Those who lose a loving mother might ask themselves “What would mom say?” when faced with difficult circumstances. Those who study under an impactful teacher may wonder “What would the teacher say?” when challenged in their career of choice.
As Americans weather today’s polarizing political climate, we do well to step back and listen to the collective voice of America's Founding Fathers, who's rare combination of forward-looking wisdom and inspiring courage gave birth to the grand experiment known as the United States of America. If we could somehow breath life into their dry bones and show them how to work a remote control, what would they say about the tone, direction, and nature of American politics today? If we could summon their wisdom, and hear their voice, what would the Founders say?
As audacious, presumptuous, and risky as it may appear to speak on behalf of the Founders, I nonetheless humbly present what I believe would be the posthumous, threefold charge of the Founding Fathers were they to speak directly to an American citizenry hopelessly mired in the muddy ruts of the 2012 election season:
1. You must find a crisis in the form of a common enemy. Our fellow Americans, we know how negative this sounds, but trust us, it's true. You need a crisis, a common enemy to strive against. Remember that we, your Founding Fathers, were united by a crises in the form of England, a dominant world power which sought to curtail our liberty without consent, and the tyrannical King George. This intolerable intrusion inspired us to fight together with both sword and pen, risking our lives and fortunes because we believed that our enemy would devour us if we were divided. Lucky for us (and you), we won that battle. But unfortunately, once we lacked our common crisis, we turned against one another, casting other Americans as the new enemy who sought to trample the Constitution through a destructive and un-American ideology. If you wish to carry forth the spirit that founded this nation, you need an enemy too, dear friends, an enemy that doesn't stand up as the National Anthem was sung. Call it your national debt (Don't get us started on that!), global terrorism, or poverty. Call it little green men if you have to, but you must find something. You must find a cause that unites you, or you’ll turn against one another as we did. Americans were born to face problems together. Anything less propels us toward a cold civil war.
2. Embrace political parties with hesitation and caution, as we did. When we sat down in Philadelphia to write America’s Constitution, none of us identified ourselves in partisan terms. We were Americans. Our metaphorical yard signs had stars and stripes, not elephants and donkeys. Our carriage stickers—the Colonial equivalent of bumper stickers—read "United We Stand." We created the three-branches of government in hopes that those elected centers of power, not political parties, would do the heavy lifting of government, and we were gravely concerned that parties would undermine this delicate system of checks and balances. At the same time, nearly all of us eventually started or joined political parties ourselves, because parties are the natural evolution in a maturing democracy. Yet we always did so with caution and skepticism, mindful that partisanship has the potential to hasten and enhance the work of government, as well as to undermine it.
3. We were gravely concerned about government becoming too strong—and too weak. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams embodied our fundamental disagreement as to the desirable size and scope of government, in terms of its legislative, economic, and military power. We all recognized that prior, temporary colonial governments (known as the First and Second Continental Congress) were hopelessly underpowered, but we tried to enhance federal power while preventing it from attaining the heavy-handed stature of the British Crown. Like you, we disagreed about both the necessary and excessive boundaries to federal power, and we admit that we left you with some problems to work out. To that end, we remind you that your government is vastly larger, more expansive, and more in debt than we had ever imagined it could be, and that you must carefully consider the consequences of each and every way in which you expand federal power. Once you give your government new powers, it's unlikely that you'll ever get them back.
Matthew M. Anderson envisioned the story in Running Mate, his debut novel, during the 2008 presidential election. A former history teacher and lifelong student of American history, Anderson reflected on his experience as a pastor and marriage counselor, and the visions for a bipartisan presidential partnership established by the founding fathers, as a way to change the face of today’s political climate. For more information, please visit www.runningmatebook.com.