We’d best not turn pessimistic after Tuesday, because political tides ebb and flow. Democracies are funny, strange things that move by the powers of impatience, perception and millions of self-interests. To temper democratic government with the Constitution is the forgotten assignment of our politicians, and so forgotten that the perils of what Alexis de Tocqueville called “democratic despotism” open before us. Still, we shouldn’t be pessimists, because this nation is more than Democratic, and it is more than democratic.
The Constitution of this nation is not merely written, it is organic and unwritten. It is the constitution of our character, of our faith, of our habits and traditions. Our love for frontiers and adventures and mom and apple pie, our disposition to build and create, our passion for competition, our value at once for equality and excellence – these things constitute America. When we are attached to our country, we will attach ourselves mainly to its institutions: the family, the business, the church, the community.
Yet democracy, which also springs from our character as a people, attaches us to government and causes us to expect from the government the definition of our very identity. Thus a tension is raised between government and its source. If government gains too much power, it will set itself up as the source of the nation. But as Ronald Reagan reminded us, “America is a nation with a government, not the other way around.”
Our families, businesses, churches and communities are the guardians of the nation’s unwritten, organic constitution. In them we grow and learn, revere and earn, teach and serve.
Our institutions check government. Vibrant, our institutions hold great authority. Weak, our institutions are usurped by government.
So it is that in 2006 we discuss, in our election season and in Congress, the funding of education, the availability of government health care, the minimum wage, the care of seniors, and other such things that communities and individuals and markets are perfectly capable – indeed better – at providing. Government has become the first resort to meet our needs. And so it has taken our responsibilities. Our freedoms intact, duty lies ill on the election night party floor.
This, of course, would seem good reason for pessimism. It is not.
Because leadership will make all the difference. There is a small and strong and growing network of young Americans who are determined to lead. Their aim is not only politics, but the cultural arenas in which our organic constitution is kept alive: Hollywood, the schools and universities, the arts, law, parenting. They will lead because they sense the urgency of our moment, and they feel the call – muffled though it is through decades of cultural decline – to repair the broken walls.
Formed in the homeschooling movement, rebels against political correctness on the campus, lights among the jaded, soldiers in Iraq, volunteers after Katrina, entrepreneurs, pro-life activists – the leaders of the rising generation are more conservative than the leaders of the baby boomers.
And when it comes to elections and politics, in which someday our generation will be a force, we will stand fiercely against the boomers’ entitlements. Offended at present by the egotism and self-righteousness of boomer politicians, alienated by their incivility and uninterested in the power game of massive government, most of our generation is turned off to voting. But for the same reasons that we don’t much like government now, we will go to government in due time to put to rest its corruptions. When the boomers are throwing the most lavish retirement party in the history of mankind at our expense, we will go to government with free-market alternatives in hand. Limited government will again have currency in the political lexicon. The constitution – the unwritten constitution of our character as a people, and the written constitution of our government – will again be discussable.
For now, let us rest our hopes for national renewal in the families and churches and businesses and communities of the land. Let us teach and serve and pray outside of government. Let us rebuild those constitutional checks on government that are primary to our existence as a people, that both precede and create the Constitution of our government.