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Wednesday, 13 September 2006 22:19

Brent Budowsky: A Republic, If You Can Keep It

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by Brent Budowsky

In the entire history of our Republic, there is one day that rises above others as the profound and mysterious moment of the great American Idea: July 4, 1826.

On that day, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams lay dying, two of our greatest patriots and founders, one the father of the more progressive impulse, the other the father of the more federalist, two giant fathers of our democracy.

Resting in peace, in their final hours on earth, in different parts of our country, they breathed their last breath, thought their last thoughts, uttered their last words, and as their Maker prepared to take their spirits to Heaven, they spoke of America, speaking of each other.

"Jefferson lives," thought Adams.

"Adams lives," thought Jefferson.

And then together, they ascended to the skies, exactly fifty years to the day from the signing of the Great Declaration, in what reasonable people might conclude was a message from God addressing all of us, who would follow, in that special place called America, by taking them from us, with those words, on that July 4.

Can we put aside the partisan, the polemics, the pre-election defamations, long enough to ask: What would they think of us, today?

In ways that should alarm true conservatives, I propose, as much as true liberals, I believe, we have been slowly and systematically surrendering more and more of our basic freedoms, more and more of our democratic idea, to levels that have become dangerous by actions that would be unrecognizable by our Founders.

It is as unhealthy for true conservatives, as it is for true progressives, to have one party rule in America. Lord Acton was right: power corrupts, and corruption is rooted not in ideology, but in human nature.

That is why the Founders warned us about the dangers of hyper-factionalism, created checks and balances against abuses, believed in a free press, serving an informed people, in a civil debate, about the public good. When Ben Franklin was asked what kind of government they had given the world, and replied a republic if you can keep it, he was speaking not merely to them, but to us.

It is not true conservatism, nor progressivism, nor Americanism, when politicians hurl the accusations of treason towards those who believe in different views, or those who report the news, or those slandered as not being part of "the real America" because of their skin, their language, or their views.

It is not true conservatism, nor progressivism, nor Americanism, when a superstate of Federal power conducts itself in secrecy, through the massive apparatus of centralized power, with claims of unilateral authority to abrogate the Bill of Rights that America's conservative and progressive founders gave us, united in their belief in the rule of law.

It is not true conservatism, nor progressivism, nor Americanism, for our American Republic to be dominated by powerful factions, operating in secret, larded with piles of money, handed to the people's representatives, in return for the passage of legislation, and the granting of special favors, to a privileged class, that are not available to the heartland of the Nation.

It is true conservatism, true progressivism, and true Americanism for every man and woman in our land to fervently believe in their own personal faith, in their own personal way. But it is not true conservatism, nor true progressivism, nor true Americanism to treat our democracy as a holy war against each other, where fellow patriots are not allowed to disagree with honor, but are labelled traitors, demons, appeasers of terror, and placed on domestic enemies lists, by the politics of intolerance and hate.

It is not true conservatism, nor progressivism, nor Americanism, for politicians to create false fears, to surrender freedoms given to us by patriots who died of hunger and ice at Valley Forge, for the cause of freedom conquering fear.

Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Franklin and the rest created a Republic with protections directly designed to prevent the abuses of the Crown, while General George Washington led the Contintental Army, as our commanders lead our armies today, with fervent disdain for the use of torture and fervent support for the rules of law to prevent it.

Our Founding Fathers directly decreed, and the first generation of Americans directly ratified, that we are not a Nation of secret detentions, secret courts, secret defendants, secret crimes, secret trials, and secret tortures masked by labels of deception.

If there are policies that need to be pursued for special circumstances, let them be proposed in the open, debated by an informed citizenry, decided by a knowledgable legislature, and subject to accountability. Even today, with all of the revelations of abuses and wrongs, not only are there abuses condemned by every democracy on the face of the earth, but our debate is deformed by a secrecy so pervasive, that whole giant blocks of policy are entirely removed from the traditions of our democratic debate.

The people are not allowed to know, those that report the truth are labelled as traitors, and wholesale attempts are made to conduct government through a giant superstate where one branch of government repeatedly, and wrongly, and with consequences we view every evening on the network news, seeks to remove the legislative and judicial branches from the sacred duties they took an oath to perform.

It is not true conservatism, nor progressivism, nor Americanism for any President to treat the Constitutional procedures for enacting laws as nothing more than mere formality, to be violated at will, signed without sincerity, and violated unilaterally, in what is so far removed from the Americanism of our Founders that it constitutes a systematic contempt, for the American notion, of the rule of law.

It is not true conservatism, nor progressivism, nor Americanism to have our vote counting itself done by electronic machinery, often of foreign origin, using secret codes, without adequate record keeping. This is neither partisan nor conspiratorial; there will be governments of both parties, and voters of all viewpoints must be assured integrity in the most sacred aspect of freedom, the counting and if necessary recounting, of votes. The status quo is a formula for scandal.

It is not true conservatism, nor progressivism, nor Americanism, for the legislative branch of government to systematically abandon its sworn duty of government oversight, its sacred oath to perform its duty in the fateful decision about whether, or not, our country should go to war.

