By John F. Di Leo -
On the walls of my office, I have several prints of my heroes. General Washington on horseback, pointing his sword down at my computer as if to say “Get to work!”… Colonel Hamilton in profile, posing for a sawbuck… a photo of President Reagan in the Oval Office… a sketch above a quote, of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, reminding us that “The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; the optimist, the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Most imposing and inspiring is “Signing the Constitution” (yes, it’s a terrific poster-sized version of the famous Howard Chandler Christy mural of all Framers, gathered at Independence Hall in 1787).
As I worked at my desk on Black Wednesday, I periodically looked up at these prints, and asked them questions. Why? How? Why now? What do we do next? How do we conquer this depression (both kinds)? Can we move on?
They didn’t answer back. They’re just pictures, after all. Long gone, all of them. Heroes of days gone by.
But I’ve always found that if I think about these patriots, answers do come to me.
The General would tell us to take care of our families and businesses, and at the same time, find time for political activism as needed to win. Ronald Reagan would tell us not to run from our messages, but to be proud of their rightness, and work to convince and educate the public, to alleviate their fears and reassure them, because in fact our policies are the best for them, not the other guys’, so we must never doubt ourselves.
Colonel Hamilton would set pen to paper and explain it all so clearly that anyone could understand, perhaps in a Federalist Paper or one of his magnificent Reports, speaking not to his own choir but to the audience who needs to be convinced.
Both Churchill and Reagan spent many years in the wilderness. They didn’t give up; they watched and worked and warned, and then when the conditions were right for their return, they were there to be drafted.
Perhaps the greatest lesson from my wall, however – and yes, others might pick up different lessons from a different selection of pictures, but please bear with me – is the lesson of the Signing of the Constitution.
In 1787, the nation was in economic distress, after a painful war and an unsettled peace. The summer and fall of 1787, exactly 225 years ago, was the time when many patriots came together and met to find a solution to our problems. The government of the Articles had failed; a new Constitution was needed. Northerners and southerners, city folk and country folk, lawyers and farmers, merchants and soldiers, all came together on behalf of their sovereign states to compromise on a path that would enable prosperity, border security, and individual freedom alike.
Today’s Left views the Framers as a band of identical oppressors, but they were anything but. With views ranging from protectionist to free market, from civil libertarian to monarchial, those 55 delegates were more different than alike, but they came up with a solution that met the needs of the nation without giving up first principles… except for one: as we are constantly reminded, they found it necessary to leave the institution of slavery for others to end at some future date, when it became politically possible. Even there, there is a lesson; when a hundred issues are going wrong, we must accomplish as much as we can, and not impossibly demand to solve them all at once.
This Constitution is still a wonderful document, granting us the greatest form of government on earth. For democracy: the House of Representatives elected directly by the people. For the states: the stern Senators, chosen by their state governments to represent the interests of Springfield, Madison, Austin and Lansing against the encroachment of Washington, D.C. And a president to manage the branch that does what the Congress tells him to do, and nothing else. Congress passes a law, whether conservative or liberal, and it must be enforced; that’s the president’s job. He can implement no rule that Congress has not already turned over to him to implement. With only one change – the direct election of senators, one of the many fatal flaws of the Wilson presidency – this format is still the mandatory form of government today.
So, as bad as things are, we can take comfort in the fact that we don’t have to start from scratch. The hard work of designing the best system of government is already done; we just need to find a way to get back to it.
Our Founders endured much, in their journey to the ratification and implementation of the Constitution. George III put Massachusetts under martial law for eight years. George III closed ports and banned international trade. He quartered troops in the homes of private citizens. We fought a long and painful war, six and a half years from the shot heard round the world until victory at Yorktown. And still we prevailed. Still our Founders overthrew the British monarchy and built this great nation for themselves and their descendants.
