Primary Elections: No Superheroes, Please

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I’m rather concerned.

Like sleepwalkers in broad daylight, in this primary election season we are being swayed hither and thither by every sweet whisper we hear along the way: “front-runner status,” “top-tier candidate,” “early momentum,” do-or-die states…”

We walk in the night, in a zigzag pattern, because as a nation, we lack clarity of conscience about what an American president is supposed to be.

They tell us we’ve got some choices: a woman, a pastor, a black man, a Mormon, a guy with good hair, a POW and a laid-back actor with a Southern drawl.

And when any of these candidates promise us “change,” or cries, or preaches, or tells a good joke on Leno, we get wobbly in the knees and alter our vote.

So, understandably, many of the candidates play the game. And curiously, it’s kind of fun to watch — we can be grownup witnesses of an extended campaign for “senior class” homecoming king and queen (wait, what would Bill be?).

But that’s a temptation — to watch the primaries as if they were reality TV.

The times we are living, and the current state of the Union don’t afford the luxury of swapping Constitutional qualifications for popularity points. Civic virtue and common sense demand that we think this one through, as adults. There are many ways to do this. We can listen to speeches, banter with friends and foes at the coffee shop, or study campaign Web sites. We can compare and contrast party and candidate platforms, hedging our bets on who is most likely to get done more of what we most need, or want.

My suggestion to voters at this point in the race is to forget about all of this — including what other states have done, or are about to do — and instead, to choose the candidate who, according to Constitutional criterion, has the best PHILOSOPHY OF GOVERNMENT and whose RECORD coincides with this philosophy.

I mean to say, let’s choose a candidate who understands the true purpose of government and the way it’s supposed to work in the United States of America as described in our founding documents, in particular, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers.

We are not electing a national mayor, a local pastor, a motivational speaker, a civil rights activist or even a CEO.

The federal government — including the executive branch — is primarily responsible for defending the nation and its citizens from attack and subversion, maintaining public order (including commerce) and protecting people‘s fundamental rights and liberties.

In other areas, its role is secondary, or more precisely “subsidiary,” first of all to the work of families, community, charitable, religious, and other civic organizations, and then to local and state governments.

When candidates make promises to end poverty, boost the economy, restore hope, and provide health care and education for all, the questions we should ask are HOW and WHO. If they plan to use their presidential powers (including the appointment of judges) to run our states and to raise our families, they are out of line.

In fact, the more “efficient” they are, the more dangerous they would be as president. With amazing foresight, James Madison, who has been called the “father of the Constitution,” put it like this:

“Do not separate text [for ‘text’, we can also substitute ‘campaign platforms’] from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government."

The American federalist system of government has been effective, in great part, because it doesn’t depend on the rise of superheroes to keep the nation on course.

Thanks to the wisdom of its founding architects, the Union’s strength does not rest on a single leader; it is guided by principle and upheld by the will, virtue and initiative of an entire people. If you listen to most of the presidential hopefuls (there are one or two exceptions, in my judgment), you would think Federalism was some sort of Republican fad, and a dead one at that. Instead you hear both Democrats and Republicans vying for the job of national messiah, the one who will single-handedly usher in a period of social renewal of Biblical proportion.

Yes, God knows we need renewal! There are way too many poor, uninsured, uneducated, and disenfranchised in the United States of America. Beyond the material needs, there is also great want for spiritual renewal. The moral fabric of our country is now threatened, perhaps more than ever before, by relativist, materialist and fundamentalist philosophies.

But James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, John Quincy Adams, and other classically liberal (in a beautiful sense) thinkers had also foreseen the need for reform and had established an effective mechanism — federalism, once again.

Knowing superheroes were less dependable (and more dangerous) in rectifying social wrongs than the power of local initiative, they suggested we rely on the citizens, the community groups, and the government entities CLOSEST to the problem to come up with effective solutions.

In America, the government is to empower the people, and not the other way around. There will come a time (the general election) where we may be called to choose between the lesser of two evils. But this is not that time. It is a moment to shun the pollsters and pundits and choose the best candidate for the job at hand.

Note, in the Democratic Party there are now three viable candidates: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. In the Republican Party there are five: Fred Thompson, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani.

South Carolina, are you listening?

Don’t let the North tell you what to do.

God bless, Father Jonathan
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