Who Governs?

Sledgehammers have delivered messages more subtly than the American electorate delivered theirs to President Obama and the Democrats on November 3.  "Shellacking" doesn't even begin to describe it.  "Lunched," a schoolyard term from my youth meaning "to render into lunchmeat," comes closer to the mark -- but no, even that doesn't quite capture a level of voter rage that fomented a historic shift of 63 seats in the House, leaving the Dems 26 seats short of a majority.

Well, let's just say that a lot of senators and congressmen should count themselves lucky that Walmart didn't have a sale on tar and feathers on Election Day.  And let us note also that tar doesn't care what it's stuck to. It sticks just as well to Republicans, should the GOP fail to do the job the American people elected them to do.  There's plenty of room, I'm guessing, among the moose heads above the Palin mantelpiece for the heads of McConnell and Boehner.

The imperatives are clear: cut spending, cut spending, and did I mention cut spending?  But the American people sent a much more important message on Election Day.  The people who think they run the country -- well, they don't.  You and I do.  The folks we send to Washington just work for us, and only to the bare minimum necessary to protect and preserve our liberty.  Because if the last 223 years of American history have proven anything, it's that the less Congress does, the better off the rest of us are.

Or to put it another way, wealth and education are no barrier to stupidity and incompetence.  At the end of the day, the Ivy League-degreed multimillionaires who infest the halls of Congress are no more likely to reach the right conclusion on any issue than you or I.

And that, right there, is both the essence of American exceptionalism and the reason Obama and his ilk so vehemently denigrate and deny it.  The United States is the first and, even after two centuries, the only nation in history founded on the specific principle that the average man is not only capable of governing, but best-suited to do so -- that government not just for the people, but of the people and by the people not only works, but works best.

The American Revolution did not begin on July 4, 1776, when a group of educated elites promulgated a Declaration of Independence. It began more than a year earlier, on April 19, 1775, when another group -- of tradesmen and farmers who never saw the inside of a university -- challenged the authority and the might of what was then arguably the world's greatest superpower.  And we can be sure that those who died at Lexington did not give their lives for the right to trade one set of arrogant elites for another.

Nor did these men, and tens of thousands like them, have any problem following a general, George Washington, who never went to college.  Nor, of course, did the Founding Fathers have any problem appointing him.  (And is it necessary to add that the author of the Gettysburg Address had only one year of formal schooling?)

The genius of the Constitution, and the insight of the men who debated and wrote it, lies in precisely the limitation it puts on people like those very men to rule over people whom an equally educated, but less enlightened, cohort might consider their inferiors.  It is profoundly telling that in the course of a Constitutional Convention lasting three and a half months, in which the office of the president was created and the qualifications for that office were proposed and debated, the Framers could come up with only two qualifications:

  • That the candidate be a natural-born American, and
  • That the candidate be at least 35 years old.

Really, this is just another way of saying that in America, it is wisdom and the ability to lead that qualify one to govern, not education and pedigree.  The expert can advise us, can tell us how to accomplish a particular course of action, but which course is best decided not by them, but by us.  This is the source of America's greatness and what separates us from most other nations.  It is what caused Theodore Roosevelt -- born into wealth, a graduate of Harvard -- to make the kind of statement that we have never heard, and probably will never hear, from a similarly privileged and educated European leader:

I believe the majority of the plain people of the United States will, day in and day out, make fewer mistakes in governing themselves than any smaller class or body of men, no matter what their training, will make in trying to govern them.

Like TR, every great leader of this great country, regardless of station, wealth, or education, has recognized this fundamental fact of American life. But sadly, in the current age, many politicians and pundits of both parties seem to have forgotten.  The supreme irony is that in their zeal to impugn the qualifications of a certain former governor to faithfully execute the office of the president of the United States, these enlightened demonstrate not her unfitness to govern, but their own.

Gene Schwimmer is the author of The Christian State.
Sledgehammers have delivered messages more subtly than the American electorate delivered theirs to President Obama and the Democrats on November 3.  "Shellacking" doesn't even begin to describe it.  "Lunched," a schoolyard term from my youth meaning "to render into lunchmeat," comes closer to the mark -- but no, even that doesn't quite capture a level of voter rage that fomented a historic shift of 63 seats in the House, leaving the Dems 26 seats short of a majority.

Well, let's just say that a lot of senators and congressmen should count themselves lucky that Walmart didn't have a sale on tar and feathers on Election Day.  And let us note also that tar doesn't care what it's stuck to. It sticks just as well to Republicans, should the GOP fail to do the job the American people elected them to do.  There's plenty of room, I'm guessing, among the moose heads above the Palin mantelpiece for the heads of McConnell and Boehner.

The imperatives are clear: cut spending, cut spending, and did I mention cut spending?  But the American people sent a much more important message on Election Day.  The people who think they run the country -- well, they don't.  You and I do.  The folks we send to Washington just work for us, and only to the bare minimum necessary to protect and preserve our liberty.  Because if the last 223 years of American history have proven anything, it's that the less Congress does, the better off the rest of us are.

Or to put it another way, wealth and education are no barrier to stupidity and incompetence.  At the end of the day, the Ivy League-degreed multimillionaires who infest the halls of Congress are no more likely to reach the right conclusion on any issue than you or I.

And that, right there, is both the essence of American exceptionalism and the reason Obama and his ilk so vehemently denigrate and deny it.  The United States is the first and, even after two centuries, the only nation in history founded on the specific principle that the average man is not only capable of governing, but best-suited to do so -- that government not just for the people, but of the people and by the people not only works, but works best.

The American Revolution did not begin on July 4, 1776, when a group of educated elites promulgated a Declaration of Independence. It began more than a year earlier, on April 19, 1775, when another group -- of tradesmen and farmers who never saw the inside of a university -- challenged the authority and the might of what was then arguably the world's greatest superpower.  And we can be sure that those who died at Lexington did not give their lives for the right to trade one set of arrogant elites for another.

Nor did these men, and tens of thousands like them, have any problem following a general, George Washington, who never went to college.  Nor, of course, did the Founding Fathers have any problem appointing him.  (And is it necessary to add that the author of the Gettysburg Address had only one year of formal schooling?)

The genius of the Constitution, and the insight of the men who debated and wrote it, lies in precisely the limitation it puts on people like those very men to rule over people whom an equally educated, but less enlightened, cohort might consider their inferiors.  It is profoundly telling that in the course of a Constitutional Convention lasting three and a half months, in which the office of the president was created and the qualifications for that office were proposed and debated, the Framers could come up with only two qualifications:

  • That the candidate be a natural-born American, and
  • That the candidate be at least 35 years old.

Really, this is just another way of saying that in America, it is wisdom and the ability to lead that qualify one to govern, not education and pedigree.  The expert can advise us, can tell us how to accomplish a particular course of action, but which course is best decided not by them, but by us.  This is the source of America's greatness and what separates us from most other nations.  It is what caused Theodore Roosevelt -- born into wealth, a graduate of Harvard -- to make the kind of statement that we have never heard, and probably will never hear, from a similarly privileged and educated European leader:

I believe the majority of the plain people of the United States will, day in and day out, make fewer mistakes in governing themselves than any smaller class or body of men, no matter what their training, will make in trying to govern them.

Like TR, every great leader of this great country, regardless of station, wealth, or education, has recognized this fundamental fact of American life. But sadly, in the current age, many politicians and pundits of both parties seem to have forgotten.  The supreme irony is that in their zeal to impugn the qualifications of a certain former governor to faithfully execute the office of the president of the United States, these enlightened demonstrate not her unfitness to govern, but their own.

Gene Schwimmer is the author of The Christian State.

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