When my good friend Ellen Brown speaks I listen! You should also. I do not often reference others works as it is so easy to rely on the efforts of others to build a blog. I believe that one should do their own thinking and work. But sometimes, there are articles, like this one by Ellen, that say it all so well and elegantly, that Continue reading
First let me apologize for the personal tone of this article. I typically try to focus on issues and solutions and not on my own personal reflections. This past week, among other things, I have been working with a group of parents from the school where our 8th grade children are about to graduate. We are working to create a video that captures the 8th grade class’ experience from kindergarten to graduation. In essence, to marvel at the growth and maturation of these modern examples of humans as they move from cute cuddly yet blissfully ignorant small animals, into wonderful, intelligent motivated, caring examples of the best of humanity. And, to wonder at this progression as it prepares them for the next steps of their own lives and time Continue reading
The President’s Plan
In the State of the Union speech last evening, the president said many things. He offered a real plethora, yes a plethora, of programs, benefits, stimulus, taxes, and other things that he believes will improve the lot of Americans–at least some Americans. Many were struck thoughout his speech by the breadth and depth of the things the president wants to spend money on. He offered programs for immigrants, college students, environmentalists, women, minorities, the elderly, the sick, the middle class, teachers, the unions, the poor, the underserved, the military and just about every Continue reading
This morning as I did my news walk, I came across this article talking about the most important chart in American politics. And as you can imagine it caught my eye. I find charts and graphs to be either extremely informative or extremely deceptive. Seldom is there a middle-ground. Often the deceptive charts are constructed specifically for that purpose. It is seldom a surprise to find such charts in an article about politics.
This chart was one of the exceptions that prove the rule. But not in the way you might imagine. “The Chart” is deceptive, but I do not believe it is purposeful in its deceit. Why not, you may ask? Because the story it is trying to communicate would be stronger if the authors actually new the truth behind the problem. But, like so much today, the surface suffices to make an argument. The other details make the argument more difficult to communicate as the story can get Continue reading
Having heard of the controversy over the Super Bowl ad by Coca Cola the past few days, this morning I was captured by the above article. I expected it to be along a similar vein of remarks showing how Coke was insensitive to Arabs and painting them in a bad light. When I first heard this argument on the TV news, I was looking for the Association of Los Vegas Showgirls to show up any minute and complain, followed by the African American Cowboy Association, National Hispanic Cowboys, etc…
What stopped me in my tracks was not the casual assertion of racism due to insensitive stereotyping in the pursuit of parody that I was Continue reading
After reading a recent spate of articles on how the president should, could or would ban or regulate football, I started to wonder what my father or grandfather might say? Then I wondered, how we got to this place where things that others choose to do to themselves is now our responsibility to monitor, manage, restrict and pay for?
50 years ago if we spoke to our parents about the federal government making laws regulating football, or restricting peoples access to cigarettes and punitively taxing soda, they would think we had lost our minds. Cleary, Continue reading
As the energy, of hate and discontent, from the election subsides and the act of actual governance once again begins to be considered the job of politicians, we are now hearing calls from the left, the right and the middle about all the things that are wrong with our political system.
Should the two party system be changed? Should there be a constitutional congress to amend our fundamental political system in order to better reflect our modern societal needs and wants? Should we make more fundamental changes and move from the constitutional republic constructed by the founding fathers to a simple democracy? (elimination of the electoral college is one such idea) Continue reading
As I have been contemplating the aftermath of the election, I have been reading a lot from both sides trying to hear what they have to say about the election and what I find remarkable is the dialogue from within the parties as to;
- why they won, why they lost,
- why they have a mandate, why they don’t have a mandate,
- how the American people clearly spoke for tax increases, how they people clearly spoke against the tax increases,
- the majority voted for Obamacare, the majority voted against Obamacare
As I have listened to the various talking heads and pundits, increasingly I have become more convinced than ever that we simply can’t discern desired fiction from pragmatic reality. As a nation, we seem to see things in polar opposite. As I listened and read, a poem from my youth came to mind that I have reconstructed at the end of the article. Continue reading
If it is not already, this will be the consuming question for both parties over the next ninety-eight days. Depending on your point of view the recent polls either show the race in a dead heat (if you are independent), Mitt Romney beginning to gain momentum (if you are republican) or President Obama beginning to pull ahead (if you are a democrat). The main question is how accurate are the polls? Here many pundits, again depending on their political persuasion have numerous cogent arguments as to why one view or the other is correct based on the sampling, Continue reading
If the discussion around water-coolers across the nation, or if the intensity of the discussion I have been having at meetings, discussions, or speeches I have given lately is any indication; then regardless of the decision from the Supreme Court tomorrow on the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare if you prefer, the nation will once again find itself in a vitriolic and unnecessary national argument.
