Integrity

…is a novel concept these days, one certainly worth re-introducing to modern politics…

“But it will be said, it is easier to find faults than to amend them.  I do not think their amendment so difficult as is pretended.  Only lay down true principles, and adhere to them inflexibly.  Do not be frightened into their surrender by the alarms of the timid, or the croakings of wealth against the ascendency of the people.”

~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Kercheval, 12 June 1816

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Of course, the key word here is “true”.  Inflexible principles are completely pointless when they’re just meaningless talking points.  After all, our political parties certainly have the “inflexible” portion down.  Now we just need to get them some real principles and we’ll be all set.  It’s all sorts of ironic that the founding fathers and the first elected representatives managed to compromise regularly.  They created a functioning government in spite of strong, very principled beliefs that differed on the fundamental way government should be run.  The Federalist/Anti-Federalist divide was deeper and more stratified than any modern debate, and yet, both sides still found a way to make it work without compromising what they believed to be their core principles.  Our very Constitution is a testament to the ability of the Founders to adhere to their beliefs, and still function effectively as a group.  It’s certainly easy for politicians to find fault with one another and with each other’s differing views.  Our entire political cycle revolves around finding fault.  And nothing constructive ends up being accomplished.  True integrity requires dedication to real positions, but also the willingness to find common ground among those of differing ideas and ideals.

Modern politics is defined by its lack of principle in every aspect.  Even when our politicians finally get their acts together to produce any sort of meaningful legislation, they’re quickly put off again by “the alarms of the timid” and the “croakings of wealth”.  Immigration reform remains stymied by small, but loud segments of the public and media that find no solution acceptable.  Financial reforms are headed off by vocal vested interest groups and corporations.  Real budget solutions are quelled by politicians who cannot let go of district pork projects for the good of the nation as a whole.  And responses to social issues are defined not by true principles, but by the opinions of the tiny, highly-partisan fraction of active primary voters.  Our elected representatives are quick to surrender the good of the nation each and every time, rather than face down those who demand that our political system be responsive to their own highly specified needs, and no others.  Our politicians are supposed to represent us, but they are also supposed to have the integrity to represent our best interests, even when that means taking political fallout in the short term.  Our founding fathers took the long view.  Several would fail to be reelected every time they ran because they were not willing to be swayed from their principles.  In fact, the Declaration of Independence was far from a sure bet at the time it was written.  Besides risking life and limb from the British, many of the original signers weren’t praised by their constituents at first.  Integrity means adhering to ones principles even when such adherence isn’t always popular.  But true elected representatives serve their country, and not their own needs.

 

Res Publica

 

Documentation without Representation:

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Kercheval, 12 June 1816 (emphasis added by me)

http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=459

Electronic Text Courtesy of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University

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