For the editor: Every politician needs a catchy slogan, and Mike Pence just introduced one in a speech prepared for the Heritage Foundation. The phrase is catchy, but it is also vague. Americans are proud, he said, of “traditional American culture.” What is this “culture”?
Mr. Pence’s phase is an exercise in nostalgia. It calls on something from the past, but it’s not cowboys, Appalachian folk music, turkey dinner, baseball, or apple pie. He did not explain what the expression means to him, but it is clear that he was talking about political culture.
Pence’s phrase can mean something different to every American, of course. Here is what I hear in the sentence. This is the traditional American culture that I’m proud of.
As a political expression, “traditional American culture” is rooted in the US Constitution. The Constitution is the roadmap for America and for us as voters. Before the creation of our country, there was no “traditional American culture”? At the time, this land was a hodgepodge of English colonies, Spanish territories, a few Swedes and Dutch, and native tribes mixed with the French. The Constitution changed everything. He created our political traditions and the political culture in which we live. It was a lasting experience of democracy.
If that’s what Pence is talking about, I’m with him.
With the Constitution, the founders created this American culture and a set of constitutional values. He established the right to vote; attachment to national unity; restrictions on greedy politicians; and a nonchalant respect for religion.
The right to vote is the first of these fundamental constitutional values. Voters and non-voters understand the importance of this right. It is an indispensable element and it must be protected by dedicated, honest and non-partisan public servants.
The call for constitutional unity has never been more important than now. When drafting the Constitution, the founders struggled to build consensus and create a “united” country. Even today, Congress and the President must agree before a bill becomes law. The Constitution limited and defined the power of the states, but a century later, unfortunately, the claim of “states’ rights” has led us to civil war. Voters who care about a “united” country today will vote for candidates who believe in our strong central government with its three branches.
The Constitution also restricts our leaders. It prohibits legislators from profiting personally while in office. They cannot increase their own salary or “make their own nest”. This provision protects us all, and we must reject applicants whose sole purpose is power, personal advancement, or financial advantage.
Finally, the constitution limits the role of religion and prevents its intrusion into the work of government. Article VI is explicit: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification for any public office or office”. Religious belief is never a qualification to serve in government, and we should never apply a “religious test” when we vote. Our vote should be for a candidate’s integrity and values, not for a religious belief.
Our laws must not replicate “Jewish law”, “Sharia” or “Christian law”. Thanks to our constitution, everyone is protected, including agnostics and “unbelievers”.
We sometimes forget that we are a government “of the people” and “by the people”, as Lincoln said. Ours is not a government ordained by God. We must oppose any politician who wants to “remake America Christian”.
The Constitution provides important guidance to voters, and voting is how we commit to our national values. One should never fall into the trap of a catchy phrase, and voting should never be a blind act of loyalty to a party or to a person.
The Constitution defines rights, but it also defines limits. When we vote, we must vote to protect these limits. Our votes must reflect the values of the Constitution. When you vote, you have to look behind the slogans. Voting is a personal act that expresses our faith in the equality of citizens and in a democratic society. Voting is a noble secular exercise that says, “I belong. I participate. I believe in this American experience.