If you want to find out about the background of the core issue, you can read my Health Care Mandate and the Commerce Clause Articles or you can read, Supreme Court to hear arguments on Obamacare: An enigma, based on a canard, wrapped in a conundrum and read how the decisions could come down.
Regardless of the decision, it is clear that we will again have a major upheaval over any decision. Passions are still running extremely high, and everyone seems to think this is the “be all and end all” of our future life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. And all of us are wrong!
The decision, regardless of how it comes down, will neither further harm our healthcare system, nor will it improve our healthcare system because we just do not have a system in the first place. What we have is clearly not a system. In my recent book, The History and Evolution of Healthcare in America: The untold backstory of where we’ve been, where we are, and why healthcare needs more reform!, available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon, and other fine bookstores, I discuss how we got to what we have today, how the practice of healthcare has evolved over the years – sometimes not for the benefit of patients – how we arrived at the point where what we believe and expect from healthcare is more mythical than reality, and some ideas on what we need to do to make available both choice and effective care for all. It is a result of our collective mythical vision of healthcare and inaccurate focus on the symptoms, not the problems of our healthcare system, in the current bill, that we find ourselves with a collective national angst that will in the end just yield political discord not fix the fundamental problems.
As I write this, I am listening to the debate on the Eric Holder contempt of congress issue, also pending determination tomorrow. Again we are in the middle of a huge national division and if one is cynical enough, we may come to the conclusion that this is all part of some diabolical plan. Since we have come to the place where instead of citizen politicians, we now have a professional political class whose job is to sell us free stuff and fulfill our wants, more than our needs, in exchange for our votes, and thereby significant power and riches; perhaps this is why we seem to have become a nation of thirds who argue everything, and find our leaders unable, or more likely unwilling, to fix the problems.
We are now composed of about 1/3 hard left progressive, 1/3 hard right conservative, and about 1/3 of the nation seem caught in the middle. You should wonder, what would politicians have to get reelected on if they stop giving us free stuff; and how, on earth, would they get us to give them money so they can afford campaigns, if we are not mostly extremely irritated over something? I am starting to think it is not our integrity and character that gets us engaged in critical issues anymore, but more likely it is just our passions.
There are some who declare that “Fast and Furious,” was a planned effort to create a national outrage in order to continue to clamp down on gun rights and perhaps severely restrict the second amendment. Some label this actual fact, and some call this nothing more than wild conspiracy theory. We all participate in this to some extent because we now habitually believe there can only be one extreme or another, not some logical blend in the middle. The problem for those of us who are not trying to find conspiracy at every corner, is that we are at a nexus of a number of events created by the actions of the current and prior administrations that all seem to have at least some conspiracy elements in the actions.
In addition to “Fast and Furious,” you have the the actions and events over immigration reform, and the President’s recent unilateral action to implement some form of a dream act. You have the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Arizona Law and the administrations action to shut down the rulings effect by suspending the cooperation between ICE and Arizona’s police departments, and if you look back at the Affordable Care Act debate in congress. You have on the record, statements from people like Barney Frank and Charlie Rangle, and some others, who stated that the health care bill would be the path to a National Single Payer Healthcare system. While you can look at each item discretely, and argue there is no Machiavellian agenda, when you look across the entire spectrum one needs to wonder if there is some agenda at work after all. And of course, the answer becomes; Yes – there is an agenda.
Of course there is an agenda, and hopefully it is because those pursuing it truly believe what they are doing is right for America and Americans. But being right for America and right for Americans may not always yield the same decision. If may seem right for Americans to have congress conflate the promise given by the Constitution to all for Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness into an extrapolated promise of free heath care for everybody paid for by the government. Conversely, at the same time it may not be right economically for the viability of America, to assume what historically was a personal responsibility if the assumption of these costs would bankrupt the nation. Both decisions, in the narrow view, are good and reasonable decisions.
