- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Presidential campaign promises are honored more in the breach than in the observance. Candidates should be evaluated more by their intellectual temperaments than their policy pledges.

Political life is a jumble of contradictions. General propositions do not decide concrete cases. What should be celebrated in a presidential candidate is a frame of mind and vision for the future that incorporates the spirit of America.

President Woodrow Wilson captured re-election in 1916 with the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” But on April 6, 1917, he urged Congress to declare war on Germany. Wilson elaborated justifications that would subject the United States to perpetual warfare: “[W]e shall fight for … democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety and make the world itself at last free.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt campaigned in 1932 on a platform celebrating government austerity and a balanced budget. He sharply assailed President Herbert Hoover’s budget deficits. And then came the New Deal, Keynesian economics, and a yawning gap between government spending and revenue.

George W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 2000 featured criticism of nation-building as knight errantry run amok. But President Bush is attempting to build democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq with no democratic building blocks, a first cousin of alchemy.

In 2008, three viable presidential candidacies remain: John McCain, Arizona Republican, Hillary Clinton, New York Democrat, and Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat. All have sallied forth with a flurry of policy statements, Iraq, the war on terrorism, taxes, health insurance, and mounting housing foreclosures. Voters, however, should cast their ballots based on which candidate best captures the spirit of America.

The spirit of America is George Washington’s refusal of a crown; his request for no compensation or salary as president; his exhortation at the Constitutional Convention to “set a standard to which the wise and honest may repair;” his “giving to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance;” and, his Farewell Address warning against entangling alliances.

The spirit of America is Crispus Attucks, an escaped slave, dying as a political martyr in the Boston Massacre.

The spirit of America is John Adams’ unpopular defense of British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre.

The spirit of America is Thomas Jefferson’s teachings that, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be;” “that though the will of the majority, is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression;” that, “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”

The spirit of America is James Madison’s admonition that, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and that a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

The spirit of America is the right to be left alone born of the electrifying remarks of Sir William Pitt to the British Parliament: “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake, the wind may blow through it, the storm may enter, the rain may enter but, the King of England cannot enter; all his forces dare not cross the threshold of that ruined tenement.”

The spirit of America is Nathan Hale’s, “I regret that I have but one life to live for my country.”

The spirit of American is William Lloyd Garrison’s launch of the anti-slavery newspaper Liberator in 1831; persistence in the face of physical violence and calumny; and, presence at the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865.

The spirit of America is the Underground Railroad.

The spirit of America is Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address; his Second Inaugural’s, “With malice towards none; with charity for all …”; and, his longheaded wisdom: “Let reverence for the laws be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe that prattles in her lap — let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And in short, let it become the political religion of the nation.”

The spirit of America is Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. courageously struggling against racial discrimination.

The spirit of America is Susan B. Anthony’s sleepless efforts to enfranchise women, including an indictment and prosecution for illegal voting.

The spirit of America is President John F. Kennedy’s June 1963 address declaring, “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

Which among Mr. McCain, Mrs. Clinton, and Mr. Obama as president would best honor the spirit of America?

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer with Bruce Fein & Associates and chairman of the American Freedom Agenda.

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