A voice from the American past has a message for us today. His name was James Garfield, who was elected president in 1880. Four years earlier, on the centennial anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Congressman Garfield—who also was an ordained Disciples of Christ minister—offered this sage insight in a speech commemorating American independence:

Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature. …

If the next centennial does not find us a great nation … it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces.

In short, the Congress, and the government as a whole, are, in the words of a common cliché, merely a reflection of the people who put them in power. If our current Congress is corrupt, we have only ourselves to blame. If the presidency has been debased by class-warfare ideology, again we have to point the finger at ourselves.

Will we learn our lesson after what we have endured the past three years? The 2010 congressional elections show some promise that we have, but we’ll have to wait until November 2012 to know for sure.