One path to a decision, has the benefit of giving something to political constituents that will help endear politicians to their electorate and gain reelection. The other, could change the last fifty years of building the expectation that it is the government, not the individual, that needs to be responsibility for their own heath. Regardless, this is just not a good situation for any of us, and it is partly why the bill that passed to become the law that is Obamacare is not really liked by either side or the middle.
While the 1964 extension of Social Security Act to include Medicare and Medicaid, was sold as a safety net, the reason for the passage was political gain, clearly on display if you listen to the Johnson tapes available today on-line. And, subsequent to passage, regardless of whether or not there really was a Machiavellian plan, we have continued to want, and/or allow, Congress to convert the “safety net” into a national entitlement. The end point is the same.
This is the reason that as we await the decision from the Supreme Court tomorrow, I do not think it will matter one iota in actually addressing the problems that we need to solve or developing a real system to make available both choice and effective healthcare for everyone.
“Socialist Francois Hollande elected in France”
So, in both France and Greece, voters rejected the backers of austerity measures—Surprise, Surprise! This is no doubt the thought that most Americans had as they saw this headline in their morning paper. For some the next question may be, “Is America going to be next?”
The two headed snake
America faces two major problems that could lead us to a French or Grecian style disaster. One is that we have the same problem in our economy; albeit we have been able to forestall, some say cover up, the problem since 1972. The second issue is we are deviating from the basic premises and rules our founding fathers established to preserve the American Republic and our engine of prosperity—capitalism.
America is very likely already at risk. Our economic issues, the rapid unaccountable increase in currency since 1972, have caused a significant “hidden” inflation. We have been able to avoid dealing with the fiscal realities because once we were off the gold standard and as a result of being the world’s benchmark currency most countries have had a vested interest in not calling us on the carpet. While we have increased the amount of money in circulation from $500 Billion in 1972 to over $16 Trillion today, by most accounts an increase of over thirty-five times, no one believes that we have at the same time really increased the tangible net worth of the U.S. economy thirty-five times. Even accounting for the gains driven by technology, most would project only a $5 – 7 trillion economy at this point.
We were formed as a constitutional republic, specifically not as a democracy. While early in General Washington’s first term as President of the new republic, a schism opened between John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and other “Federalists” who believed in a strong central government structure vs. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and other “Democrats” who believed strongly in resting much of the power in the hands of the states; none of these protagonists were advocates for a change in the U.S. Constitution to that of a democracy. All of the founding fathers knew that democracies simply did not survive. They realized that while the idea of democratic principles had a place in government to preserve the voices of, and provide protection for, the people; only a republic, backed by a constitution could provide the pragmatic offset to self-serving rules benefiting the masses at the long term expense of the republic itself. They knew from history that democracies had a way of falling into revolution on the one hand and anarchy, socialism, or communism on the other.
While it can be said that the U.S. Constitution has served us well and that the strength of the republic carried us though many international crises since our founding, it has not protected us against ourselves and our own instincts to seek an easier road to survival or a weakening of our requirements for personal responsibility. Beginning in the early 1900’s the so called progressive movement attempted to re-frame our nation as a democracy. Slowly, our own view of our role as Americans has shifted from what we can do for our country, to what we expect to have our country provide for us. This shift became so dramatically clear after World War II, that on January 20th, 1961, then President John, F. Kennedy in his inaugural speech felt it necessary to try to remind America’s youth that there was a higher ideal they should aspire to. He said clearly, to all Americans, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you— ask what you can do for your country.”
Many scholars now believe that there has been a steady erosion of the constitutional basis for our republic as a result of many historical actions to affect short term problems. Conspiracy theorists believe there has been a conscious effort to change us from a republic to a democracy by those in the Democratic Party. Conspiracy theories are hard to fathom because it would need to attribute way more intellect and forethought to human beings that experience and evidence suggests. History simply shows us that a series of decisions and events, each made for short term pragmatic reasons, have culminated in an ever increasing loss of core values. You see core values are hard, they require sacrifice, they require risk, they require adherence to principals larger than us. It is by their very difficult nature that we define these values as part of one’s character, and it is this reason that we innately want to find ways to rationalize away these very responsibilities.
