An American Debate: Facts or Philosophy?

  • Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Daily we all witness an ongoing debate centered in Washington, DC. The issues include the fiscal cliff, the sequester, the aggregate debt, the annual debt, the failure of the US Senate to pass a budget in more than four years and on and on … The President contends that with his reelection, he has a mandate to address all these issues the way he wants to. On the other side of the equation, the reelected Republican majority in the House of Representatives asks: “What mandate? We, too, were reelected based on a completely different set of ideas. The US Senate has essentially the same partisan make-up as before the last election and has largely been silent and inactive in this ongoing discussion and debate.

Analysts from the media and academic commentators have all weighed in on not only the specifics of each of these topics but continually cast them in narrow and short term partisan rhetoric. These discussions remind one of watching a sporting event as to who is up and who is down.

The real question is: “Is there something more going on than just the disagreement on these narrow subjects regardless of how important they may be in the short run?” I say yes, a lot more is going on.

A constitutional law professor on one of the Sunday talk shows along with several guest columnists in the NY Times and other nationally-recognized papers have suggested that the Constitution is outdated and more importantly was written by a group of “old white men.” Both of these positions are absurd and absolutely incorrect.

The participants at the Continental Congress which ended with the unanimous approval of Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence and the participants at the Constitutional Convention leading to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and the first ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights were philosophical intellectuals who were mostly quite young.

Thomas Jefferson was 23 years old when he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses. When he drafted the Declaration of Independence, he was 33 years old. He was elected Governor of Virginia at the ripe old age of 36 and was President George Washington's Secretary of State at age 47.

Patrick Henry was in his early 20s when he delivered his famous speech which ended with: “Give me liberty or give me death!” John Adams, James Monroe and James Madison along with all but a few of those at both the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention were of similar ages.

These men had suffered and experienced what it was like to live under the control of a strong central government, the King of England. They were also informed by a continuum of philosophical thinking that began with Plato and Aristotle continuing through Machiavelli and St. Thomas Aquinas and culminating with what was characterized in Europe as the “great awakening” and the Renaissance. These two events along with the writings of John Locke led to Jefferson's truly revolutionary thought that … all men are created equal, born with certain rights from their Creator and government only exists based on their consent and for limited purposes. A Republic not a Democracy!

I submit that what is currently playing out in Washington, D.C. is a fundamental challenge to the basic belief system articulated by our Founders. The challenge is whether these traditions, beliefs and fundamental economic principles, as articulated by Adam Smith in “The Wealth of Nations” will in fact endure or whether a contemporary set of new ideas will replace them.

The historic evidence is overwhelming. The fundamental principles on which the United States was founded have provided for its citizens the maximum amount of individual liberty and the highest aggregated standard of living ever created, especially when compared to other contemporary systems of government … regardless of where they may be found around the globe.

It certainly seems foolhardy to discard our history for contemporary self-satisfaction. There is no need to abandon the philosophical underpinnings of our history or the Judeo-Christian traditions that have formed our system of values. There is no need to remake America and mimic the replica of some other society or utopian vision that cannot by any measure compare in its outcome with our country or in the quality of life for its citizens to that which we have achieved. Have you seen Europe recently? If we don't wake up, a “preview of a coming attraction!” A show I want to miss.

We need to get back in touch with our heritage and historic values or we will pay a very high price, indeed.

Lynn Mueller is a veteran Republican campaign consultant who has joined Swatzel Strategies. His bi-monthly column in the Georgetown Times focuses on economics and politics.

Opinions that appear on this page in Letters to the Editor or in columns do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.

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