By Sam McLure
Alabama Political Reporter
On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated; an event which overshadowed the death of a much more remarkable man, C.S. Lewis. But, such is the way of historicism; we often attempt to grasp at meaning in the past through dates and deaths and wars and events. In contrast, Lewis suggests “that what is really important is the peace between wars and the lives of ordinary people.” While it may be absurd to assert that C.S. Lewis led an “ordinary” life, failing to sit at his feet on this topic would be equally absurd.
In the last installment of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, a unicorn named Jewel explains to Jill, the visiting English child, “that there’s not ‘always so much happening in Narnia,” and that in between the visits of the English children there were ‘hundreds and thousands of years … in which there was really nothing to put into the history books.’” This is the great ideal of government: To foster and facilitate a lasting peace that is so dull, it bankrupts the click-bait industry of persistent controversy.
The Principles of the Alabama Democratic Party (ADP) contain ideals by which the party sets its course and measures its success. Contained in these ideals are five landing points, or safe harbors, where Republicans and Democrats can find common ground and work toward a very dull peace, where there is “really nothing to put into the history books.”
(1) Local control of public education.
The very first principle of the ADP is “[t]hat government functions best when it is closest to the people.” The spirit of this sentiment is foundational to our American system of Government. The risk of centralized, distant, and uninformed government was on the forefront of the minds of the first Americans as they resisted rule from the English Monarchy.
The desire for a government that is “closest to the people” was embodied in the 10th Amendment to the US Constitution, which sought to limit the rise of a Federal Government that would distance control of local issues from the people it affected. This struggle for local control is seen in a myriad of issues from criminal justice reform, to immigration policy, to the rights of pre-born persons.
Not least of these issues is the public education of our children. The ADP’s third principle states, “[t]hat a quality system of public education is the cornerstone of all our attainments and the foundation of our hopes for the future; that we must relentlessly strive to attain such a system so that every child is afforded full opportunity to realize his or her God-given potential.”
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two men who were often at odds politically, were in agreement on the importance of public education. Brad Desnoyer, law professor at the University of Missouri School of Law, reminds us that:
“Rather than squabbling, Adams and Jefferson knew that public education was at the heart of democracy. ‘The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it,’ wrote Adams. ‘There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.’
“Jefferson, witness to the Revolution, drafter of the Declaration of Independence, and founder of the nation’s first public university, rightfully believed that it was the government and citizenry’s duty to invest tax dollars in public education: ‘[T]he tax which will be paid for this purpose [education] is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.’”
Republicans should have no heartburn embracing these ideals and can work toward peaceful prosperity by championing the ADP’s efforts to resist distant powers from influencing local education.
(2) Stewardship of Natural Resources
The Stewardship Principle is inherent in all Judeo-Christian religions and common sense itself. When God created Adam and Eve, he made them stewards of creation, charging them to “take dominion” of the earth. Fundamentally, the earth does not belong to mankind; it belongs to God.
Common sense also tells us that, if we are to maximize our enjoyment of our State’s natural resources for our lifetimes and the lifetimes of our children, we must see that it is protected from the inertia of harm resulting from post-industrialization’s peculiar capitalism.
Take for example Acme Corp. Acme produces 1 bazillion widgets per day. In order to maximize their profits, Acme locates its plant beside the Alabama River. The Acme’s factory is cooled by water drawn from the Alabama river. Acme also produces 5 gazillion gallons of toxic waster every day.
Unfettered capitalism, i.e., a desire for profit that surpasses principles of stewardship, could lead to the decision for Acme to dump the used water and 5 gazillion gallons of toxic waste back into the river.
All Alabamians will agree, except perhaps the shareholders of Acme, that dumping the refuse back into the river would be bad … bad for Alabama’s natural resources … bad for the next generation … bad stewardship.
Thus, it is the noble ideal of stewardship that rings true in ADP’s desire to fulfill their ideals:
“[T]he Democratic Party is committed to clean air and water. We recognize that the complex problems of our era necessitate governmental action, control of which must be in the hands of the people and not those whose regulation has become unavoidable.”
