The next morning, they arrived in church a few minutes early and sat in their customary spot. The Senator tried to pray but found himself distracted. Details of the coming meeting and the speech he would make tomorrow spun through his head unceasingly. Although he was present physically, he heard little of what was said. It was not the first time. In fact, it happened more regularly than he cared to admit. He often promised God and himself that for one hour a week he would set aside worldly concern in favor of immersing himself in the Gospel and the calming influence of the ceremony of the Church, but he had yet to figure out how to do so reliably.
When they arrived home, he went to his desk for one last review of his speech and the document he and his allies had prepared to issue at the end. But he found he could not concentrate on this either.
His mind continued to jump from thought to thought. Tomorrow would go a long way toward defining his legacy, but this did not concern him. He was not driven by a desire for power or a need to be remembered. He just wanted desperately to do the right thing. In fact, when he found it necessary to flex his political muscle, he found it uncomfortable. He exercised power as carefully and as rarely as he could. He liked to think that the respect he garnered among his colleagues came from an underlying devotion to humility that he worked at and prayed for every day. He hoped his embrace of humility came through in every public action he took, and he assumed that whatever political power he did have was rooted in his humility.
He loved the country and its founding principles unconditionally. He believed passionately that the Truths expressed in the Declaration of Independence were Self-Evident. He believed that God was active and present in the hearts of the founding fathers as they carried out the work of bringing the country into being. He believed wholeheartedly that all Men were Created Equal. He believed absolutely that they were Endowed by their Creator with Certain Unalienable Rights. He believed unreservedly that Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness were among those Rights. These words constituted the essence of the country. Even though they might not have been repeated in the formal Constitution, they embodied the political philosophy that underpinned the American experience.
As a result, he believed that the government that governed least, governed best. The purpose of elected officials was not to minutely manage every problem the people faced. The purpose of elected officials was first and foremost to restrict the natural impulse of government to expand itself, thereby invading and trampling the Self-Evident Rights possessed by the people. He believed the Pursuit of Happiness was grounded in a principle of Private Property Rights that the founders understood implicitly even if they did not enunciate it specifically. Taxation stood in opposition to this principle. Yes, taxation was necessary for the government to operate, but that did not change its fundamentally antagonistic nature. It ought to be limited to what was necessary to finance the bare minimum of what the People needed the government to do. Over-taxation was the greatest evil a government could commit.
The essence of leadership was to determine what “bare minimum” meant. The opposition liked to include every challenge the country faced in their definition of bare minimum. He preferred an approach that relied on the People to accept the Responsibility that stood corollary to the grant of their Unalienable Rights. If the People acted responsibly and morally, most needs of the less fortunate could be met independent of government action. Whenever government insinuated itself into the process, it inevitably created dissension and disruption. It wasted resources and time by miring solutions in bureaucracy even if the policies themselves were not doomed to outright failure from the moment they were conceived, which they almost always were.
How long had government promised to end poverty, and how long had it failed? History, and the persistence of poverty in the present, proved the woefully inadequate status quo was all that could be expected from governmental intervention.
Given the choice, he preferred to rely on the collective wisdom of the People rather than the questionable motives and competencies of a few powerful policymakers. Many of those were not even elected officials, but rather shadowy figures operating in backrooms as lobbyists, etc. The truth was they most often placed special interests ahead of the common good no matter how proficient the politicians had gotten at convincing the average voter otherwise. Politicians simply could not be trusted to act consistently in the best interest of the people. Their nature was too mired in sin, and this was especially and doubly true of those who sought, obtained, and accumulated worldly power in the halls of national government.
He had been in Washington too long and witnessed too much to ever be convinced that truth lay elsewhere. He knew the powerful had twisted the system almost beyond recognition. One had to look no further than the exponentially increasing national debt to know that the current methodology of governance was unsustainable. It broke his heart to know that the People were so ill served by the leaders they entrusted with so much, but he had never seen a way to counteract the problem until now. He guessed it took crisis to open the door to the authentic change that was needed to bring the country back to its economic and moral senses.