For about 100 years, we have been rationalizing away these values. We have softened our education system and stopped teaching the detail of what it means to be a republic or an American. Ask any American, under the age of sixty, what form of government we have and more often than not you will hear that we are a democracy. If you press the point and ask what being a democracy means, they will say that the majority is supposed to rule. Interesting is it not that an ideal that brought unanimous approval to the Constitution of the United States by the founding fathers is now a tenant of which most of us are woefully unaware!
What is even more illustrative of the change to our national values and psyche, is the fact that Jefferson, Madison, and others, who were the foundation of the original Democratic Party, were strong advocates for a weak central government and felt that governing power needed to be as close to the people as possible thereby vested in each state. Also, I find it fascinating that the term “progressive”, now used as an invective by republicans as a cudgel to hammer democrats was originally an outgrowth of the republican ideals of the early 1900s. How is it that the party personalities can have so radically changed yet we remain blissfully unaware that the way we encapsulate ourselves is so transient?
Is America next?
While many of the same people who today believe we are a democracy—and believe that democrats stand for big government, that republicans want to hurt the middle class for the benefit of the rich and have no interest in helping the poor—also believe that there is no way that America will suffer the same fate as Greece, or France, or many other countries. Maybe it is time we asked ourselves some hard questions:
- Have so weakened our own understanding of who we are, what our country is founded on, and what it is that protects us from such a declination that we no longer know how wrong we are about our own base assumptions?
- Have we allowed this gradual debasement of personal responsibility, in favor of government entitlement and forced corporate reallocation of wealth, to go so far that a fundamental shift away from the principals of our own constitutional republican form of government is unrecognizable?
- Are we electing leaders that are doing what is in the best long term interest of America, or are they simply willing to do whatever will get them the votes to be re-elected?
- Do we really believe that a safety net for the helpless is the same as entitled services for all including the clueless and the worthless (fraudsters)? And do they believe that after years of hyperinflation of the currency we can continue to just print money out of thin air to pay for it or that the so called “rich” in America have enough to pay for everyone else?
- Are we really immune to the fate of these other countries, or have we already suffered the economic collapse and have just been covering it up by printing more money and manipulating our economy to rationalize the perception of great gain?
- When will this all come crashing down on us, or has it already started and we are just ignoring it? Is this why it is now so much fun to watch reality TV and revel in the catastrophes of other’s lives because it allows us to feel we are still better than them? Is it possible that is why the spectacle of the Coliseum in ancient Rome became so popular, because it helped hide their reality of the oncoming demise?
One last point to ponder! If you think that we really have not lost a national understanding as to how our government functions, think of this. No one can explain why we still have the election of the President of the United States conducted by an electoral college instead of by popular vote. There are many who argue this is an anachronism, a relic of days before computers, and broadcast media but this is sophistry that would make the ancient Greek philosopher, Zeno, very proud. The electors have always had a duty to vote for the best candidate, not the most popular, and not the one that promised the most free-stuff. The best candidate, the one that was best for all of America is the responsibility that rested in the elector’s hands. Now, many states have changed their laws to alter the rules for the electors to now only vote for the candidate that receives the majority of the popular vote—winner take all. What happens if that candidate commits a heinous crime, or it is discovered that he is morally corrupt, or that he or she is conspiring to damage the country? Are they still bound? They did not used to be!
The final question is, “Are we about to become France, and Greece, or have we already suffered the same fate, and all that is left is the counting?”
To say I knew Khalil is a rare privilege! I first met this remarkable man when I served as president of the board of directors for Jerry Brown’s Oakland School for the Arts. He was a man of peaceful strength and dignity. Beloved of his students, admired by his musical peers, and respected by his friends, his life was a guidebook for dedication, passion and commitment.
For those of you who do not know him I would encourage you to click the link in his name and find out about the career of this dedicated musician, teacher and humanist. He has played with the greats, like Jimmy Hendrix, the students and the jammers. And always he elevated each and every one to new levels of expression and humanity.
I would also encourage you to read the article in the San Jose Mercury News if you wish to learn more.
I did not know him as well or for as long as I would have liked, but I knew him well enough to know the world of music, faith and peaceful humanity has lost one of our major guiding lights!
Khalil Shaheed, will remain forever one of God’s ambassadors of peaceful dignity!
People that know me well know that I read. I read a lot. I read incessantly, I read everything and anything. I read everywhere, written by anyone, left, right or middle—it does not matter.
