What 98 Young Men can Teach America about Good Governance
Hard-fought platforms. Energized bases. Intense debates for high office. Frenzied lobbying for the approval of agendas.
These hasty generalizations are where the similarities between America’s current political climate and The American Legion’s Boys Nation program end.
For 70 years, two of the best young men from every department-level American Legion Boys State program gather in Washington D.C. with the distinction of being a Boys Nation Senator. Their sole purposes remain: development of proactive caucuses, platforms, committees, and legislation in concert with the Constitution of the United States; election of a Secretary of the Senate, President Pro Tempore, Vice President, and President; and providing a contribution to the legacy of the premiere experiential civics program in the nation.
Arrival and Preparation
Over the past two years, I was fortunate enough to be the assistant director of this august, venerable program. (One of my most cherished duties in my role at American Legion National Headquarters.) I’ve been privy to seeing these rising high school seniors grow in ways they never imagined possible. I’ve seen them govern in ways that I can only hope they take into the future.
In July 2016, these chosen 98 brought the unique convictions of their consciences together during the climax of the Republican and Democratic national conventions. While personal preferences certainly existed, at Boys Nation, the Senators started with a blank slate for their respective party — Nationalists or Federalists. Having been required to submit a bill for consideration prior to their arrival, each Senator faced the task of reconciling that bill with their parties platform and adjusting any language therein to ensure the Constitutionality of the legislation.
While all decisions ultimately rested with the young men, they were guided along the way by a highly experienced staff of volunteers from The American Legion and Sons of The American Legion and American Legion national staff including judges, teachers, administrators, business executives, military personnel, former Boys State and Boys Nation alumni, and a brilliant Past National Commander of The American Legion — serving his 36th year on the staff.
In the Thick
Relying on the historical record and the observations of long-time staffers, the Boys Nation Class of 2016 produced several historic moments, which also contradict our current state of national politics.
The most telling difference between the debacle of the national presidential race and that of the race for President and Vice President of Boys Nation comes down to the four young men pictured at left.
Each bore a die-hard passion for the position which they were pursuing. Each made missteps — sometimes major — along the way. Each managed those mistakes with a deftness and grace unheard and unseen in major party politics.
But, what did they ACTUALLY do that was so impressive!?
In their one-and-only Presidential debate, Anighya and Manny came out swinging — on policy topics. But, very quickly, the Nationalist candidate began taking personal swipes at his opponent. (No rule excludes this, and it’s a favored strategy of national politicians. Yet, it backfired with a noticeable vengeance among the voting Senators almost as soon as the words were spoken.) Reflecting on his actions, Mr. Jones made an apology before the entire staff and Boys Nation Senate. While he did not withdraw himself from the race, he owned the hurtful statements made against Mr. Crocker. He showed true humility and a sense of character beyond his years. Mr. Crocker fully accepted the apology and pointed out that neither candidate was a perfect individual.
The Vice-Presidential debate produced an equally astonishing result but for quite a different reason. Feeling overcome and outmatched by his opponent from the Nationalist Party, Mr. Ogburn withdrew from the race. (An important note: Boys Nation harkens back to the early days of American politics, where it is completely acceptable to have a President from one party and a Vice-President from another. The elections of each are held separately.) Having publicly and officially announced his withdrawal from the race, Rudy was not allowed to reenter. However, this young man — though extremely conflicted by his decision — never withdrew himself from the program at-large. As a Senator, he fought on for the legislation he felt best served America. His opponent, Mr. Kammel, proved to be quite possibly the most adept Vice President of Boys Nation history.
At the end of the 2016 session of Boys Nation, the collective body of Senators voted on more legislation than any session in the programs seven-decade history. President Crocker vetoed only two bills, and he did this only on the grounds of their unconstitutional wording. The sponsoring Senators agreed with his decisions.
At this point, one could find it easy to write off the seeming magical alacrity of Boys Nation to youthful naivete or uneducated idealism. I would be inclined to agree, if not for the pedigree and resumes of the young men attending the program. This is not to say that a number of them won’t be disenfranchised by schools of law and/or schools of business, actual runs for public office, or life itself.
Still, this latest session of Boys Nation shows the nation that politics need not be a nation-splitting ordeal. Our Senators and Representatives can come together, if their interests are truly not centered on power but the preservation of freedom and prosperity of these United States. Further, if a compromise need be made between power of the person and power of the people, the duty of the elected must always be to ere of the side of greatest Constitutional freedom for all.
These 98 young men understand this, and I find this heartening in such a divisive time of national politics. What disheartens me? Prominent politicians, some of them closely tied to this very program, can’t seem to understand the same thing. For if they do, they are unwilling to accept or admit it. Perhaps, they should spend a week (again) with these young men or with the 98 young women, who equally represent the same principles, at American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation.
I would be remiss to end this post without allowing for a greater exploration of the principles and ideals mentioned above. Additionally, readers should come to know the young men that the overwhelming majority of Senators elected President and Vice President of Boys Nation in 2016. Such information is listed below.
To quote, paraphrase, and briefly comment on parts of Abraham Lincoln’s 1858 address before the Illinois Republican National Convention:
If we could first know where we are and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do and how to do it. ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, [in its current condition]. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other…
We cannot know that all these exact adaptations are the result of preconcert. But, when we see a lot of framed timbers, different portions of which have been gotten out at different times and place by different workmen…and when we see these timbers joined together and see they exactly make the frame of a house or a mill, all the tenons and mortises exactly fitting, and all the lengths and proportions of the different pieces exactly adapted to their respective places, and not a piece too many or a piece too few, not omitting even scaffolding, or, if a single piece be lacking, we see the place in the frame exactly fitted and prepared yet to bring such a piece in — in such a case, we find it impossible not to believe that [the current powers that be] all understood one another from the beginning, and all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn up before the first blow was struck.
Such was not the case at this or any previous Boys Nation. Lincoln understood the danger of a preconceived solution to something as volatile as slavery. Himself a pragmatist, Lincoln explored every option to a solution for saving the Union, which didn’t always include ending slavery. Yet, as deplorable as this may be to modern interpretation and understanding, it paints a picture of a politician willing to consider every option before turning to the most undesirable of options. What would the majority of Americans not give in 2016 for the same?
To hear 2016 Boys Nation President Anighya Crocker’s address to The American Legion’s 98th Annual National Convention, follow this link and go to minute 6:00.
His will be the final words on this subject, and his words are more than I can ever match.