Taking America on the Road
What now seems a century - no: a millennium - away, our modest team
at the Center for the American Founding was sitting around the table
on a March afternoon, discussing the year 2000 elections. We talked
about potential candidates, trying to imagine how each of us might
Slowly, a shared concern for America took center-stage in the conversation.
Memories floated around - whistle-stop tours, the C-SPAN bus, slogans
galore. Somehow all of us wanted to cast votes that, one way or
another, would be votes for America. In a burst of pooled and focused
energy and enthusiasm, the designation "Re-Elect America!"
was born, and details of a national bus tour were worked out in
the feverish 24 hours that followed.
A national conversation across party lines would be proposed and
promoted about principles that have rendered this society the freest,
most peaceful and most prosperous in the history of the planet.
Elections are about differences of opinion, and thus about division.
But the hundreds of contentious issues which increasingly confuse
and threaten to drown most of us have come to eclipse something
at the heart of America's success: that the principles which unite
us are stronger than the issues that divide us.
Forty-one years ago, when I first stepped onto American soil, that
seemed to be widely accepted. Yes, there was segregation in the
South and, yes, women were not generally welcome in certain occupations,
but America was able to divide at the polling stations without disagreement
about the fundamentals.
That, apparently, is no longer the case.
The word "apparently" is key here. We at the Center assumed
that appearances once again might prove deceiving. We would put
it to the test: If, in short order, endorsements of the concept
could be secured from two prominent governors representing the two
major political parties, we would declare "all systems go."
The time frame in which Governors John Engler, Republican of Michigan,
and Frank O'Bannon, Democrat of Indiana responded surpassed our
Since that time, 47 governors joined them. We are one short of
a full house.
As we survey the warmth of their letters, alongside those of state
and federal legislators, mayors, and national organizations, as
we read and re-read the remarkable resolution passed by the National
Executive of the American Legion, faith is restored in the glue
that holds this nation together, despite appearances.
This glue for the purposes of the "Re-Elect America"
tour consists of four principles, also known as the "Four Points
of America's Compass." They are the rule of law, individual
rights, security of property, and a single common American identity.
We propose these merely as the starting point for the national conversation,
believing with Thomas Jefferson that there is "no safe depository
of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves."
If that was true in 1820, it is even more so in 2000.
As we prepare to conduct a full day of activities in America's
state capitals - commencing February 28 in Tallahassee, Florida
- excitement mounts about the outcome of such a conversation. Yet
the very fact that agreement upon the starting propositions could
be achieved ought to give us pause.
Dividing Americans into adversarial groups has been the No.1 growth
industry before the Internet. It is a source of livelihood, a guarantee
of power and wealth to countless political operatives who label,
goad, and monitor the rest of us. They need not have the last word.
Disseminating outright lies under the guise of political campaigning
has been the ugliest novelty of the past decade. Emphasizing one's
strengths and the opponent's weaknesses is legitimate, of course.
But fabricating horror stories and representing them as fact is
now the natural habitat of certain politicians. They need not have
the last word.
Disparaging the men who - after pledging their lives, fortunes
and sacred honor - made a supreme effort to provide foundations
for the benefit of successive generations has become a favorite
sport among those who have yet to make their own contribution to
society. They need not have the last word.
The principles proposed in "Re-Elect America" have the
potential to demonstrate that we still are one nation.
The principles proposed in "Re-Elect America" provide
a powerful framework for keeping discussions within the realm of
The principles proposed in "Re-Elect America" serve as
a constant reminder of our everlasting debt to the Founding Fathers.
Let candidates for local, state, and national office tell us where
they stand in relation to these principles. Let candidates for office
tell us if they are willing to work for an America where people
agree on the fundamentals, so they may peacefully disagree on the
particulars. Let candidates tell us whether they seek office in
order to improve this country, or in order to change it altogether.
And let the rest of us pay attention, so that We the People may
assume responsibility once again for the future of America. In the
world we inhabit, though the date begins with a number that's new,
the perils remain the same old, same old.