I long ago came to the conclusion that whether or not I agree with the points made by an author, this should not be the guiding principal of what I choose to read. I find that, in fact, I learn the most when I read things I do not innately agree with. In reading the contrasting opinions of others, and for the most part with the intent of maintain an open mind, I can try to compare their journey of understanding, expressed in their logic, if it exists, and either validate, or repudiate, parts of my own logic. Hopefully, coming to a better understanding and opinion myself.
Whats the problem?
I am not so sure that this is what people really do anymore! It seems to me more and more people are only interested in letting someone else tell them what to think!
Recently, I have seen a series of articles, from both sides, trying to answer the question of what is wrong with our political system. Each side is spending lots of effort, and ink (or electronic bits), explaining how the system is not working because the other side is conspiring to subvert the system to harm something or someone, or to benefit something or someone at our expense. They often formulate the basic justification as this is clear because we are not getting what we want from the system.
The problem for me, as I see it, is the entire premise is wrong! By starting with the logic that something is wrong because we (pick either side in the argument) are not getting what we want, may be logical but it is not accurate on two levels. First, the assumption that the system is designed to give us something that we want in the first place, is not a correct assumption. Second, the idea that the system is designed so that whatever the majority wants is to be provided to us by the government, is also not true.
System is working fine
The reality is that our political system is still, for the most part, working as it was designed despite the slow erosion of some of the original checks and balances over the past seventy-five years. If you doubt this premise, read any of the biographies of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, or Franklin and it will quickly become quite obvious that this was the design.
No, the system is still working just as it was intended. The problem is not the system. Although, if we do not begin to understand the impact of the gradual changes we have made, soon this may not be the case. The problem with the system is we are now starting to get what we want, and compounding this problem we have been for the last fifty or sixty years. We are, in every corner, probably right or wrong, getting too much. No, it is not the system that is the problem it is:
- The changes we have allowed to be made to the original system have weakened the checks and balances on our own greed and avarice
- What we expect that we are due from the system has grown exponentially as we have gained more from the system
The system is being changed
Our system was designed to be based on part-time citizen politicians directly subject to the impact of the laws and policies they create, not a ruling elite political class exempt for their communities day to day trials and tribulations. At the very beginning of the implementation of our new form of government, in April of 1789, the grand design of our form of government showed the promise of its innate slow and difficult process to sort out where power and responsibility resides and to make difficult the ability of the federal government to pass laws that affect us. Rapidly, the two competing philosophies, which I believe are inherent in mankind, congealed into two political parties. The federalists, who advocated a strong federal government authority to foment consistency, rapid growth, and strength, became one pole, and the republicans, who were concerned about the rise of a tyrannical aristocracy or hereditary monarchy developing a predatory system reducing the rights and prosperity of citizens through taxes and needless, unwanted, regulations who advocated for government controls closer to the people at the state level.
While for over sixty years our education system has taught more, and more, that we are a democracy, and that we are by nature a nation where it is the majority that rules, this was specifically and unequivocally not the government that the founders created. We were, and to some extent remain, a constitutional republic. The difference is; in a democracy people have a direct control through their vote, and in a constitutional republic the control is indirect through the election of officials who are supposed to weigh the will of the people against what is best for the country and consistent with the constitutional republican principals of our government as they make law and policy.
System is still fine—For Now!
Today we are clearly migrating away from some of these fundamental principals in two areas:
- We now, as a people, no longer understand the benefits of the constitutional republic and many, if not most, simply believe we are a democracy, and
- We have inadvertently allowed the creation of a stronger federal control by stimulating the creation of a full-time professional political class—potentially, just the kind of tyrannical aristocracy that Jefferson and Madison were so worried about at the beginning of America.
The question we all need to answer is, “Is this what we agree we truly need?” If so, then we will have to accept the consequences of a pandering democratic machine continually taking prosperity from the individuals and granting it to the majority in exchange for the continuation of their livelihood as a full-time professional politician, and the continual erosion of the original system of government and its checks and balances on them and us.
If this is not what we agree we need, then there are some very hard choices and changes we will need to consider to recover the checks and balances. Only then can we once again return to the constitutional republican form of government we had. If this is still what we want! You see that is the question!
