Originally Published in Flourishing November 2010
Once again, we approach the end of silly-season, that time in our lives when politicians excuse themselves of responsibility for their screw-ups, and renew their promises to make everything right. What irritates me about elections, though, is that our candidate choices seem to know very little about our nation’s history or its fundamental founding principles.
Perhaps this time it will be different, but recent history doesn’t offer a lot of hope. According to former President Bill Clinton, the right to vote is “the most fundamental right of citizenship”. John McCain says that the right to vote is “the heart and soul of our democracy.” Seems innocent.
In fact, voting is an important responsibility of citizenship, because it is our last best defense against tyranny. But, it is not the most fundamental right of citizenship, and democracy is not the essential aspect of our government.
I think Jefferson meant something like that when he said, “All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.” The relative size of its gang doesn’t give any political party the right to abuse the minority, any minority.
I’m quite certain that Jefferson wasn’t referring to minorities only in the sense of race or ethnicity. He was, rather, including the smallest minority of all, the individual.
As you go to the polls this election day, remember that what makes America unique in all of human history is not that it has elections. Iran has elections. Our task as citizens and voters—especially this year—is not just to choose which gang will be in charge of government institutions. It is to renew our commitment to liberty, and to remind all of our elected officials that our elections take place in a country–our country—whose government is limited by the sacred principle of individual rights. mh