“We are hungry for leaders who can say we need both anti-discrimination laws as well as laws to protect people’s religious freedom — and who make the argument that those don’t have to be mutually exclusive values. In fact, they go together, …” –Matthew Dowd, ABC News Analyst
As a country, we are more and more mired in increasing radicalism. We find that from one group to another, from Congressmen who are willing to break the law in order to spite a President (even though they constantly accuse the President of breaking laws), to employers and universities who are willing to dismiss any employee or student who utters the least statement they do not like (even outside job or school hours), to accrediting organizations who do not want to accredit programs or professionals unless they agree to clearly politicized statements (one of the worst is the Academy of Certified Social Workers now known as the National Association of Social Workers), to quite a few other organizations. Any idea that we might wish to allow dissent or difference (other than approved dissent) is slowly becoming a thing of the past.
Both sides will periodically cite the founding fathers, and there is no doubt that you can find a founding father to back you up. Do you wish to find founding fathers who will prove that we were founded as a Christian nation which had some “reasonable” toleration of deists, etc. They are there to be found. Do you wish to find founding father who will prove that we were founded as a secular nation which had “reasonable” toleration of many ways of worship. They are there to be found. How many are honest enough to say that you can find both types of founding fathers? Almost no one anymore.
What I (and many others like Mr. Dowd in the quote above) can argue is that it is incredibly easy to show that the founding fathers struck compromise after compromise as they tried to achieve a workable union. Their first set of compromises did not work. We need to remember that. The Articles of Confederation were a failure. The Constitutional Convention took place because the Articles of Confederation were a failure. That attempt, to keep almost all power in the States did not lead to freedom, it led to mini-tyrannies and confusion. For instance, no one but scholars knows, or is even taught, that Massachusetts continued to collect taxes for the established state church until the early 1800’s. Meantime such a tax collection law was defeated in Virginia with Thomas Jefferson arguing for its defeat. People who had rights in one state, such as Baptist preachers, might be considered unlicensed, attacked, and even jailed in at least one or two states. The same problem surged in regard to issues such as taxation, the Armed Forces, etc. The Articles of Confederation were a failure.
The States and Congress knew that this had to change, that there had to be a stronger central union, and that there had to be a better cross-State guarantee of rights. Many of those today who quote founding fathers appearing to show that the central government should have little power are quoting them from before the US Constitution, at a time when it was still thought that the States should have most of the power. When they speak of original intent, they fail to acknowledge that the original intent failed and that the very fathers they quote got back together precisely because their original intention did not work.
The USA Constitution is the result of the realization that something new had to be written and the old discarded. It was also the realization that this country was going to fail if they were not able to reach necessary compromises. And, so, a new document was written, one that better delineated the compromises necessary to make this nation work.
Unfortunately, many in our current society are working hard to undo those compromises. From those who claim to support the original intent, while not acknowledging that the original intent actually failed, to those who talk about new understandings that allow them to shut down those old-fashioned people, we have become a nation that has forgotten the failure of the Articles of Confederation, the failure to admit that we cannot live with uncompromised differences.
I am a proud moderate. I support the founding fathers precisely in their recognition that if compromise is not made in order to form a more perfect union, then we will end up with a failed confederation. Confederation does not work. Imposed tyrannies do not work. Compromise, and the willingness to reach it, works. That is our choice. Compromise or a true culture war that could rip this country apart as badly as the Civil War.