Monday, September 20, 2010

Avoid Speeches on the Constitution?

I recently read the article "Republicans and the Tea Party - Enlist but Avoid Speeches on the Constitution" by Kate Zernike.  Unfortunately, I can't tell if this is Ms. Zernike's advice for the Republicans or the mood within the Republican party.  The only authority that she cites is Stuart Rothenburg who is a non-partisan political analyst.
“You see these rallies and the signs are all about the Constitution,” said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of a nonpartisan political report. “They want it to be about these big ideological ideas, when I don’t think most voters think that way. It’s very clear that what’s best for the election is to make it about Obama, Pelosi, health care, the deficit.” 
From wherever the advice is coming, I disagree.  It seems that the American people could benefit from a large-scale debate about the Constitution and the proper role of government.  Some guy in a tricorn hat railing on the 17th Amendment and the direct election of senators might be a non-starter, but American rhetoric needs more than "who's hot" and "who's not".  In the last presidential election, I was sadly disappointed that neither candidate seemed willing or able to articulate a governing philosophy.  There are hard questions facing the republic, and many voters want to know how a leader thinks. What can government do and not do?  What are the limits to freedom?  How will a leader establish priorities and resolve conflicts of interest? 

All these folks dressed as Revolutionary reenactors have a point.  History and our founding documents matter.  The excesses of the Tea Party movement should be met with principled argument, not ridicule.  Whether the issue is health care or war in the Middle East or the role of religion in society, "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind" require some explanation.  Americans are generally conservative, and they want to know that the rules aren't changing in the middle of the game.  At the very least, they want to know that change is consistent with their heritage and principles.  The conservatism of which I speak is not ideological.  It's an outlook.  In a few years, I bet we will hear again that the Republicans have overreached precisely because they forgot this advice. 
In the meantime, showing disdain for the Constitution is not the way to get elected.  

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