In the 20th century, the country began to stray from their plan. An ever-growing welfare state, ever-increasing taxes to pay for it, an ever-growing bureaucracy to manage it. All these are the legacy of just a few elections – of 1912 and 1932, of 1964 and 2008. Tragically, most of the administrations of intervening years slowed only the trajectory, rather than turning it around. So here we are today, far from our original plan, far from the brilliant “user’s manual for government “ that our Framers intended.
But directions can be changed. Again and again, if necessary. 2008 went the wrong way; 2010 returned the right way. 2012 took us in the wrong direction again. But 2014 and 2016 are still ahead of us.
If we had never had a 2010, we would indeed have good cause for depression. But 2010 was a moment of patriotic fervor and clarity, one that perhaps led some to believe that the tide had turned for good. We sadly learned the error of that assumption long before we went to bed this Tuesday. We now know that we can never take a resurgent patriotism for granted; we must fight anew every single cycle. We must constantly educate the public, striving to win not just a day’s vote but a lifetime of permanent conversion.
There are many lessons to learn from Black Wednesday. Exit polls tell us it’s not as bad as it looks… that most Americans still agree with conservatism, but are turned off to the word itself… that most Americans would rather work than get a welfare check, but they just didn’t believe that “the guy who looks like the guy who fired you” was really going to help in that regard. We learned that vote fraud is bigger than just the Real ID battle, that absentee and mail-in and dual-homeownership and precinct busing and touchscreens are so complex that we need a comprehensive approach to secure our elections so that even international observers don’t faint in horror at their vulnerability.
Can we really blame a person for choosing the other side if he never even heard ours, because we never advertised on his radio dial or mailed to his house? “We’ll never win that demographic; don’t waste the effort” turned out to be a recipe for loss, not for victory. The side of the Constitution, the side of God and Country, doesn’t require winning every demographic; it just requires that we make an honest effort everywhere, so that we don’t keep losing 3-to-1 in the Hispanic districts and 10-to-1 where it’s black.
We can never believe that the vast majority of Americans are hateful class warriors, happy to live off someone else’s efforts. Even the Democrat base includes hard working union folks who work on the assembly line and just want to keep that job… diligent teachers who want to instruct the children in their care with an understanding and love of math, of science, of history, of literature… working poor who want to become middle class… middle class who want to rise to wealth.
The Party of Ronald Reagan has forgotten how to talk to these good people. The Democrats welcome them in as fellow victims, and attack the “rich Republicans” (don’t we wish!), and then, those Republicans don’t even buy ad time on their alternative rock, hip-hop, and Spanish language stations to try to counter the argument. Of course we lose them!
The Republican Party does need to change. Not on the issues when the issues are already right, but on the marketing, on the focus, on the approach.
Consider: We spotlighted many brilliant and impressive “people of color” in our party’s convention this fall, and then we assumed that the black and immigrant communities would tune in to Fox News to watch their speeches? Newsflash: if the stations THEY watch don’t cover it, we can’t expect them to know it happened!
In a general election, every time I hear a radio ad for a Republican candidate on Hannity, Limbaugh, Prager, or Beck, I cringe at the waste. These audiences are already voting for you; why waste your money? (yes, in the primary, sure, but I’m talking about the general). If the party that is right for the entire country expects the entire country to believe that, then it must reach out to them.
Incidentally, the blogosphere does what it can, but we’re largely preaching to ourselves out here. The regular party, and the campaigns themselves, are the ones who have money to buy ad time; make it count!
Again, if there had been no 2010, there would be grounds for depression. The next few years will be difficult indeed, and this election has made it infinitely harder, no doubt. The next president will have a steep, steep climb to manage from out of this ever-deepening trough.
But it’s not impossible. From out of nothing, Bill Buckley, Bill Rusher, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan invented modern conservatism, and they gave us the indelible vision of what conservatism is and can be with the two term magnificence of the Reagan presidency.
It can be done again. In fact, it must be. But roll up your sleeves; it’s sure going to take some work.
Copyright 2012 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicago-based Customs broker and international trade lecturer. A former county chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, he has been a recovering politician himself for fifteen years; his columns appear regularly in Illinois Review.
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