Democratic presidential aspirants Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton jejunely celebrate "change" in their respective campaign narratives. But human nature — the DNA of both political and non-political action — never changes.
The human cravings for power, money, fame, sex and domination that fuel conflict and upheaval have remained unaltered since the beginning of time. The Book of Ecclesiastes explains, "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun."
In other words, as a French adage instructs, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Cuba's Fidel Castro is replaced by Raul Castro. Russia's President Vladimir Putin will soon be Prime Minister Putin. Nothing will change because the dynamics of power in both countries remain undisturbed.
In the United States, nothing will deflect the nation's ominous trajectory of ever-growing ignorance, arrogance, unchecked executive power, foreign adventurism, frivolity, and debauchery absent a change in popular culture — the decisive influence in American politics. Presidential candidates seeking authentic change should eschew promises of expanded and exorbitant entitlement programs, for example, national health insurance, reminiscent of Roman political campaigns featuring bread and circuses. Instead, they should preach education, education and more education as the remedy for the nation's spiraling ills and descent into rule by executive decree.
Thomas Jefferson observed that a nation that hopes to be free and ignorant hopes what never was and never will be. Accordingly, he cherished his founding of the University of Virginia above his two terms in the White House. Ignorance lends itself to demagoguery. It fosters utopian thinking and political panaceas, such as promising free lunches or instant painless transformations of foreign despotisms into friendly democracies. Accordingly, James Madison taught that, "Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives."
Philosopher Sam Johnson lectured more crassly that there is the same difference between the learned and the unlearned as between the living and the dead. Shakespeare explained the matter impeccably in "Hamlet": "What is a man,
"If the chief good and market of his time
"Be but to sleep and feed? A beast no more!
"Sure he that made us with such large discourse,
"Looking before and after, gave us not
"That capability and godlike reason
"To fust in us unus'd."
The ignorance of ordinary Americans makes them ill-suited for self-government. Never have so many known so little about so much. They are unschooled in philosophy, history and literature. They are incapable of economical and lucid expression. Their vocabularies are circumscribed and monosyllabic. They are unversed in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Washington's Farewell Address, the Monroe Doctrine, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address or Second Inaugural, or the Civil War Amendments. They cannot identify the chief justice of the United States, the speaker of the House of Representatives, or the majority leader of the Senate. They do not know who is on Mount Rushmore.
They do not know the meaning of checks and balances, separation of powers, the power of the purse, or due process of law. Kabul, Kandahar or Karachi are as mysterious to them as the Rosetta Stone. They read on average seven minutes per day — and what is read is predominantly drivel. They are infatuated with "American Idol" and sophomoric video games. They pay homage to professional sports stars that shoot, throw, kick or hit balls, and brainless runway fashion models that strut or swagger. They are politically inert or indifferent.
They would neither have signed the Declaration of Independence nor have volunteered to fight in the Revolutionary War. They would prefer to subsist as docile cows under benevolent Platonic Guardians than to flourish as active citizens saddled with the labors of self-government.
Nonsuperficial political change is plausible only if presidential candidates rebuke the American people for their intellectual and moral sloth. They dishonor the sacrifices of Valley Forge, Cemetery Ridge, Omaha Beach and elsewhere. They squander the unsurpassed wisdom of the Founding Fathers.
They should be admonished that, for good or for ill, the Constitution will reflect their collective moral convictions. The Fourteenth Amendment was not interpreted to guarantee blacks equality under the law and relief from a century of Jim Crow until prevailing moral sentiments frowned on racial discrimination. Ditto with regard to women and gender discrimination.
If Americans cannot be inspired to master and to practice the Constitution's philosophy, to seek knowledge and wisdom, and to be active and informed citizens eager to scrutinize and question government, any change will be otiose.
Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer at Bruce Fein & Associates and chairman of the American Freedom Agenda.