He accepted that reliance on good will was also an imperfect solution. The distribution of wealth in the country was disproportionate relative to the needs of those at the bottom end. But he understood this to be the price paid for the Freedom they all enjoyed. The inequity was not the result of the system being corrupt or ill-suited to the desired outcome. It was the result of individual decisions that were made contrary to the Responsibility required by the ruling covenant. Imbalance was the result of sin, but that was a hard topic to talk about when so many people in the country seemed to question whether sin even existed.
And it was certainly not a problem that could be resolved by governmental action.
It was true. People did not do a good enough job of taking care of each other. Much of the current division depended on whether you thought the solution should be public or private. Either way, the solution still depended on individual decision making. In the public solution, it was relatively few people who controlled the power, the variety of approach was minimal, and they machinations of the bureaucracy meant gains came at a snail’s pace if they came at all. In the private solution, the power and resources were much more dispersed, the probability of innovation much greater, and the agility much better. Two imperfect solutions, but to the Senator, the private approach had more promise and had barely been tried in the course of history. He believed it deserved a much more complete shot.
He believed unconditionally that it was Freedom that allowed those at the bottom to aspire to and ultimately achieve upward mobility. It was Freedom, not government, that was the repository of Hope. He regretted that more people were not able to climb this ladder, but he believed that this was in large part due to government interference. In the current situation, too much political power was dependent on creating and maintaining dependency and the system was distorted too much by governmental meddling for people to flourish as they otherwise might. The creation of dependency was done subtly, but he was in position to understand just how pervasive the problem was. He knew that the power of Freedom needed to be unleashed, not restricted further.
The system of government invented by the founders might be imperfect, or perhaps more precisely, unperfected, but he believed it to be substantially better than anything that had come before or since. This included the evolution in American government that had taken place in the last few decades. He believed recent expansions of governmental reach and power were gaining momentum. They threatened the very fabric of American life as he understood and cherished it and he hoped to reverse the trend.
Current politics, driven by the expansion of and hunger for power, were based in emphasizing and exaggerating divisions of every kind. The country was being torn apart. He did not share the view that the upper classes had to be punished or torn down for the lower classes to flourish. He believed that many in the upper classes were capable of compassion toward those in need and that the best course of action was to encourage that compassion. This could be done privately, but it could also be done by tailoring public policy, particularly tax policy, to encourage such compassion.
For instance, why wasn’t the paying of health insurance premiums for the poor completely tax-deductible? Why not encourage those with means to pay for the health insurance of those in need by allowing them to deduct such payments from their tax bills dollar for dollar? How many would prefer to send their dollars to a charity that accomplished this goal rather than to the federal government? Could it be that such a program would decrease the political power of Washington, thereby by making it unpalatable to power brokers both elected and not?
It was not in the best interest of lower classes to attack and tear down the rich. Every class depended on the production of the rich to thrive. If the rich ceased producing, the country would collapse under the weight of debt that had been accumulated so irresponsibly and that collapse would come faster than most people apprehended.
The redistribution of wealth from those in possession to those in need was not a matter of public policy to be enforced by the violence of taxation. That aggression created animosity and division that threatened the well-being of the country. Yes, the rich had obligations to the poor, but he saw the fulfillment of those obligations as a matter of personal conscience and morality. In fact, the more the government attempted to take responsibility for the poor via redistribution, the more the rich could point to these actions as an excuse for inaction on multiple fronts.
Leadership ought to take such things into account as they evaluated how to decrease poverty. The use of the bully pulpit to encourage the rich to shoulder responsibility for the security of all members of society was something he could wholly support. But leadership had to respect the work and achievement that led to success. Government had no right to confiscate the proceeds of honest endeavor and redistribute it. Such public policies stood in stark opposition to the principles of Liberty inherent in the founding political philosophy of the country. Government ought not inflict violence on one man’s Liberty to supposedly increase or secure the Liberty of a different man. Liberty did not work like that. It had to be sacrosanct across all boundaries. When the government violated that precept, it asserted the power to trample Liberty at all levels in all ways, and this was a destructive overreach of the restrictions placed on it by founding principles.
