SMITH

The Washington Times Daily - - CELEBRATING FREEDOM - C. Dou­glas Smith is vice pres­i­dent for the Robert H. Smith Cen­ter for the Con­sti­tu­tion at James Madi­son’s Mont­pe­lier.

a quick glance at the news­pa­pers will con­firm that the strug­gles to right these wrongs con­tin­ues to­day.

What we can say proudly, as a na­tion, is the adop­tion of the Bill of Rights es­tab­lished the first self-im­prov­ing sys­tem that pro­tects es­sen­tial hu­man free­doms, and it also in­sti­gated the as­ton­ish­ing rise of mod­ern democ­ra­cies through­out the globe.

Free­dom House notes there was not a sin­gle lib­eral democ­racy with uni­ver­sal suf­frage at the turn of the 20th cen­tury, in­clud­ing our own. But by 2000, 120 of the world’s 192 na­tions had adopted a form of gov­ern­ment with uni­ver­sal suf­frage. The num­ber con­tin­ues to grow (123 to­day) be­cause hu­mans nat­u­rally want free­dom.

In our work at Mont­pe­lier, we ed­u­cate peo­ple whose work re­quires a com­pre­hen­sive un­der­stand­ing of the Con­sti­tu­tion and our sys­tem of gov­ern­ment: teach­ers, law en­force­ment of­fi­cers and pub­lic of­fi­cials. I wit­ness first­hand how the is­sues of our time cre­ate space for new pro­tec­tions and chal­lenges of our rights, and how the law evolves over time to guar­an­tee our free­dom. Noth­ing is ever per­fect, but I con­tinue to be­lieve that a more per­fect union is at­tain­able.

I know that many peo­ple feel pes­simism about the state of global and na­tional pol­i­tics. I am not one of them, though I am dis­cour­aged prin­ci­pally by our coun­try’s low voter turnouts and dis­il­lu­sion­ment with gov­ern­ment. Gov­ern­ment and politi­cians, the mem­bers of our first Congress, passed leg­is­la­tion that has granted us our free­doms. They didn’t do it with­out com­pro­mis­ing, and they didn’t do it be­hind closed doors. They felt a tremen­dous ur­gency to get some­thing ac­com­plished they knew would de­fine the na­tion’s his­tory.

Madi­son said, “But what is gov­ern­ment it­self, but the great­est of all re­flec­tions on hu­man na­ture? If men were an­gels, no gov­ern­ment would be nec­es­sary. If an­gels were to govern men, nei­ther ex­ter­nal nor in­ter­nal con­trols on gov­ern­ment would be nec­es­sary.”

Madi­son and the rest of the Framers, rec­og­niz­ing that hu­mans usu­ally act in their own self-in­ter­est, de­signed a gov­ern­ment ca­pa­ble of pro­tect­ing our­selves from our­selves by cre­at­ing grid­lock when the ma­jor­ity and the mi­nori­ties can’t agree. In other words, our sys­tem works best when there is a pro­duc­tive grav­ity in the mid­dle of the two main par­ties, not at the poles of each. Gov­ern­ment wasn’t de­signed for pol­i­tics; it was the other way around.

Now that the U.S. na­tional elec­tions have been re­solved, we should stop feign­ing sur­prise that there are po­lit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences be­tween our two ma­jor par­ties. Amer­i­can has been di­vided many times be­fore, and the next cy­cle of divi­sion will be­gin the day af­ter the in­au­gu­ra­tion. But we need our law­mak­ers to rec­og­nize prob­lems, ar­tic­u­late solutions and pur­sue com­pro­mises.

As Amer­i­cans, we need to trust our sys­tem of gov­ern­ment, lis­ten to each other and re­build the grav­ity in our cen­ter by un­der­stand­ing what it is we want. We have many more in­ter­ests in com­mon than the cur­rent state of our pol­i­tics would sug­gest. If the next Congress is look­ing for an agenda to pur­sue, they should start there.

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