Jefferson, Madison, Adams and Franklin did not design the Congress to be a Potemkin village of partisan cheerleaders, for an incumbent faction, in a one party state. They designed the Congress to serve as a check and balance against abuses of executive power, or Presidential misjudgment,

When the Congress and President are of the same Party, the framers believed the Congress would protect that President, at times, from himself, and protect the Nation, when necessary, from rush to judgment, to unwise war.

The framers believed that the blood of heroes should never stain the grounds of battlefields because of the failures of partisans, and, believing in the imperfection of human nature, they created institutions of democracy, called checks and balances, that have served our Nation well.

Is there anyone in America who believes the current American Congress has even minimally performed its constitutional duty of creating a check against executive misjudgment, or a balance against against executive abuse?

Many reasonable conservatives now agree: it is not true conservatism, nor progressivism, nor Americanism for a television network that operates as a public company, uses the public airwaves in trust, for a production that demeans a most solemn natonal occasion with a biased slander full of falsehood.

Disney investors and customers would be fair to ask, as the program implied:

Does the Mouse support torture?

There is no need to re-debate at length, the sad episode that shamefully diverted what should have been a national moment of unity and honor.

It is not a matter of free speech. Disney should be allowed to put on air what many Americans consider a propaganda film full of deceit, more akin to the government produced film of nations that do not honor the values of Jefferson and Adams. But we as investors have our rights, to hold management accountable, and we as consumers have our rights, to do what a lady who wrote me did, go through her house with her four year old daughter and throw out every product that carried the Disney name.

There is a larger issue, worthy of more serious thought, held by many thoughtful conservatives, and it is this: have we lost our sense of truth, our respect for facts, our integrity in relations with each other, our responsiblity as people and corporations to rise above our divisions and embitterments, even at a moment so momentous as a national commemoration five years after September 11, 2001.

Is there anything left that can rise above these sentiments that demean our spirit, divide our Nation, and destroy those underpinnings of democracy and freedom that Jefferson and Adams spoke to each other, and to us, that July 4, exactly 50 years after the Great Declaration?

Or has everything become just another weapon in our arsenal of self-destruction, just another abuse in our respect for integrity and truth, where even a great network, on a great occasion, which is publicly traded, using public airwaves, exploits such a moment to cheapen 9-11 itself, and to cheapen our democracy, becoming another defamatory weapon in our politics of destruction?

Step by step, issue by issue, we have entered a dangerous age that devalues, more and more every day, the essence of our democracy, while it destroys, moment by moment, the very time honored institutions created by our Founders to preserve it. A Republic, if you can keep it, said Franklin. Tough luck, we do anything to win, reply the partisans.

It is not true conservatism, nor progressivism, nor Americanism to become a nation of giant computer banks, centralizing every form of data involving our deepest privacy, leaving nothing personal beyond the reach of Big Brother, in which the central superstate claims the power, the ulimate danger of one party government, without any oversight by Congress, when it chooses, without any review by Courts, when it Decides, to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, in secret.

We can debate our policies, and on many, reasonable people can disagree. But it is not true conservatism, nor progressivism, nor Americanism, to devalue our respect for truth, to demean each other as Americans, to destroy our checks and balances, to disregard the ideas of our democracy so casually, so lazily, so destructively, and so systematically.

In recent days, in response to several pieces I have written on the subjects discussed here, I have received an enormous number of email. I want to thank each and every person who has contacted me.

Because these matters involve great issues at a momentous occasion, what I read in these messages were mostly, but not always, from the progressive side. What was touching about them, in ways I cannot begin to find the words to fully describe, was a quiet, sincere, deeply felt patriotism and love of country that came into my box, one after another, day after day, which I read while we honored the heroes who gave their lives for the country we love, on that day five years ago, and since.

The Mom who taught her four year old about responsiblility and freedom; the painter in New York who was inspired to art; the 15 year old young woman with her brief but eloquent words of patriotism, the sixtysomething grandma who faxed 53 letters to people of responsibility; the Canadian who said he wished he were an American so he would stand with us; a senior Disney official who wrote me privately that he was shamed by his company and stood with us in his heart.

These are the good people of America, with kind hearts and deep spirits that soar above what rules in the Washington today, that Mr. Smith has long ago left.

It is not true conservatism, nor progressivism, nor Americanism, nor the way to defeat the Bin Ladens of the world, to turn against each other, and turn against the institutions and ideals that Jefferson and Adams gave our Nation, as they spoke of each other, and spoke to us, on their last July 4, fifty years from our greatest July 4.

A Republic, if you can keep it.

Our country is so strong and so powerful that our Republic will never be destroyed from without; it can only be given away from within, which neither true conservatives, nor true progressives, nor true Americans, will ever permit to happen, no matter how dark our occasional days, no matter how dangerous the waters we have entered in our times.

A Republic, if you can keep it. The Republic that belongs to that four year old girl. The Republic it is our duty to Preseve for her, as those that came before us, Preserved for us.

Brent Budowsky


Brent Budowsky served as Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, responsible for commerce and intelligence matters, including one of the core drafters of the CIA Identities Law. Served as Legislative Director to Congressman Bill Alexander, then Chief Deputy Whip, House of Representatives. Currently a member of the International Advisory Council of the Intelligence Summit. Left goverment in 1990 for marketing and public affairs business including major corporate entertainment and talent management. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Will the American democracy survive one-party rule? Can the Republic be saved from self-destruction? Tell us your thoughts.