Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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The People's Gift

This Scott Rasmussen column and this more elegant Ross Douthat column are related to a point that is worth pondering by us, and worth acting on (after the ponder) by the Republicans. It is not silly to assert that the electoral victories that are coming tomorrow are not simple pro-Republican (although they are certainly anti-Democrat).  This is worth noting because the GOP will now have to think and act as if they need to earn Tuesday's votes.  And they will do this by both taking actions (on health care, taxes, deficit, etc) that prove their serious purposes and by talking as the people talk; as Rasmussen says, the people want politicians in Washington "who understand that the American people want to govern themselves."  Furthermore, the GOP certainly can't scoff at the people (the folks in the Tea Parties, for example) by saying they are overly fond of their God and their guns.  They had better talk as if they were of the people, instead of being their haughty rulers, else they will be ruled by the people soon enough.  That this is both right and in the interest of the GOP is self-evident; if the GOP doesn't get this right, there will be a third party within a year, and this time it will get more than twenty percent of the vote (thinking of Perot in '92). 

Anyway, it seems to me that Douthat's point--that the country's leftward momentum has reversed itself; that nearly 20 years of liberal gains have been erased in the last 20 months--is  also important.  The Dems' great mistake was to try to expand the size and scope and reach of the federal government during an economic downturn; this tactical mistake (as Douthat calls it) has gone way beyond a strategic mistake, and if the GOP can take advantage of it, it will have teleological consequences opening up the question of self-government itself.  The people came to realize that the Republic was in danger, that the idea of self-government was about to perish from the earth.  They are voting to stop this.

Douthat doesn't think the GOP will be prepared to wield power.  I don't think this is the most important point.  I think they are prepared to wield power, but they do not yet understand how this gift from the people has opened up an opportunity the like of which has not been seen in my lifetime.  The GOP has to understand this, and also know that it is good that the Spirit of '76 has been raised, and it is up to the GOP to establish a rhetoric appropriate to this end.  I don't mean a narrow partisan rhetoric, I mean a rhetoric that is worthy of the American cause, a rhetoric that is not only acceptable to those in the Tea Party, but also pulls in those who have not yet fully thought things through (i.e., a rhetoric that can shape a majority that will have the authority to wield power).  When the Republic is in a crisis there is a need for the kind of political evangelism that will reveal once again how the salvation of man's earthly hopes is bound up in the American Republic.  This rhetoric will have to prove that self-government is possible, it will prove that (in George Washington's words) the idea of civil and religious liberty yet lives, in short, that Americans are good enough to govern themselves.
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"That this is both right and in the interest of the GOP is self-evident; if the GOP doesn't get this right, there will be a third party within a year, and this time it will get more than twenty percent of the vote (thinking of Perot in '92)."

Agree 100%. Tancredo is polling only 4 points behind Hickenlooper as a third party candidate (47.3 to 43.3) and that's with the GOP candidate holding 7% of the vote! I'm not a fan of Tancredo, but it should be noted that Colorado is not exactly a bastion of aged WASPs.

I THINK Boehner understands the nature of the mandate and that he's on a probationary period, and with the 60+ GOP freshmen (largely elected with Tea Party enthusiam) they should be able to "change Washington" (to steal a line from the Commander-in-Chief) in a meaningful way and voice substantive opposition to the Vocal Minority.

"The people came to realize that the Republic was in danger, that the idea of self-government was about to perish from the earth. They are voting to stop this."

I think what we're seeing is that Nixon's "Silent Majority" has finally realized they can't simply go to the polls once every two years and hope to stop the Left's agenda. President Obama's overreach and his fundamental misunderstanding of what America is about have awoken a sleeping giant. God bless Rick Santelli.

The Silent Majority -- maybe. Why have they been silent? I think they have been badly disappointed by the Republican Party and for a long time. We could say that we got Obama because many conservatives sat out the last presidential election. That was a painful silence. Conservatives were deeply disappointed in President Bush and mistrusted McCain. That they have embraced Sarah Palin to the degree they have, despite flaws, indicates the depth of disillusionment with the "establishment" Republicans who have been the kind of "Democrat Lite" that conservatives despise and distrust. That neophyte politicians of the Tea Parties (I think we have to make that plural, as it is a coincident stream of parties) are likely to win, either as Republicans or as independents is maybe the most wonderful thing.

Why? Once, even when I was young, people said that anyone could grow up to be president. Senator, congressman, representative at any level was implied in that idea. In the last weeks, I have been hearing Democrats saying "Well, we don't want to be seeing just anyone run for office, do we?" I have heard this consistently applied to Christine O'Donnell, but the whine repeats what was said about Sarah Palin. Who could ever take her seriously, they said. People sure do. What good is equal opportunity if equal opportunity to represent is not inherent in the idea? If our current president's personal history does not make him a "just anyone" -- his education has made him exempt, I suppose.

