Events in the past several weeks have shown me that we are entering a critical phase in American political life. And I don’t say this lightly. I’ve lived through many crises. I trained as a Marine lieutenant during Korea. I served at the right hand of the President during Vietnam and the Cold War. And as you know, I was a central figure during the defining political crisis of the 20th century—Watergate.
But never have I seen such a disconcerting disconnect between the American people and their leaders.
Examples of this growing distance are not hard to find. Take the new immigration law in Arizona. A recent Fox poll shows that the American public “overwhelmingly” supports the law, which makes it a misdemeanor to violate federal immigration law. Fox reports that “by a 2 to 1 margin, people say individual states should be able to implement their own immigration laws.” And by a margin of 52 to 31 percent, most people want their state to pass a law similar to Arizona’s.
Yet the U. S. attorney general said that he may sue Arizona—even though he admitted to not having read the law. Outraged officials in other states are trying to sever contracts with the state. And President Obama himself bashed the Arizona law with the president of Mexico standing by his side.
Now, whatever you think of the Arizona law, there is still a disconnect.
Or take health care reform. More than 60 percent of Americans opposed it, yet Congress and the administration literally rammed it down people’s throats, and it is still unpopular in today’s polls.
At every turn, people see a vast and growing government intruding into every area of life, passing complex, thousand-page pieces of legislation that nobody understands. Take the finance reform bill, just passed in the Senate. How is it that the largest financial reform overhaul in U.S. history simply ignores two of the proximate causes of the financial collapse: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Why are these corporations, which are still losing money hand over fist, simply left to their own devices?
A cynic might say it’s because those agencies gave big campaign contributions to all the major figures behind the reform legislation. That might be unfair. But the very appearance of this cozy relationship leads to cynicism.
No wonder voters are already throwing incumbents out of office left and right!
At root, what is happening in American life today is that we are severing the connection between what has become a ruling elite and the people. This is dangerous, because the genius of the American system of government, given to us by the founding fathers, is that the government rules only with consent of the governed.
So as Christians, we have an enormous responsibility here. Centuries of Christian thought have shaped what we know as Western liberal democracy—the rule of law, the balance of powers, inalienable rights, sphere sovereignty. The very idea of freedom itself rests on the dignity of man, which comes from the Judeo-Christian belief that he is made in the image of God.
So unless free men and women are fully and truly represented and engaged in the process of government, we are going to lose our freedoms and the system of government handed down to us.
That’s why I believe the highest priority in American life today should be to re-build a public consensus for, as Abraham Lincoln famously put it, a government that is truly “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Remember that as you vote this year.