He also understood that the founding fathers were human beings and that despite the presence of God in their deliberations, they were still susceptible to sin. He knew the government they created had faults. He agreed that slavery was chief among these and a stain on the country’s past. His feelings about men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were as complicated as the men were themselves. He did not presume to be able to understand them completely. He knew they often spoke eloquently against slavery while at the same time employing it, but he found himself unable to judge them. He was too distant to be able to comprehend what might or might not have been going through their minds as they lived day to day in the ethos of their times.
He did not believe their inability to adequately resolve the issue of slavery ought to cancel out everything else they accomplished. He knew himself to be a sinner. He remembered that just this morning he had broken his promise to God by not listening attentively to His Word for just that one hour of the week. He knew that every human being who has ever or will ever walk the earth was also a sinner. If his every action and their every action was to be cancelled out because of their sins, then every instance of advancement in the history of the world had to be cancelled out.
The country had done the right thing in the end. It had taken time, but the country had gone to war and paid the price in its own blood to redeem that past sin. It had been whites who had been unable to resolve the sin of slavery at the time of the founding. It had also been whites, both the innocent and the guilty, whose blood had been given. At that time, his family had resided in Pennsylvania. He knew enough about his family history to know that his ancestors fought and died to bring an end to slavery. He never talked about it, but he took a measure of pride in knowing that his family had been on the right side of that conflict.
Despite his abhorrence of the institution of slavery, he did not see it as wholly defining the country’s past. Self-Evident Truths were still Self-Evident Truths. The Rights endowed on man by his Creator were still valid. All were still created Equal and all still had the Right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. The presence of legal slavery for a part of our history could never abrogate these principles.
Government, even that government which tries to adhere to positive religious principles, is, in the end, still always a human endeavor. Sin will still always permeate it. No matter how long any government survives, it will always be flawed. No empire, no government, had yet stood the test of time. He believed Americans could buck that trend by being vigilant about their own sins and by always seeking to improve their own governance, but they could not afford to relinquish sound principles in the name of progress if they hoped to persevere. The reason the Senator was so adamant in his own pursuit of humility is that he knew that self-reflection, whether personal or national, was impossible without it. The hubris that so often accompanied a political career, the hubris currently so evident on both sides, is the work of the enemy whether you believe him to be an actual entity or just the personification of an idea. The enemy is currently on his A-game.
What he found astonishing about modern America was that it professed an absolute devotion to reason, but often seemed devoid of the ability to carry it out. Contradictions that seemed plain were glossed over without a second thought. Many contemporary Americans were willing to condemn the founding fathers for their inability to resolve the issue of slavery while at the same time making a profoundly similar mistake. If slavery is a grave enough sin that it brings into question all the motivations and values of the founding fathers, what about the equally grave sin of abortion? If slavery was a grave act against the founding principles of equality and liberty, is not abortion an equally grave act against the founding principle of the Right to Life? Why aren’t the motivations and values of current leaders equally subject to question?
The Senator knew beyond doubt that history would look back at this time and condemn it for abortion in the same way many current historians condemned the founding era for slavery. The hard thing to grasp was it was by and large the same people who were responsible for both sides of the argument. Those who condemned the founding fathers for the sin of slavery were adamant and unyielding supporters of the sin of abortion.
How could something so obvious be ignored so completely by most people on both sides of the issue?
Tomorrow he would attempt to gently cast light on this oversight as he addressed the overall crisis that he felt the country faced. He just hoped that in time, he could make his message of peace heard over the initial firestorm that his words would create.
He looked down at the papers in front of him. How much time had passed since he sat down with the intention of doing his final review? He got his answer when his wife stuck her head in the door.
“Come and eat something. It’s getting cold and your guests will be here shortly.”
He supposed the lack of a final review was trivial. He had been over everything repeatedly. If he were not prepared by now, he never would be. He was convinced that everything he meant to say was sound and he had given enough speeches to know that he was ready for the mechanics of tomorrow.
The one thing left to resolve was whether he should reveal his doubt about what he was doing. The speech had alternate paragraphs at both the beginning and the end concerning this. It would be a topic of discussion at the meeting this afternoon but, in the end, it was his decision. He could say the words no matter what was decided today.
He knew he would likely not decide until the moment came.