On Oct. 2, 1789, President George Washington sent to the states for ratification the constitutional amendments we know as the Bill of Rights. It was a defining moment in world history — a seminal step in establishing a system of self-government and protection of personal liberties that had never before existed. And he did it at the request of the Congress.
Thankfully, we can be very proud that our history as a nation is punctuated with extraordinary moments that define and illustrate American exceptionalism. With good reason, and great pride, we pass these lessons on to future generations as examples and expectations.
But not every exceptional moment in American history is a positive one. There are unfortunate reminders that our republic, its democratic systems, those we elect and the policies we make are all imperfect. This is why the preamble to our Constitution reminds us we have an obligation to continuously work toward “a more perfect union.”
Now, just 224 years after President Washington asked the states to ratify the Bill of Rights, the social, political and economic impacts of the current dysfunction in Washington — the government shutdown being a single example — have the potential to become one of those historic mistakes. A potentially painful lesson future generations observe in the “how not to govern” chapter of American history.
But it’s not too late.
At difficult times, Americans expect their government will rise to the challenge and reflect the best of what our nation and its system of government offer the world. We require elected officials to fulfill their obligation to work respectfully and civilly toward meaningful solutions. We demand leadership that cares more about moving our nation forward and less about winning the next election. We require a government that validates the virtues of self-government to those ideologies and adversaries who oppose it.
At times like these, we expect — we have a right to expect — our political leaders to be as exceptional as the system of government they’ve been elected to administer.
For the benefit of future generations, Washington, D.C., should meet the standards of the most exceptional and productive system of government in the history of humankind. They must choose to be exceptional, not exceptionally dysfunctional. If they do, their example will be another powerful illustration of how, even when political spirits are high and the challenges great, there is no obstacle too great for Americans when we work together.
Jason Gibbs is a former senior aide to Gov. James Douglas and the Republican nominee for secretary of state in 2010.
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