Learning from Madison

by Ryan Streeter on January 27, 2013. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

In his speech yesterday at the National Review Institute, Paul Ryan talked about the need to take victories where we can get them by offering a history lesson:

Nowadays we call [Madison] the Father of the Constitution.  But at the Constitutional Convention, he lost some key arguments.  He fought the plan to give each state the same number of seats in the Senate.  He thought it was deeply unjust.  And at first, he wanted to give Congress even more power.  He wanted it to be able to veto state laws.

In both cases, Madison argued vigorously for his side.  And in both cases, he lost.  But when it came time to ratify the Constitution, there was no greater advocate than Madison.  He helped write editorials in support of the document—what we know today as The Federalist Papers.  And he led the charge for approval at Virginia’s state convention.

He paid a price for his support.  When he ran for Congress, his political adversaries drafted James Monroe to run against him.  This was the 18th-century equivalent of “getting primaried.”  But Madison decided that, for all its imperfections, he would support the Constitution because it would save the Union.  Today, we’re the living beneficiaries of Madison’s prudence.

So what’s the next step?  I’d say we have two roles in the president’s second term:  to mitigate bad policy—and to advance good policy wherever we can.