America is about an idea. Our idea is that in a free polity, people will work for themselves and their community toward the common good. Where their churches and unions cannot help them, the government will. Competing factions will boil up from time to time, but they will fight with words, and will accept communal decisions, as long as their countrymen respect their essential rights. These ideas were at risk when President Jefferson oversaw the first partisan transfer of power in 1800.
In recent years those factions have boiled over again. But we have returned to a time where political rivals are called not teammates in our democratic enterprise but mortal enemies to be defeated at all costs. While real enemies plot abroad the deaths of Americans, our most politically astute citizens are locked in mortal combat of deceit, fraud and political rhetoric. As we approach a landmark presidential election, for our polity to regain her success, we must have a consensus presidential candidate. I believe that Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois is that candidate.
Obama has the opportunity to re-articulate the political conversation in this country. Too many Republicans say that if only there were no Democrats, our country would have no problems. Too many Democrats believe President Bush wakes up in the morning thinking of ways to kill Americans, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does. Presidential candidates should focus on the essential ideas of America, and how they can further them. Obama is clear that he, his life and his policy choices are motivated by his religion and relationship with God, as the overwhelming majority of Americans would have their presidents. He has explained that the government is neither a necessary evil nor, despite the insistence, perhaps, of some who will flock to his campaign, a necessary good, but instead a tool that ought to be used when it can solve problems the private sector cannot. Should he decide to wage a responsible campaign, Obama will remind our countrymen that while our republic exists for us, it exists for other ideas as well, and that we ought to be willing to serve our republic to further those ideas.
Although policy is important, Obama has the opportunity to change the way presidential campaigns are won. He, who finds money wherever he stamps his feet, can make a powerful statement with his purse about the way that campaign moneys ought to be gathered and spent. Perhaps more importantly, Obama may announce his vice-presidential candidate before the primary, allowing him, yes, twice the constituents, but also allowing all voters to vote on whether they trust the men and women who want to make up the next administration, and not just on the figurehead. The names of Sen. Joseph Biden and Gen. Wesley Clark have been tossed around, as Americans with foreign policy experience. Surely the Democratic Party, for its continued existence, must convince America that Democrats, too, can run the army. But I would be happier with the vice presidency of Gov. Tom Vilsack, another moderate, God-fearing, pragmatic administrator. Their states border, yes, but so do their centrist sensibilities.
There are not, as presidential candidate and former senator John Edwards would have us believe, two Americas. There is not rich America and poor America; there is not blue America and red America; there is not coastal America and heartland America. A united liberal republic is still a fragile project, and what the nation’s first democratic president declared is still true. “Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things,” President Jefferson exhorted his countrymen in his first inaugural address. “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans — we are all Federalists.” America does not need more divisive, scheming rhetoric, even from someone wise and charming. There is one nation, under God, and with the junior senator from my home state, more honestly than most, we can pray Jefferson’s democratic prayer: “May that Infinite Power which rules the destinies of the universe, lead our councils to what is best, and give them a favorable issue for your peace and prosperity.”
Michael Leo Pomeranz is a sophomore in Silliman College.