We are not the ones we have been waiting for.
That was the takeaway message of the recent Restoring Honor rally on the National Mall.
Unless you where on a strict no-media diet in the run-up to Labor Day this year, you saw a lot of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin in the coverage of the rally. But the rally Beck organized and where Palin appeared, which honored wounded military heroes, actually had very little to do with the two media darlings.
In many ways, I wondered if the title was off. "Restoring Humility" could have been more accurate. It's exactly the right message -- at any time, and especially now.
The humility aspect is somewhat foreign to politics, which initially proved confusing to many people. Was this supposed to be a political rally, or a Protestant revival? No one showed up to campaign. No one even claimed God's mandate for his own agenda. Instead, people talked about grace and decency. And Beck talked about something every political pollster and campaign adviser probably advises against: sacrifice.
And then it was over.
So on the Monday night after the Mall rally, radio host Mark Levin did what needed to be done. He hit the airwaves and properly closed the affair: "Any society that is not rooted in God-given natural law is a society that will ultimately destroy itself. No question. It is a society that will become tyrannical. It is a society spiraling out of control -- like our society. The Founding Fathers knew this."
What was best about the Honor rally was also what made it incomplete. It was great civics, but it only went so far. Where do we go from here? Back to our churches, this was clear, and back to our political engagement, too.
"You cannot separate our politics from God-given natural rights. So we rally. We meet. We pray. We preach," Levin said in the wake of the massive event. We all have our roles in the restoring of honor, in the saving of our identity as a country.
Watching the assembled crowds, I thought of Mother Teresa, whose life and death we've been celebrating on the anniversary of what would have been her 100th birthday. Not because anyone there was necessarily a saint, but because you got the sense that the rally's attendants want to do the right thing, because they believe there is such a thing, eschewing the moral relativism that has drained our country of its integrity and spirit.
In a 1949 article in The Thomist, philosopher Aurel Kolnai wrote: "It is indubitably true that a system of government in which the 'plain man' as such 'has a say' is intrinsically better than government by an esoteric caste of public officials no matter how well bred, 'cultured' and 'public spirited.' This is what forever validates Democracy in the sane sense of the term, as contrasted to its erection into a false religion of secular messianism. Democracy, in that same sense, means the participation, at various levels, of the broad strata of the people in the shaping of public policy."
The tea party strives for that sort of participation. So much of the engagement and rallying we're seeing is rooted in something deeper than the next election cycle. It's a belief at odds with the prevalent strain of American thought that holds that truth is what we make of it. And that's all the more reason to not only be looking back at what men before us discerned of the unchanging verities, but to keep our ear to the eternal as we make our way today.
Instead of spending the next two months, as many of us have spent the last week (and two years), debating Beck and Palin's style, analyzing how sharp their media prep is or trading gossip while watching "Dancing with the Stars," we need to participate. This is what the tea party seeks to do. We need to be involved in elections with a spirit of seriousness and even love. We need to not be merely angry about what is going on in Washington, but know why we're angry and know what the change we're voting for is, exactly. We needn't simply get caught up in a mood that throws good guys out with the bad just because there's a general feeling that the whole town ought to be fumigated. We need to make sure that our children know why we bother to love this country and want it to be good.
We have a call to answer. Not because we're anything special, not because we're perfect -- but because We the People know there's something better than us. And inasmuch as we can reflect it -- with justice and tranquility, securing the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity -- we're going to be okay in the long run.