The title of this post is taken from the second volume of Page Smith’s 8 volume social history of America. It refers to the creation of the American republic and how contemporaries of that event all saw the start of something unheard of in human history - a federal Constitutional republic - as the beginning of a New Age of Man, a new beginning where citizens, unsullied by the infection of class distinction and royalty common in Europe, could create a new Zion - a paradise on earth.
Much has been made by me and others of how important it is to hew to the principles and precepts espoused by our ancestors who invented this country. But perhaps we sometimes lose sight of some uncomfortable facts when it comes to “original intent” of the founders and the stratified nature of American society at that time.
We don’t want to pull forward to this time the notion that African Americans are 3/5 of a person for purposes of the census. Nor would we want to have the view of most of the founders that the elites should run the country while the rest of us shut up and do as they say. Most of those well propertied men distrusted the people (in the aggregate) and were fearful that if the mob ever got too much control of the levers of government, their property would be taken from them.
There is also the shameful treatment of women as it related to the Constitution and the law as well as a decided bias against settlers on the frontier. A failure to live up to treaties with the Indians resulted in regular and bloody wars. Big states hated little states and vice versa.
The Constitution was very much a document of its time. It reflected the very best thinking of enlightenment and pre-enlightenment philosophers. But it is not a perfect document and to say today that Obama will toss it out the window I believe goes too far in describing what he will try to do. It is the difficulties of today that will dictate how he approaches our challenges. And in the context of Constitutional precepts written 220 years ago, he will stretch some of those no doubt to achieve what he wants.
Where he reaches too far, we will smack him down. But I believe he should get some leeway if only because our founders did the same thing when they first confronted the theory of the constitution with the reality of their times.
The problems of early America were enormous, having just come through a ruinously expensive war, a barely united populace behind the idea of a country at all, and squabbling about everything from land grants to borders among the several states. In fact, once the Constitution was ratified, the universal question on everyone’s mind was “Now what?”
How could they even begin to solve these massive difficulties? The Constitution was, after all, just a piece of paper.
It helped that George Washington was the first president. Not a brilliant man by any means, Washington’s strengths were his leadership ability and his sterling reputation - something he used as vintner might pour out wine from a carafe. The longer Washington was in power, the more his reputation suffered, the more empty the carafe became. Washington deliberately expended his most precious resource to keep the country from flying apart.
After 8 years, his reputation was still great enough that he was able to keep us out of what would have been a catastrophic war between England and France while putting the nation (with Hamilton’s scheming help) on a sound fiscal footing.
Obama is no Washington although I believe he has demonstrated some leadership qualities that some recent presidents have not. The guy has to have something inside of him to create the kind of mass movement I saw last night in Grant Park at the Obama Victory Rally. Easily 80% of that crowd of nearly a million were under the age of 25. Media and money help, no doubt about it. But our new president has something else about him as well; the ability to inspire. That is a quality not all politicians have and I have a feeling we will have need of that ability before all is said and done in the near future.
I will probably oppose 90% of what Obama and the Democrats try to do. Some commenters on this site question how I can do that and still claim to see Obama as “my president.” If that’s the kind of attitude Obama supporters are going to have I fear for this country. Such authoritarian impulses are common in mass movements and it remains to be seen whether Obama is strong enough to resist the temptations such support presents for him. It would be easy to turn to his true believers in times of political trouble and simply ride roughshod over the naysayers. Let’s hope he has the moral compass and clarity of vision to see beyond such pettiness and embrace diversity of opinion - even when things get rough.
One thing is certain; Obama, the Democrats, and liberalism are going to be given a chance. There’s not much we conservatives can do about that. Do we work to constructively engage the opposition or do we simply participate in mindless, partisan hackery? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t fight, and fight hard, for what we believe in. But we shall soon see if Obama is serious about engaging us in a dialogue. If he is, I would think that for the sake of the country, we try to meet him halfway.
We must pick and choose our spots over the next 4 years. Constant caterwauling about every little thing an Obama Administration does will get us nowhere. While we should oppose those things that we believe are detrimental, perhaps it wouldn’t kill us if we actually looked around to see if there was anything we could support him on?
Obama has spoken passionately on issues of individual responsibility for African American fathers and other single parents. This is conservative bread and butter and I would have absolutely no problem in helping our new president make those words a reality.
I know most of these words are falling on deaf ears. But I believe in democracy. And in case you haven’t noticed, the majority has just spoken as loudly and as specifically as they can in a democracy. If it is all or nothing for you - if you wish to oppose the color of the curtains Obama picks out for the Oval Office - then I wish you luck in your solitude.
I plan on being engaged the next 4 years - fighting against those things I believe need to be fought while offering what support I can wherever I see our interests merge. That is the role of a responsible opposition.
Who knows? Perhaps we can teach liberals a thing or two about what it means to be in the minority.