As we begin a new year, it may be useful to look back to one particular piece of advice that George Washington gave us in his farewell address. In paragraph 28, he reminded us that:
"It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who, that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?"
His point was that no matter how well designed our constitutional mechanisms may be, the healthy future of our nation would depend upon the maintenance of private virtue -- that self-government is only possible if our national character, made up of each individual character, yearns and acts for a free country.
Two centuries later, Martin Luther King Jr. observed a similar truth when he talked about the "content of their character" being essential to our enduring (and more complete) liberty.
I raise this point because in the last few months, as I have written in this space about my optimism for America's future, I received so many e-mails from readers who questioned whether we Americans are the equal of our ancestors. Whether we are or not, of course, one cannot know.
But while we should admire our ancestors, we need to guard against a false nostalgia that imagines we were once a race predominately of moral giants. Any reading of history discloses every attribute -- including horse thieves, con artists, cowards and traitors -- amongst those who came before us.
John Adams believed that barely a third of the American colonists supported our revolution for liberty -- and yet we won. Not everyone showed courage during our dark days. Many people gave up during the Depression. There were shirkers even during World War II.
But on balance, when they have been needed, enough Americans have developed sufficient individual private virtue to rise to the occasions that history has placed in their and America's path.
Thus the basis of the optimism for our future that I have found in the last year -- despite the genuinely dark skies and violent storms that currently lash us -- has precisely been the response of individual Americans to the current crisis.
And this fact, I am sure, has been possible only because so many Americans have continued to strive to improve their moral virtue guided by both secular and religious principles.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.