Since the first Tea Party last April, I have been energized by the idea that ordinary citizens have become more alert and engaged in the political process — the grass roots involvement of contacting their Representatives, attending Town Hall meetings and rallying for and against various Bills before Congress. This new activity seems to resonate with our history, and the link to our founders seems well made. In the words of Thomas Jefferson:
“I like to see the people awake and alert. The good sense of the people will soon lead them back if they have erred in a moment of surprise.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1786.
At the same time, I’ve been bombarded by the receipt of thousands of direct mail letters, emails and phone calls seeking my contributions to fund various means to influence people and energize them further. On the one hand, we pride ourselves on the wisdom of the American people to make the right choices, and on the other, we appear to be insisting that very wisdom needs to be flooded with new information about the candidates, the issues or the dangers posed by the opposition. This was troubling until I found this second bit of wisdom from Jefferson:
“Reflection,… with information, is all which our countrymen need, to bring themselves and their affairs to rights.” –Thomas Jefferson to James Lewis, Jr., 1798.
But note that Jefferson is advocating reflection, which to me suggests a deliberate and reasoned examination of the facts, not a mass rally filled with emotions and ‘sound bites.’ In these mailings and emails, every media trick, every marketing angle is used to turn up the emotional meter on an issue or a candidate to spur action and get results. Is this the right approach? Again, I found some wisdom from Jefferson (Wouldn’t it be amazing to have had the chance to have dinner and discourse with this giant?):
“The people cannot be all, and always, well-informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty.” –Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, 1787.
Where is the fulcrum or balancing point? Where is the point reached that we have provided information to the citizens that we jointly trust to have the wisdom to convey the consent of the governed without going to the point where we’re inflaming a crowd? Where is the dividing line between sustaining the informed electorate so vital to the needs of the country and creating a mob more driven by emotion than fact? Again, Jefferson gets it right:
“When public opinion changes, it is with the rapidity of thought.”Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, 1816
Isn’t our consensus that we are where we are because the Democrats were successful in mobilizing a large body of voters with a mostly emotional call to action? We realize that the President was successfully elected by creating an emotional bond with those that sought Hope and Change, swaying enough voters to choose that vision over a more conservative one ‘with the rapidity of thought.’ We are also encouraged by the way pubic opinion has rapidly changed since the first Tea Parties in April of 2009. But clearly, we cannot restore our nation’s prosperity and strength by oscillating wildly from one extreme to the other.
How should we work over the next few weeks and the next several election cycles to restore our country and government to the founding principles that we at RedState are so passionate about? There is no doubt that emotion spurs action, and that we hope to energize enough voters to sway things back to our side. We need to rely on the ‘rapidity of thought’ to bring the country back toward its foundation and away from this lurch toward socialism.
But to sustain the correct course over the next 2-10 years, what should we be doing to establish a citizenry that merits the respect and affection given it by Jefferson, Adams and the other founders? Again, Jefferson has a better way of describing it than I:
“My confidence is that there will for a long time be virtue and good sense enough in our countrymen to correct abuses.” –Thomas Jefferson to Edward Rutledge, 1788
There is the solution, I think. We need to work to ensure that we have a country filled with people of good sense and virtue. Many on the left think that this isn’t possible — this is the root of their preference for elites to manage the masses, after all. We must work to prove them wrong.
Good sense and virtue are elements of character, and are not easily taught as academic concepts. But character is easily demonstrated through example and through personal association. We must identify leaders with character — those with virtue and good sense — and put them in office. This can’t be done by relying on mass media or marketing, however. It must be done through ways that RedState is gaining notice for — short candidate interviews, gatherings such as the one in Austin, and shared blogs and other articles among those of common mind, purpose and character.
As the country watches the actions and sees the results of these leaders of good character, they will come around to the ideas and concepts that we advocate and entrust with the future of our nation. After sustaining that course, we should be able to hold public opinion long enough to establish a new foundation of “virtue and good sense” to carry our nation into prosperity and strength.
There will always be opposition, but in the end, we believe that good will triumph over evil –right?