Many conservatives rightly criticize abusive judges and justices who compose opinions – like the Supreme Court's recent Obergefell decision – that disregard the plain and explicit provisions of the U.S. Constitution. But, though the U.S. Constitution certainly falls within the sphere of what conservatives fight to conserve, they themselves often fail to engage in that battle using the language and logic of the Constitution itself. Instead, as I lamented in an article about the Second Amendment published last week, "they reason from whatever happens to be their own preoccupation."
The framers of the U.S. Constitution explicitly sought to guarantee a republican form of government in and for each and all of the United States (Article IV. 4). Madison and his Federalist colleagues made it clear that the Constitution's provisions for a government in which the people exercised their decision-making power through "a scheme of representation" were the salient feature of the new Constitution. It distinguishes the form of government proposed strenuously sought after and adopted by the framers from the failed republics characteristic of previous human history.
Obviously, then, to conserve the republican form of government the Constitution envisages, we must understand and implement its provisions for representation. In this respect, periodic elections are the key. In our day we speak as if elections are all about the opportunity, or even the duty, to cast a vote. But, at its root, the word "election" has to do with making a choice among alternatives. When we come together as members of the sovereign body of the people, our choices involve judgments that affect our common good as a people, for it is the duty of the sovereign to care for the common good. But how can voters make judgments that reflect this, their duty as citizens, if no choice is available that properly frames issues in terms of the common good?
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If elections are to be more than a charade, staged to give the appearance of legitimacy to dictatorial rule, they must offer voters real alternatives in this respect. Absent such alternatives, voters have no choice but to be delinquent in their duty as citizens. For by agreeing to vote in the absence of choices framed in terms of the common good, they have cast aside the opportunity to do their duty. They relinquish it into the hands of the person or persons allowed to usurp the political initiative that has determined what choices will be available.
Note well that the problem is not the general absence of choices. It's the absence of any particular choice that gives and takes account of our common good. Obviously, to recognize and understand this deficiency we must have some sense of that good and take it into account as we consider the facts and circumstances of our nation's life.
However, our duty as citizens is not our only duty. As responsible individuals, we daily face the challenge of taking care of ourselves and any other people we are obliged to consider, on account of bonds of natural affection, or the voluntary associations we undertake to meet our material needs. On most days, these private and particular obligations rightly consume the time and attention of most people. To be sure, in the course of their everyday experience, they get some idea of how the laws and activities of government affect their society's well-being, beginning with their own. But it usually takes some special effort or circumstance to set their own experience in the context of that of others; and an even more deliberately self-conscious effort to see the experiences of individuals in the context of the community as a whole.
Yet it is our perception of the experience of the whole community that ought to inform the judgments we make as voters on Election Day. The campaigns and other informational activities that precede the vote ought to help focus our attention on this (literally) wholesome perspective. However, the political process presently generated by the sham two-party system usually does the opposite. It is dominated by the ambition for office of individual candidates. Their campaigns focus on themes and stratagems intended to get people to work and eventually vote for them. Issues are chosen for discussion and formulated with this in mind. The aim, therefore, is to cater to voters, not to encourage them to cater to the good of the whole community.
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This is more than ever true of presidential campaigns. Candidates mostly bombard us with pleas to work for them, buttressed with glowing self-praise to encourage us to accept their account of all that they will do for us once elected. Using polls, surveys and focus groups, their campaigns try to determine how we itch. Then they produce appeals tailor made to rouse and then allay our irritation.
This is a process of manipulation, not persuasion. It makes use of information about what people think they want, but without challenging them to take on the responsibility to think through what their country needs. It debases the purpose of elections. The elections America's Founders meant as an opportunity for regular folks to moderate, with their common-sense decency, naturally inordinate elitist ambition has become instead a charade, through which the elitist faction manipulates the votes and corrupts the character of well-intentioned people. But by carefully respecting and implementing the Constitution's provisions, this travesty can be turned upside down; instead of allowing it to overturn the American way of life.
