I've spent a lot of time in the last week thinking about the elections coming up. (Is there anyone out there with a brain who hasn't?) One of the things that I keep coming back to is that we, as Americans, continually elect people who don't share our view of how things actually work, the world at large, or even AMERICAN society!
Our society is based upon Judeo-Christian morals and values. Those are the values our Founding Fathers espoused, they are the values that were inculcated into their fathers, and they are the values that continue to shape the vast majority of Americans. Our laws were first based upon those morals and values, and shaped by our Founding Fathers exposure to English and European law and thought. Blackstone, an English lawyer, was widely read, and many of his ideas were expressed in the writings and phrasings of what became the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
While occasionally laws need to be amended because times change, morals and values are much more substantial and enduring. Indeed, generally those laws need to be changed because the situations have changed, not the moral backing for the law.
Certainly we can believe that Moses was not the first to espouse the belief that "Thou shalt not kill." That basic premise existed prior to Moses coming down from the mountain, and continues today as one of the most cherished of societies beliefs. No society has been long successful who did not carry that premise in it's most basic rules for daily life. (One could argue that the belief was not necessarily found in "primitive" cultures existing into the 20th century, as they openly committed warfare and murder upon rivals, but within those societies, killing another member of the same group was an offense.)
That belief in the sanctity of life extends yet to the present day.
Other values and morals have also been passed down from generation to generation. They have been absorbed into the laws we commonly recognize. The wording changes, but the basic ideas are espoused in what are commonly called the Ten Commandments. Theological discussions aside, our law is based first upon those basic rules, and then extended and expounded. The recent belief that somehow the Ten Commandments are a "religious" idea that needs to be expelled from any discussion of law is ludicrous. The very basis of our civilization is founded upon these precepts, and yet we have allowed jurists to expell those basic beliefs from the courtroom. Doesn't it seem ludicrous that we have thousands of pages of codification regarding homicide, and yet we allow judges to tell us there is no place for the simplest wording regarding homicide, "Thou shalt not kill", because that wording comes from the Bible? It certainly wouldn't be excluded if it came from a contemporary work, or even from Blackstone! Rephrase it to, "You shall not kill another human", and no one objects! Does the idea change with the re-wording? Why then is it less objectionable to judges?
Since my purpose in this essay is not to discuss the law, but to discuss the people we elect and their lack of ability to follow any semblance of the morals and values most Americans espouse, I use the Ten Commandments only generally to illustrate that morals and values are long lasting, not ephemeral.
Why do we find it so hard to elect people whose beliefs and values actually mirror our own?
Part of the explanation probably hinges on two things:
1) People have a low opinion of politicians, or those who seek office. Thus, truly good people don't want to be politicians. They don't want to make compromises in their morals and values, so they don't run for office.
2) Truly good people, when they do decide to become involved, don't accumulate enough special interest attention to maintain their political imptetus. They may get elected once based upon some particular issue and their views on it, but they can't maintain enough momentum to actually continue their agenda because they don't encompass enough different viewpoints. They simply refuse to compromise their morals and values.
So then, what we are left with are individuals who become professional at compromising. As a local mayor once said to me, "When I sat down in the Mayor's seat, I became Mr. Compromise".
While compromise can be an effective tool when morals and values are not at stake, the too frequent exercise of compromise weakens resolve, and erodes the strong wall of identity based on those morals. Compromising the finance of a civic project, so that the cost can be spread over more time, is a far cry from calling for the deletion of the Second Amendment, but the path is in place when compromise over more important issues is allowed.
As Americans, however, we seem to repeatedly elect those who are most adept at compromise, not those who actually represent what we believe to be true.
As further examples:
Most Americans believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. (At least that is what the polls say!) But we actually elect people who say things like, "It's not what I would do, but I have no problem with gay men or lesbians being allowed to marry." Most Americans evidently do have a problem with that, so why do we elect people who don't?
Most Americans evidently believe that the Right to keep and bear arms is an individual right. (Again, the polls say this.) But do we elect people who also believe that? Evidently not, at least if you look at the laws enacted by our elected officials.
Most Americans believe that lower taxes help the economy. (If they didn't, they should have sent those tax stimulus checks back! I didn't hear of a single case where that happened!) And yet, we elect people who say that we need to redistribute the wealth.
Most Americans believe that prayer in schools would be a good thing. (Once again, relying on the polls!). And yet, our elected officials refuse to recognize that small and salient fact.
So why do we do it? Why do we keep electing people who don't agree with what we actually think should be done?
Our system needs an overhaul. Nothing about this election is satisfactory in any way. No real Republicans are happy with McCain, but the party gave them no better option. McCain has not represented real Republican ideals since he was elected to Congress.
No real Democrat can be happy with Obama, because he has compromised his way to this position, and has pandered to every special interest group he can talk to. At one time he represented the true Democrats, but at this point in the process he is almost as centrist as Bill Clinton was.
Both parties have spent incredible amounts of money on the campaign that should have been spent figuring out how to fix the economy, and the mess previously created by their predecessors.
Watching this election can only make me feel that DeToqueville was right when he said, "He was as great as a man can be without morality." Both of the major parties have failed the American public in that respect, as both candidates have sold their souls to garner the vote.
Again quoting DeToqueville, "In the United States, the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own." In no election that I can recall has this been so apparent as it is now. The mass media has grievously failed in it's responsibilities. Orson Scott Card wrote brilliantly about this in an article I previously posted, http://www.ornery.org/essays/warwatch/2008-10-05-1.html.
Unfortunately, I can only think of one solution, and that is unlikely:
Some individual of uncompromising moral belief and value must arise, and he must be able to capture the hearts and minds of enough people to gain election. He must then be willing to turn the government on its own ear to fix the problems created by generations of dishonest men. We must then believe in his vision and make sure it comes to pass.
As Albert Einstein once said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."
Otherwise, we must be content to watch the pending disaster play itself out!