Before being elected President, while serving in Congress, James Garfield stated at the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1876:
“Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature … If the next centennial does not find us a great nation…it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces.”
I’m sure that quote will garner its fair share of “amens,” especially among the political right. However, I expect most of those “amens” will be predicated on the supposition that it’s “the other guy” who has tolerated ignorance, recklessness and corruption in Congress by his vote for, and support of, “the other party.” You might want to hold up on passing judgment just yet, and look at some numbers first.
Over the past 20 years, Republicans have held the majority in Congress 65% of the time, leaving the Democratic Party a relatively disenfranchised and powerless entity that only wielded control of Congress 35% of the time. If this were professional football, the Democrats would have a 6 and 10 record – pretty much time to fire the coach, sell the team and pack it in.
So if, in the words of President Garfield, Congress has been ignorant, reckless and corrupt over the past two decades, it is because the Christian-conservative-right has tolerated ignorance, recklessness and corruption by electing, and reelecting, a party of pachyderms that has perpetually increased the size of government, increased spending, increased the national debt, funded the welfare state, funded the warfare state, funded the police state, funded the healthcare state, never defunded a single unconstitutional or extra constitutional bureau, agency or program, and has generally disregarded the rule of law under the Constitution.
I believe if President Garfield were here today, he would admonish us to declare our independence from political parties, powers and leaders that obviously do not represent our values. When we continue to support, or affiliate with such entities, we become parties to, and responsible for, the ignorance, recklessness and corruption that we authorize by our vote.
It is time for “those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation” to withhold their time, their treasure, and their vote from any who are not clearly and consistently “intelligent, brave and pure,” as President Garfield put it. It is far past the time that we ought to have declared our independence from the established forms of political association that have become destructive of the ends for which they were established, and that we should begin to vote not for party, but for principle, and for men of character who Honor God, Uphold the Constitution and Contend for Liberty.
© 2016 Robert W. Peck
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