Our Bipartisan Responsibility Deficit

Posted: Jul 14, 2007 12:01 AM

It’s time for a new force in American politics. We don’t need another party, not yet anyway. But we need a responsibility movement to challenge both parties and reach beyond them. We’ll call it Element R and launch it today, right here on Townhall.com.

Nationally this summer, things are out of joint. Low enthusiasm for the presidential contenders in both parties may lure one or all of Fred Thompson, Al Gore, and Michael Bloomberg into the race. Polls register widespread disapproval with Pelosi, Reid, and the Democratic Congress, as well as with Bush and the Republican administration. Voters by a big margin say we’re on the wrong track.

Element R needn’t run candidates, draft a platform, or hold marches to start making a difference in this sour climate. All it will take is citizens one by one rededicating ourselves to the original American ideal of responsible persons and responsible communities. The responsibility deficit in high places (and low) can’t persist if an awakened silent majority says “enough.”

Don’t misunderstand; this born conservative and battle-scarred Republican isn’t about to change jerseys. I spurn the daydream that foresees some new entity swallowing the GOP as we once absorbed the Whigs. I reject the pundits who tag my party a sure loser for the White House and Congress next year. We’ll be back; you watch.

But in the simplistic polarization between Republicans and Democrats, I believe something is missing – the noble virtue called responsibility. We have a party of the right that prioritizes freedom and the individual viewpoint, competing against a party of the left that prioritizes equality and the communal viewpoint. Seldom asked amid the struggle is the question, “Why? Equality or freedom for what?”

America’s democratic conversation occurs in a moral vacuum as to the ultimate ends of human life, even when the air is thick with moral and spiritual rhetoric. Victory may seesaw between the two parties, yet duty steadily loses ground to selfishness, faith to skepticism, prudence to expediency, temperance to excess, higher to lower. The responsibility deficit worsens among us, no matter which side wins.

To be responsible, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is to be “morally accountable for one’s actions, capable of rational conduct.” A responsibility is “a charge, trust, or duty for which one is responsible.” Notice two things here: (1) the idea of an objective, knowable standard of what is moral or rational, and (2) the idea that we’re all bound in relationships of duty and trust; we’re not just atoms adrift.

This is heavy stuff in the Age of iPhone. When today’s spirit of autonomy and affluence combusts with the ancient fire of virtue, responsibility talk can become fighting words. Yet this is who we are and must be. This is what our founders encoded in America’s operating system, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. We’re either a nation of responsible persons and responsible communities, or we’re nothing.

My June 30 fantasy column pulished here, satirizing Hillary and the relativist caucus in 1776 moving to purge all absolutes from Jefferson’s Declaration, no doubt chafed some Democrats. Sorry, it was just another approach to this same issue: responsibility. Lots of my fellow Republicans could be imagined in the same anti-responsible role.

But going into 2008, let’s hope the responsibility movement attracts many good Americans from all parties. It was responsibility, even more than freedom and equality, that saw our Republic through all the troubles of two centuries to its present enviable well-being. The bipartisan responsibility deficit now jeopardizes that.

A duty to do, a trust to keep, a moral standard to meet – for all of us red or blue, rich or poor, pigmented or pale – that’s the Element R vision. Join us?