Americans are entirely used to the fact that, long before general Election Day, presidential campaigns focus on candidates for president. Yet according to the Constitution of the United States, the presidential election process ought to focus on identifying and electing the people who will choose the president, not the people who are liable to be chosen for the office. Because we take the candidate focus for granted, we never ask ourselves how the process would be different in the absence of that focus. What if we approached the presidential electoral process determined to implement the Constitution's provisions, instead of taking it for granted that we have no choice but to circumvent them?
Our thinking has been corrupted by the candidate focus of the present sham party system. Acting on the Constitution, voters would not focus on presidential candidates. They would focus on the electors, as the Constitution directs. Beyond their one-time function, the presidential electors have no ongoing role in government. So they could not campaign for office with themes and stratagems that scratch our itch, because they will be in no position to do anything for us once the election for president is over. In order to choose them, we would have to ask ourselves the question they will have to answer to perform their sole function: What kind of person do we want in the White House, and why?
The question "why" has to be answered in concrete terms so as to provide a reasonable basis for the chosen electors to judge when and whether they are acting faithfully on our behalf. When we think it through, we realize that, in order to answer the question, we would have to focus not only on issues, but on the standards and priorities that determined our sense of the importance of any given issue. The focus on standards and priorities would impel us to think not only about what we want in a material sense, but about who we are and want to be in the choices we make as citizens; and what we want our communities and our country to be as a result of our actions.
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As I observed it, this is exactly the frame of mind shared by many of the people who participated in the meetings and rallies the media eventually labeled as the "tea party." As it developed, the original movement designated by that label corresponded to the kind of citizen activity that would be required for the U.S. Constitution's system of electors for the presidency to function as it should. Driven by a common sense of concern for their country's well-being, people gathered at the grass roots to hear from people who shared that common sense. Though mainly composed of local citizens, the speaking roster included national figures who shared their sense of concern. There were local rallies which then fed regional and even statewide gatherings. In the course of things, people were able to identify and assess firsthand people who sincerely shared and well-articulated their understanding of the crisis America was facing.
Had it continued along the lines of its original trajectory, what came to be called the tea party movement would have produced an authentic and desperately needed realignment of the political process in the United States. That original, spontaneous reaction against the elitist faction's hijack of the American political process still provides the paradigm for implementing the Constitution's provisions for representative government in the United States, at the highest level.
To understand this, we have only to consider what would have happened if that original grass-roots effort had held out against the blandishments of the GOP's ultimately successful effort to co-opt it. With little adjustment, the associations formed to organize local rallies could have used them as the venue for choosing those best suited to participate in regional or statewide gatherings at which, from amongst the attendees selected as their representatives by the local rallies, people would be chosen who could serve as electors on a slate of electors, to be represented on the General election ballot by "favorite son or daughter" candidates. The slates would be formally pledged to search for, find and ultimate cast their vote for a president pledged to represent and carry into action the principles, priorities and policy concerns of the grass-roots people the electors had pledged to represent.
Obviously, this process would focus first of all on the initiative and responsibility of citizens as the grass roots, and then on the faithful representation and fidelity of the electors chosen by their representatives. It would focus on the agenda of concerns that would begin as featured topics at local rallies and eventually be organized and formally set out as the principles, priorities and intended policies the movement's slates throughout the country agreed on as their platform and aim.
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But the process would also be the occasion for identifying people who would become the subjects of scrutiny when the electors convened to perform their search and decided upon the candidates (for president and vice president) for whom they would all of them vote. The tea party rallies in which I participated always included a combination of local, state and national figures. Instead of people turning out to support candidates, those national figures who turned out to support the initiative of the people would thus make themselves known to the movement's grass-roots voters, including those they eventually selected as their electors.
Instead of voters working to support candidates identified and selected by the elitist faction's would-be tyrants, potential candidates would work to support the standards, priorities and concerns of grass-roots voters, with no assurance that they would eventually win office. Instead of campaigns tailored to make voters the instruments of ambitious politicians, those who wanted to serve in office would first have to lend their talents and abilities to achieving the success of the platforms developed and upheld by voters at the grass roots, for the sake of no individual ambition, but to serve the common good of their country.
Media wishing to interview Alan Keyes, please contact [email protected].