Of course we don't want just anyone. But anyone who understands what America is about is liable to be a good candidate. Politicians disappoint when they lack self-government. That politicians currently disappoint if they think the American people incapable of self-government is a welcome idea. I suppose if these new guys turn out to be bums, we will be seeing them thrown out in their next elections. It would be disappointing and encouraging to silence if there turned out to be only bums who ran for office, Republican, Tea-Party-types or Democrats. However, as long as we have elections, we can keep throwing bums out till we get not bums, but good guys in office. Maybe the "just anybody"s will have enough respect for America and Americans not to prove themselves bums.

Locally, I have been hearing young hotheads talk about the need for revolt and they cite Jefferson on the benefits of revolution. I tell them elections are revolutions, if we elect revolutionaries as our representatives. I do hope tomorrow is a little revolution. We seem due for one.

Yes, the question going forward really is to find the rhetoric of self-government that will work today. The world has seemed vast and intimidating -- we cannot find our Lockean land and work it to produce value, though property is not necessarily land. I tell my students that they are capitalists because they have the capital of their own selves and they must make the most of what they have and are. They see it. Our conservative majority cannot remain silent. To have a national ethos of self-government is going to require a cultural revolution as much as a political one. It would be antithetical to principles of self-government to impose such a thing. Yes, persuasion is all.

"The Silent Majority -- maybe. Why have they been silent? I think they have been badly disappointed by the Republican Party and for a long time. We could say that we got Obama because many conservatives sat out the last presidential election. That was a painful silence."

Exactly. Decent Americans can no longer sit at home living the good life with their families and mortgages (which they pay on time) and expect that going to the polls once every two years will keep the Progressives' unrelenting agenda from fundamentally changing America. Conservative Baby Boomers have, rightly, been content with doing things like raising families, running businesses, and generally living "typical" American lives since the 1960s. What they've failed to realize is that, with a political faction as active, patient, and calculating as the American Left, it is essential that they regularly call up groups of Cincinnatus-like Americans to go to Washington and do the right thing. We'll see how this goes. A Republic, if we can keep it, indeed.

Exactly.

Yes, but has the Right really learned the lesson -- that you need to aggressively defend liberty 24/7, that you need to embrace intellectuals who can help you do this (most conservative intellectuals in the university systems languish for want of support of any kind), and that you need to have a counter-vision as strong as the Progressive's snake oil messianic nonsense? I'm not so sure -- conservativism is a philosophy up against a FAITH. Time to face that fact and act accordingly.

Conservatism is a kind of faith, too. It is a faith that people would rather govern themselves than be managed by government.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Again, today I used the Declaration in my class in a lesson on summary, paraphrase and proper quotation. How many students had ever read the Declaration. Four had, out of 22. This is a better number than usual, but I have a couple of "non-traditional" students in the class and in previous generations public schools taught civics that referred to founding documents. I think they must discuss recycling as a civic virtue these days.

Anyway, Redwald, this section, Refine and Enlarge is supposed to be about learning that lesson and about teaching it and finding the best rhetoric for expressing our political faith. What do we say? It requires a kind of civic evangelism, I suppose.

I think that is just right. Political rhetoric can affect a cultural change, perhaps, which will may a shift in politics and policy possible. Thank you, Dr. Schramm, for opening the topic here. I hope the idea spreads and has general effect.

I dunno, Kate. I've always thought of conservativism as an anti-religion. Down deep, the reason we don't trust big government is that we have a "tragic view" of human nature. You can't perfect society because you can't perfect the crooked timber that is Man. Thus, we need a political system at war with itself, lots and lots of checks and balances which 1) maximize social order, but 2) minimize tyranny. We "trust" people to run their own affairs because that's the best way to preserve the best of human society. Of course, it means we have to accept a lot about human society that isn't so great.

I admit, this isn't the kind of optimistic view that wows crowds and produces charismatic politicians (e.g., hope and change). It's why we usually have to play catch-up.

Faith and religion are not the same thing. Those terms are not interchangeable. Yes, conservatism strains to opitimism about man. It not just that we "trust" people to run their own affairs; we do not trust people to run one another's affairs, or more precisely, we do not wish to have a government of men who manage our affairs for us -- except in limited ways. There are things we cannot do ourselves, and we need society to help.

"we have to accept a lot about human society that isn't so great." All of that is there whether we accept it or not. Even tyrannies have to put up with the not-so-great stuff about humans,

I would suggest that our conservative -- a type which was once known as liberal -- politics has faith that men are capable of governing themselves, despite those flaws in our natures. Rule by the consent of the governed takes a kind of faith, maybe in a Creator (in my case, anyway) and maybe in man, that rule by the many will produce a good result. In a Creator? That all are created equal in those natural -- basic -- ways means we do not need an anointed man chosen by God to lead; we can choose just any one/s of us on our own, consenting to his/their governing. I think that takes a leap of faith.

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