Save this column because it applies to every federal election. And you can probably figure out how to use at the state and local levels as well.
The responsibility of every citizen at election time is to cast a vote for the candidate who, in the voter’s opinion, can best pursue the mission of the United States. And what exactly is that mission? Fortunately, our founders left us with two documents that make it clear: The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Both speak broadly and both provide plenty of weeds to get into. But if you want to know why we are America, you need only look to the preambles of each.
In the Declaration, these words declare the purpose of the endeavor: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
And the Constitution is even clearer: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
That’s the job every candidate is applying for – to advance the mission statement. There is plenty of debate about how to accomplish the mission, but the mission itself is indisputable. A candidate who proposes eliminating liberty, or who encourages insurrection, or who wishes to throw open our borders to hostile forces is patently unqualified to hold office. Moreover, such a candidate does not understand that the oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution precludes opposing the Constitution.
So it is simple, right? Just vote for the candidate who pledges life, fortune and sacred honor (that’s the end of the Declaration) to the Constitution!
Would that it was so simple. Here is the essence of a conversation I had with a very wise elected official. I am tempted to drop a name here, but the individual is “in cycle” as they say and maybe this would be perceived as electioneering.
Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration, was careful to say that we held certain truths to be self-evident, including that all men are created equal. But that truth never found its way into the Constitution. Women, African-Americans and others found themselves excluded from the rights and privileges afforded to white men. And that truth never found its way into the life of the man who declared it. Jefferson was a slave owner and sexually active outside of marriage with women who dared not refuse him.
It took three generations of the American experiment before the President of the United States could state that our nation was dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Abraham Lincoln might very well have been accused of violating the three-fifths rule in the Constitution, but history validates that a commitment to anything less than full equality would not long endure. He went about implementing the proposition.
The larger values – the founding values – might rightly be used to advocate for correctives to the details. Does gun ownership provide for the common defense or disrupt domestic tranquility? That’s a better question than “how do we protect the Second Amendment?” Does profiling promote the general welfare or disestablish justice? It is on such a question the debate should center rather than on fear and indignation.
But some things don’t fit so neatly into the broad categories of the mission statement. Perhaps I believe that certain economic policies are dangerous to me and my posterity. It could be that I see the unalienable right to life as superseding all others. Maybe I am convinced that a particular foreign alliance has an extra-constitutional claim on my vote. What do I do?
A person who does not vote his interests is a fool. And a person who votes only his interests is a scoundrel. The balancing act can sometimes be uncomfortable, but, in the end, you must evaluate your vote by the same standard as the candidate. Am I advancing the blessings of liberty that are to be vouchsafed to us and the generations to come?
Agree with me? Then get out there and vote. Disagree with me? Then get out there and vote. In other words, vote, dammit.