The finger pointing and the blame game of Washington gets old, but a messy representative democracy is better than an efficient dictatorship.
This past weekend, I toured Washington with my 5th-grade son, Robert, his classmates and their mothers. I've been to Washington more times than I can remember, but each visit fills me with hope and inspiration.
It's not just the city, which in the summer is hot, humid and buggy and in the winter can be bone-chilling (as it was this weekend), but it's what the city stands for: a city created to house the federal government of a new nation. A nation founded by a Declaration of Independence from the British king and based on the belief "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
The construct of government was initially laid out by the Articles of Confederation, which, in the end, proved to be too loose to be useful. The result was the Constitution of the United States, a document of the people, which started with the words, "We the People." It declared our intent to form a "more perfect union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."
Wisely, "We the people" did not declare that it would be a perfect union, just more perfect than what we had at the time. This is important to remember as we watch, hear and even squabble among ourselves about politics.
This incredibly important document laid out three very different branches of government -- legislative, executive and judicial. No one branch was to be higher than the other, but the three branches were laid out in such a way to provide the necessary tension among them to ensure that no single person or branch could rule over the country.
Having had a king, our founders did not want to risk that any individual person who would wield control over the nation.
During our trip, we visited the National Archives, which holds the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the White House, Capitol, Supreme Court and Pentagon. All of the buildings reminded us of our history and our heritage, as well as of their integral importance in our world today.
However, my favorite part of the tour was the night tour of the monuments. It was bitter cold and windy. It was hard to keep warm, but the skyline of our capital city and the quotes illuminated by spotlights told our nation's stories from the viewpoint of the people who have shaped our nation.
"God who gave us life gave us liberty," read the inscription at the Jefferson Memorial. "Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever."
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness," was inscribed on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, "only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
The Lincoln Memorial is my favorite monument. It is large and imposing. From it, the great emancipator stares out past the Washington Monument, toward the Capitol, as though he is still watching over our nation's capital.
Engraved in the monument are both his Gettysburg address and his second inaugural address, which ends, "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
Words to remember: "God who gave us liberty ... only light can (drive out darkness), and "with malice towards none and charity towards all."
Words to live by, and to look at Washington anew.