are hypocrites because they may also support the death penalty? Isn't it really our fault for sticking to slogans and failing to present the philosophical underpinnings of the difference between innocent life and guilty life?
We may believe that the Department of Education needs to be closed but can we explain why education is best handled on the local level?
The Founding Fathers believed in a form of subsidiarity – decisions made at the local level are much more likely to be made correctly than decisions made far away by people who may have no idea what ramifications their decisions have.
I think that as constitutionalists we need to make a clear distinction, as the Founders did, between what is the proper realm of local governments and what belongs to the national government. The Constitution makes it very clear that everything not explicitly laid out in the Constitution is left to the states.
We as a nation have conceded our local responsibilities to the faceless bureaucracies in Washington for far too long. Such concessions are easy to make but far more difficult to withdraw because once power is given to another, regaining that power becomes almost impossible as the Romans saw under the Caesars.
As Americans we need to be able to see beyond national politics to local politics and admit that states and cities do have a vested interest in public education, and that other social justice issues from which we reflexively shy away, are the venue of the local populace, not the federal government. It is time to remove the national government from the realm of charity and welfare and give that responsibility back to local communities. It may give us peace to let “someone else” take care of charity for us by dipping in our wallet without asking but we relegate those in need to the de-humanizing effects of charity by mandate instead of charity out of love.
America once valued self-reliance and had a narrative of pulling yourself up by your boot straps. Many of our greatest leaders were self-educated individuals who took that story seriously. It has served America well for over two hundred years and produced the most powerful nation the world has ever seen. Today, we have become unsure of this path. We think that we can't succeed because of government interference, race issues and education disadvantages. Instead of taking the lot given to us and refusing to succumb, we look to the government to pull us up, usually at the expense of others. If we want to be a nanny state where the government holds our hands crossing the street instead of us learning to look both ways before crossing it on our own, it is time to put the Constitution on a shelf like most other nations do with their founding documents and move past a government of principles and on to government by whichever group promises to give us the most stuff.
Is this what our Founders fought for? A country of panhandlers looking for the next government bribe in our cup? If this is all we aspire to, then we should put the Constitution behind us because we don't deserve to call it our own anymore.
Once upon a time, a small group of men believed that we were called to something more than being colonies of England. They believed that the “American experiment” could lead to a truly great nation. Over the decades many other countries, perhaps at no time more than following the second world war, believed it, too. President Regan called America the “shining city on the hill” and people came from all over the world to be part of the promise America offered.
Over time, the shining city has tarnished and the promise rings hollow to many. It is time to reclaim our legacy as Americans, to once again be the beacon of liberty and justice in a world mired in despair. It is time to reaffirm our commitment to founding principles and take back the legacy passed down by so many generations for our safe keeping. It is time to restore America.