Taking America on the Road
What now seems a century - no: a millennium - away, our modest team at the Center for the American Founding was sitting around the table on a March afternoon, discussing the year 2000 elections. We talked about potential candidates, trying to imagine how each of us might vote.
Slowly, a shared concern for America took center-stage in the conversation. Memories floated around - whistle-stop tours, the C-SPAN bus, slogans galore. Somehow all of us wanted to cast votes that, one way or another, would be votes for America. In a burst of pooled and focused energy and enthusiasm, the designation "Re-Elect America!" was born, and details of a national bus tour were worked out in the feverish 24 hours that followed.
A national conversation across party lines would be proposed and promoted about principles that have rendered this society the freest, most peaceful and most prosperous in the history of the planet. Elections are about differences of opinion, and thus about division. But the hundreds of contentious issues which increasingly confuse and threaten to drown most of us have come to eclipse something at the heart of America's success: that the principles which unite us are stronger than the issues that divide us.
Forty-one years ago, when I first stepped onto American soil, that seemed to be widely accepted. Yes, there was segregation in the South and, yes, women were not generally welcome in certain occupations, but America was able to divide at the polling stations without disagreement about the fundamentals.
That, apparently, is no longer the case.
The word "apparently" is key here. We at the Center assumed that appearances once again might prove deceiving. We would put it to the test: If, in short order, endorsements of the concept could be secured from two prominent governors representing the two major political parties, we would declare "all systems go."
The time frame in which Governors John Engler, Republican of Michigan, and Frank O'Bannon, Democrat of Indiana responded surpassed our boldest hopes.
Since that time, 47 governors joined them. We are one short of a full house.
As we survey the warmth of their letters, alongside those of state and federal legislators, mayors, and national organizations, as we read and re-read the remarkable resolution passed by the National Executive of the American Legion, faith is restored in the glue that holds this nation together, despite appearances.
This glue for the purposes of the "Re-Elect America" tour consists of four principles, also known as the "Four Points of America's Compass." They are the rule of law, individual rights, security of property, and a single common American identity. We propose these merely as the starting point for the national conversation, believing with Thomas Jefferson that there is "no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves."
If that was true in 1820, it is even more so in 2000.
As we prepare to conduct a full day of activities in America's state capitals - commencing February 28 in Tallahassee, Florida - excitement mounts about the outcome of such a conversation. Yet the very fact that agreement upon the starting propositions could be achieved ought to give us pause.
Dividing Americans into adversarial groups has been the No.1 growth industry before the Internet. It is a source of livelihood, a guarantee of power and wealth to countless political operatives who label, goad, and monitor the rest of us. They need not have the last word.
Disseminating outright lies under the guise of political campaigning has been the ugliest novelty of the past decade. Emphasizing one's strengths and the opponent's weaknesses is legitimate, of course. But fabricating horror stories and representing them as fact is now the natural habitat of certain politicians. They need not have the last word.
Disparaging the men who - after pledging their lives, fortunes and sacred honor - made a supreme effort to provide foundations for the benefit of successive generations has become a favorite sport among those who have yet to make their own contribution to society. They need not have the last word.
The principles proposed in "Re-Elect America" have the potential to demonstrate that we still are one nation.
The principles proposed in "Re-Elect America" provide a powerful framework for keeping discussions within the realm of truth.
The principles proposed in "Re-Elect America" serve as a constant reminder of our everlasting debt to the Founding Fathers.
Let candidates for local, state, and national office tell us where they stand in relation to these principles. Let candidates for office tell us if they are willing to work for an America where people agree on the fundamentals, so they may peacefully disagree on the particulars. Let candidates tell us whether they seek office in order to improve this country, or in order to change it altogether.
And let the rest of us pay attention, so that We the People may assume responsibility once again for the future of America. In the world we inhabit, though the date begins with a number that's new, the perils remain the same old, same old.