In 1787, as Benjamin Franklin was leaving the Constitutional Convention, he was asked, “What have we got, a republic or a monarch?” “A republic,” Franklin replied, “if you can keep it.”
Perhaps Franklin’s pessimism stemmed from his knowledge that a republican form of government empowers the people to rule themselves, rather than bestowing political power on individuals as a right of birth. Therefore, our elected officials are merely a reflection of the larger society.
From a biblical perspective, we are taught that human nature was evident since the Garden of Eden. When God asked Adam and Eve why they had eaten the forbidden fruit, Eve said it was the snake, while Adam declared it was Eve. They blame-shifted, took no responsibility, and innately pointed to others in a futile attempt to exonerate themselves.
So is it really a surprise when our elected officials demonstrate similar behavior during speeches, media interviews, press conferences, cable news programs, at rallies, on web pages, Facebook posts and Twitter feeds? Ironically, the answer is “yes,” because we like to hold our elected officials to higher standards. However, this creates an unrealistic expectation thinking our leaders will demonstrate character we too often do not display ourselves.
In his book, “The Great Hope: Essays on Character and Liberty,” Lawrence Reed identifies that traits once thought of as core to strong character include honesty, humility, responsibility, self-discipline, courage, self-reliance and long-term thinking. Reed further states that a free society is not possible without these traits in widespread practice.
Have we seen much of these traits lately in Washington, D.C.? How about when we look in the mirror?
The recent government shutdown displayed a high-stakes, political drama, blame game. As a citizen, I call on lawmakers who defend unbridled government spending to recognize the unconscionable danger of enslaving unborn generations to pay the costs of what we want today.
I also call on lawmakers who cloak themselves with principled, self-ordained solutions to put aside their rigid approaches and learn how to actually govern in a manner where compromise is not a swear word.
As for our part, the greatest challenge for each and every American is to address our own individual character. By doing so, we can heed Benjamin Franklin’s warning – and keep our republic.
Mark Lemoine is a government relations professional in greater Grand Rapids.