There are times when I get nostalgic for the days of old. When I get stressed, I yearn for my days as a kindergartner. You got snacks at school everyday, you got to play on a playground, and pretty much as long as you didn’t hit another kid or didn’t poop your pants, you were considered a successful member of the human race. And don’t even get me started on that bathtub full of pillows that you could hop in during reading time. Kindergarten was awesome.
But I don’t really want to go back to my kindergarten days. I’d be giving up too much. I wouldn’t be married or have a son. I wouldn’t be able to drive or have the freedom that I have as an adult. I would have the innocence of a five year old (which is nice) but I would also have the mental capacity of a five year old (which is less preferable). You see, when I really think about the past and not just inhale the fumes of nostalgia, I realize I don’t truly want to go back.
I say this because one of the most interesting ideas that I hear and have heard for many years is that we need to return to the ways of this nation’s founding fathers. And to hear these folks tell it, the situation is desperate. Like a strung out, bearded Jack Shepherd they’re screaming, “We have to go back, America! We have to go back!”
Frankly, I think that’s silly. I don’t think this for any particular partisan reasons. It’s just that if you weren’t a white male landowner, things were not so grand back in that day. If you were a woman, you couldn’t vote among other generally restricted freedoms. If you were African-American, you were not only a slave but in the eyes of the Constitution you only counted as three-fifths of a person. The list could go on.
These weren’t just random quirks that sneaked through. At least a majority of the men in the Constitutional Convention voted for this stuff. People talk about their moral character, but the vast majority of us rightly consider these kind of statutes immoral. I know that we are all prisoners to our context to a certain degree, but come on. Contrary to popular opinion, the Founders were flawed human beings and not Demigods of Democracy sent from above.
I don’t want to head back there. I venture to say that most Democrats, Republicans, and Independents would agree with that. Hey! It’s something we can agree on! Can we say that there are some principles of government in this nation’s founding to which we want to return? Sure. Can we call the founders brave for the way they stood up to Britain? Absolutely. Should we call on America to return to the vision that the Founders had for this country and heed their moral example? Of course not.
So politicians and other folks making statements that may contain political-like substance, let’s lay off of the “We need to return to the moral character of our forefathers” talk. I know/hope that you probably don’t mean a return to slavery and relegating all women to housemaids. But as I learned in kindergarten, we need to learn to be careful with our words.