Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Would Madison approve of the Rally to Restore Sanity?

November 4, 2010 by Dr. Steve Frank


Regular readers (I’m hoping there are a few) will recall that Publius 2.0 promised to blog only until Election Day. So Tuesday’s post about becoming the kind of country we aspire to be – a nation of citizens bound by Madison’s “cords of affection” -- was his last, at least for awhile.

Constitution Daily is a work-in-progress, and in coming weeks and months the NCC staff will be experimenting with a variety of formats, very much in the spirit of something beautiful Oliver Wendell Holmes’s once had to say about the Constitution itself: that it is “an experiment, as all life is an experiment.” (It comes from his ringing defense of free speech in Abrams v. U.S.)

On Saturday I attended a festival of free expression that even the skeptical Holmes would have enjoyed: the “Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear” on the National Mall in Washington, DC. It was a fitting coda to Publius 2.0’s blogging, and especially to his last post, quoting Madison’s admonition in Federalist 14 not to heed the counsels of despair that suggest we “can no longer live together as members of the same family.”

Sanity is distributed evenly throughout the population, but you couldn’t characterize the rally on the Mall as evenly balanced; the crowd was decidedly liberal. So while the gathering had a family feel, it was not the national family that Madison had in mind.

Nonetheless, it was an uplifting afternoon – three hours of entertainment (and one serious stump speech) in the name of “reasonableness,” a cause that any reasonable person can believe in. I left thinking what a shame it would be if the cause of creating a more-civil discourse to defuse the bitterness of our politics itself becomes a partisan cause.

That dark thought, however, cast only a fleeting shadow over an upbeat, sunny afternoon. What was almost as entertaining as the Roots, John Legend, and other performers who shared the stage with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert was the creative spirit of the crowd itself and the hundreds of signs they carried.

I compiled a Top 10 List, for Constitution Daily:

  1. “I Would Never Die for My Beliefs Because I Might Be Wrong”: Bertrand Russell
  2. “An Eye for an Eye Only Ends Up Making the Whole World Blind”: Ghandi
  3. It’s a Democracy, Not an Auction
  4. I Value Expert Opinion, and I Vote
  5. One of Us, or Perhaps Neither of Us May Be Right
  6. Death to Nobody
  7. Somewhat Irritated About Extreme Outrage
  8. Think Educated Thoughts
  9. Reason Is the New Black
  10. Civil Is Sexy

On March 26, the National Constitution Center will be presenting a public forum very much in keeping with the “Civil Is Sexy” theme. Our program on “civility and democracy” will explore ways to promote civil discourse without squelching the voices of protest that often contribute to social progress.

The forum will be a lively one. As we’ve dug into the topic, we’ve discovered that civility has its critics, who point out, reasonably, that rudeness has its uses as a goad to action in a democracy founded on endless argument.

Photo Credit: Huffington Post

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