Party loyalty and ideological orthodoxy damages America. It is destructive to everything the founding generation believed important to a strong America. George Washington reminded us that the “real design” of parties is “to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities.” It was, Washington said, “destructive” and “of fatal tendency.” James Madison dedicated Federalist Number 10 to the dangers of factionalism. Though he believed it was impossible to avoid factionalism, he was optimistic that the new federal constitution would moderate partisan tendencies. Even Thomas Jefferson, arguably among the most partisan of the founding generation, understood that Americans must rise above partisanship. “We have called by different names brethren of the same principle,” he declared in his first inaugural. “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”
Today party and ideology are not just present but dominant. They have become intolerant. It leaves most Americans, I believe, wondering what happened to “reason.” Have we lost the ability for patriots to gather and openly debate and reason out differences of opinion? Unfortunately the answer is yes. As a result, many of us are left adrift without any political affiliation, neither Democrat nor Republican, neither conservative nor liberal. Even more are left alienated from politics altogether, believing they have no say and no way to participate that’s worth their effort.
I love freedom. Freedom is a liberal value. As an American I believe that I should be free to own the property I desire, love the person I love, raise my family to reflect my values, worship God in my way, and speak my mind in support of the causes important to me. I do not believe that I should control these decisions for other people and I am offended when others try to impose these decisions on me. I do not denigrate someone else’s freedom and I do not appreciate those who attack my freedoms.
I also believe in equality. Equality is another liberal revolutionary value. As expressed in the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights, I believe “That all men are by nature equally free and independent.” Yes, all humans, no matter their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or economic station. As George Mason’s declaration says, “no man, or set of men, are entitled to exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges”—there is no gentry, no royalty, no earls or duchesses in America. In all essential elements of the republic we must be equal. Every citizen should have the opportunity to vote. Every citizen should find equal treatment before the law and our government institutions, with no group or individual privileged above another. Every citizen should have equal opportunity to employ their talents for the betterment of themselves and their family. Every citizen should have access to education, because an educated citizenry is a responsible citizenry.
I believe in the conservative value of responsibility. Individuals who avoid responsibility dismay me. Politicians (Democrat and Republican) who authorize military action and social programs without allocating the funds or raising the taxes to pay for it anger me. It’s irresponsible. If it’s important to do, we should raise (not borrow) the money to accomplish it. As a responsible citizen, I pay my taxes. It’s my patriotic duty. Those who cheat and pay less than their fair share offend me.
And speaking of responsibility, I believe it is my responsibility to conduct myself for the betterment of my community, to note how much I have given and to take less in return. That includes stewardship of everything from natural resources to the education of children in my community (not just my own children). It means that I am responsible to assist the less fortunate and disadvantaged in my community. It’s my responsibility to help build a strong community and if that means buying insurance, donating to causes, paying my taxes, and dedicating my time, so be it. I expect my representatives to shoulder their responsibility as well.
I believe that power corrupts. The founding generation held this same conservative belief. It offends me when politicians close ranks around party instead of my community’s best interest. The exorbitant profits and salaries of corporate shareholders and CEOs offend me. It’s just another example of consolidating greed and power. And I believe that public servants (elected representatives, government workers, the military, police, and others) are especially answerable for their actions, because of the additional community responsibility they carry. I have little tolerance for the kind of corruption and indiscretion that harm the citizens these people serve.
I believe there are a lot of frustrated Americans like me. It shows in the low vote of confidence that presidents, governors, legislators, and judges receive on opinion polls. I want them all to work for my community’s best interest, not theirs, and not for a political party’s.
There is a lot of pessimism out there right now, but “We the People” need to put it aside. This whole experiment we call the American republic is idealistic. It has been from the very beginning. Our founding generation believed that common everyday human beings could rise above their self-serving instincts and collaborate for the common good. It’s time we got back to work. It’s time we started taking to each other with the kind of empathy that engenders respect for the individual. It’s time we start demanding that our politicians work across party lines for our common interest or step down. It’s time we found leaders who will—no mater their political party—step forward and say (to paraphrase Mr. Jefferson): We are all Republicans. We are all Democrats. We are all liberals. We are all conservatives.
Yes, real differences separate us. But the ideologues and partisans are wrong: There is no single secret pathway back to the “Garden of Eden.” We will not get everything we want in the coming debate. But we have most of what we need if we start talking and listening to each other. The current winner-take-all battle strategy is failing. We are failing ourselves, our community, our state, our nation, our nation’s future; we are failing the vision of our founding generation. Why? Because we cannot step aside from dogma long enough to have a frank, honest discussion? Because we cannot talk with reason? It is simply not acceptable. We’d better figure out how to do better. We’d better figure out how to create a new future. And we the citizens will have to figure out how to build it together.