Lest it be lost, let’s pause to notice last phrase of the principle: “control of which must be in the hands of the people and not those whose regulations has become unavoidable.” This means that the common Alabamian who lives on and enjoys the river should be the person in control of regulating Acme, not the shareholders of Acme. This is common sense, good sense.
ADP’s guiding principles go on to state,
“That the preservation and protection of our natural resources is a sacred obligation to unborn generations of Alabamians; that the development of our parks, recreational facilities, historical sites and wildlife is among the highest duties of our state.”
The phrases, “sacred obligation” and “highest duties” ring with the echoes of a people that deeply care about ensuring that our enjoyment of creation does not sully creation. I for one can see no room for damning this ideal, and I tend to think those who do have some obligation to report their Acme dividend income to the IRS.
(3) Honesty and Integrity
By anyone’s account, honesty and integrity have been lacking in the landscape of Alabama politics. Robert Bentley, Mike Hubbard, Jefferson County Fund, gambling money, and the ubiquitous influence of lobbying money on campaigns are just a sampling of issues that could benefit from the ADP’s ideals of honesty and integrity:
“That the people are entitled to honest and ethical government; that it is demanded of all public servants that they make complete, current, public disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest; that in carrying out their public trusts they serve no master save only the people; and that they fairly make and administer the laws without fear or favor. It is the duty of all public servants to relentlessly support and enforce the highest ethical standards without any regard to political exigencies of affiliations.”
Tracing the ways of greed in politics is like tracking a scorpion in a boulder field. Its trail is elusive, and the more you hunt it, the more it hunts you. Greed seeks to daily corrupt all of our motives and decisions. Each political party must take it upon itself to enforce the solemn duties set out in ADP’s ideals of honesty and integrity.
If the Alabama Republican Party embraced this ideal, the silence may have not been so deafening when Luther Strange accepted Bentley’s appointment to US Senate; love of constitutional restraint over access to tax revenue might annihilate gun permits; and the reach of “pro-business” lobbyists into nearly every elected official’s pocket in Alabama would be treated with the utmost suspicion.
(4) Commitment to Cultivated Fields
The ancient Hebrew King, Solomon, had historic success in establishing a nation state that prospered with peace and justice. He wrote that, “this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.” The ADP embraces this wisdom in its ideal:
“That it is the duty of our State government to provide imaginative leadership and to strengthen the capacities of our free enterprise system in meeting the challenge of providing decent housing for all Alabama citizens.”
Providing “imaginative leadership” and “strengthening the capacities” of the free market, is a far cry from socialistic mandates from the government which constrain the free enterprise system. Not only does this ideal rightly articulate the ideal of economic prosperity, it roots its purposes in attention to the needs of the poor.
Stated another way, the ADP’s ideal does not espouse that “Alabama citizens should be taxed to build houses for the poor.” On the contrary, the ADP’s ideal envisions providing leadership to encourage the free market to flourish, without forgetting the poor.
(5) Humility of Openness to Self-Correction
The last principle of the ADP contains a phrase that embodies that rare attribute of humility; a sense of humility which produces openness to self-correction: “that all Democrats are bound to defend, protect and honor our Nation, our state, or Party, that when they are right, it is our privilege to sustain them, that when they err, it is our duty to correct them.”
If wings were given to this ideal, Alabama could soar. If Alabama politics fostered humility of openness to intense feedback and correction, peace and prosperity would flourish. In this ideal, the ADP has committed itself to creating a culture of self-correction. The faithful implementation of this ideal is essential to maintaining the integrity of any organization.
I wish the best for the Alabama Democratic Party. The sure path of Christ is often lost in the dark forest of party-spirit. The more the ADP succeeds in accomplishing these ideals, the more the fundamental purpose of government is accomplished: “hundreds and thousands of years … in which there was really nothing to put into the history books.”