October 23, 2010
The American Idea and the Tea Party MovementBy Harold Witkov
The truth is that some ideas are so powerful that they have a life of their own. Independent of the men who gave birth to them, these time-traveling ideas continue to influence the course of history. The American idea is such an idea.
Thirteen years ago, while touring an old Canadian fort from the War of 1812 era, I learned about an 18th-century British officer/inventor who came up with a very novel but lethal idea, the effects of which are still being felt today. His thought was to pack musket balls into a time fuse artillery shell. When the shell would burst, the balls would scatter with deadly force in all directions. The creative British artillery officer, I discovered, was Lieutenant Henry Shrapnel.
It was on that memorable day thirteen years ago (when I connected Henry Shrapnel to his "shrapnel idea") that I began to reflect in earnest about the journey of world-changing ideas and the men who create them. I might drink a glass of milk and find myself thinking about Louis Pasteur's "pasteurization idea," or picture Julius Petri in a moment of inspiration with a floating "Petri dish idea" above his head.
To be sure, there is a host of powerful traceable ideas, traveling through time, asserting influence over humanity, and still actively shaping history. Some notables are
Some influential ideas do not originate from one individual, but rather from a collaborative effort. No better political idea was ever born from a collaborative effort than was the "American idea."
The American idea began when the people living in the original thirteen colonies began to identify themselves more with each other and the land they lived on than they did with their mother country across the Atlantic. The American idea grew through these colonists' collective yearning for independence and freedom, and eventually, the American idea came to full fruition via the advent and workings of the American Founders.
In order to understand the American idea, we must first imagine the world as it was and place ourselves in the shoes of the Founding Fathers. Back in "the times that try men's souls," Great Britain was a most powerful nation, and King George III was not about to let his American colonies break free. Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Hancock, and the rest of the signers of the Declaration of Independence did not have a crystal ball to rely on. Rather, trusting in "divine Providence" alone, these great men risked everything in the name of liberty -- and mutually pledged their Lives, Fortunes, and Sacred Honor.
If we could visit the past and look into their hearts and souls, we would clearly see that our altruistic Founders were giants of wisdom who risked life and limb for us. They did not lead a revolution so that they could start a new monarchy, but instead to form a government of the people that provided liberty to all its citizens and to their descendants. So how did they do it?
Knowing that power is a corruptor of men, our Founders wrote a Constitution that set up a government of laws, not of men. They designed a separation of powers system of government with three branches -- with checks and balances. They wrote a Bill of Rights into the Constitution to guarantee that individual liberties would never be encroached upon. They designed a strong but limited federal government that granted matters not covered in the Constitution to the states. Finally, knowing their Constitution was perfect for the times but not perfect for all times, our Founders designed an Amendment system whereby the Constitution could be adjusted (but still maintain its integrity).
So what exactly is the American idea? It is a living legacy of first-American fundamental principles. What is it like to experience the American idea? It is a transformational moment of inspiration in which one finds himself identifying with those principles.
Awakening to the American idea can happen at any time. For some, a historical quotation like "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country" might do it, or a reflective visit to Valley Forge National Park. For many, the American idea came alive when they saw 9/11 as a threat to our liberty. With each and every American idea experience, there comes the realization that whether we lived in the 18th century or live in the 21st century, the American idea is alive and worth fighting for.
I have experienced the American idea on numerous occasions: my trip to Yorktown Battlefield, the time I read Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address while visiting Gettysburg National Park, journeying through David McCullough's John Adams biography, and (sometimes) when I listen to Rush Limbaugh.
Today, there is something insidious taking place in America that runs contrary to the American idea. Now going on two years, the Democratic Party has expanded government, nationalized much of the private sector, left our borders unprotected, and borrowed and spent us into near bankruptcy. It seems clear that the Left wants our nation to march to the drumbeat of the "socialism idea" and to the will of the United Nations -- and away from the U.S. Constitution.
Leading this destructive charge against the American idea is our very own president, who thinks the "Constitution is a charter of negative liberties," refers to our Founding Fathers as "men of property and wealth," and likes to talk about the good old days of "long before America was even an idea."
The American idea is now under full assault. Despite the assault, or perhaps because of it, something miraculous has been taking place in America. Horrified by the drumbeat of the Left and fearful for our nation's future, millions of average, hardworking Americans are awakening. They are experiencing the American idea and embracing it. They, like never before, are seeing the wisdom of the Constitution and are becoming politically motivated. They are attending town hall meetings, opening up their checkbooks and supporting like-minded candidates across the country, running for office, and peacefully assembling in large masses. At some of these rallies, some of them even dress in colonial attire.
The Left has no idea who these people are and what is happening. The Left refers to them as "crazies" and "astroturf." But these people are neither crazy nor astroturf. They are the millions of Americans who have awakened to and embraced the American idea. They are the Tea Party.