Still up to us to define our system for a while longer
The good thing is it is still up to us for a bit longer. The more we continue the erosion of the checks and balances inherent in our original constitutional republic, the more we become a democracy. At some point we will slip over the edge and soon, perhaps, there will be no going back short of another costly and divisive civil war. If our leaders can develop a true process to decide this fundamental issue we may avoid a destructive conflict.
And the answer is?
So the answer to the question that headlines this article, “What is wrong with Politics?” is nothing at the moment, but stay tuned!
As I watch the current primary political spectacle, and await, with more than a modicum of trepidation, the coming presidential election of 2012, I long for the emergence of a “citizen politician” like those that founded, what once was, this great nation. Where have they gone? What has happened to our national values, that we no longer can produce such remarkable and dedicated individuals? Have we so corrupted the elegant system, designed by the framers, that we simply cannot find those truly fit to serve the nation, instead of serving their own, or some subgroups desires and wishes. Has the process been so corrupted that the simple citizens we most desire, and who would best serve, will not stand up to our current infinite scrutiny, or will not run because they do not want such public ablation of their character? We once had a collection of people, who felt that it was either their destiny, or their obligation, to serve their neighbors to build a better life for all, and to develop systems to assure that character, integrity, and nobles oblige, were the justifications for their fitness.
Recently, I have wondered, what were the characteristics that defined this group of remarkable men, those who risked and sacrificed so much to build this nation? Over the past year I have read a number of biographies of our founding fathers; men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin. Each in its own way revealed bits of what united these men in such a grand and ambitious undertaking. In another way, it has led me to wonder if we still have the tools in place to create others like these men, or if the circumstances of our modern world, our changed mores, faith, family, values, and education system have been altered so profoundly that we no longer build the necessary combinations of character, strength, conviction, patriotism, and dedication to generate leaders with a sense of purpose, responsibility, and faith in something grander than themselves with unshakeable and selfless commitment to their country and fellow citizens. I guess the real question is, are we lost?
Our First President
George Washington was a complicated and interesting man. All of us, who have studied history in modern schools, have read about Washington as the father of our nation, but the image of Washington that I learned in school both understates his contribution to the birth of this nation and fills our head with minor and false facts (like the story of the cherry tree) that do not provide a true measure of the man. To the continental colonists at the end of the revolution, George Washington, was more than any other, the father of this nation.
As the country was being forged, Washington, and many others just like him, felt a profound sense of duty to the rest of Americans to fight to the death against tyranny and eventually to build a great form of government to perpetually protect the nation’s people from the resurgence of tyranny from both abroad and within. Today, we often hear as to what the framers felt was the role of faith and God in the creation, prosperity, and future of our nation. Today, in our modern world of agenda based spin, we hear polar opposite views. On the one hand, it is stated that the founders believed there is no role for religion in government. Religion was not to have any part in the governance of the nation. And at the fringe, there are those that profess that it is a violation of the constitution to even allow and discussion, mention, or intimation of religion in any public venue, action, or event. On another hand, we hear that religion is a clear part of our government, and became the basis for the governing system we chose. Further, at the fringe of this side, we hear that this, or that, religious view was inculcated into the constitution to promote this or that moral value. Like everything else today, the truth is much more complicated than a sound-bite, and lies somewhere, nuanced, in the middle of the argument.
President Washington felt that National Policy needed to be rooted in private morality, which relied on “the eternal rules of order and right . . . ordained by heaven itself.” It was in consideration of the grand opportunity wrested by the sacrifice of the American people, through the providential victory of the revolution against England, that Washington’s held the view that this opportunity was granted by the unknown machinations of an almighty God. Washington wrote, “The sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly and considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”
Washington and many of the other founders were big believers in the hands of some higher power guiding them to their destiny. They also felt that only good and just men could reap the benefit of these grants from some higher power. They believed in strength, justice, and the power of courage and conviction. They were humanists, who felt it was their duty to help the downtrodden and the weak. But, we should not confuse this humanistic view with their additional view that people were also individually responsible for their own destiny and lot in life. As an example, Washington also wrote,
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity; religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
Washington also wrote,
“Let no one go hungry away . . . provided it does not encourage in them idleness.”
The New Constitution
In 1787, as the continental congress was meeting to establish the foundation for a new and necessary form of government to control this new nation, there was significant controversy. Read either of the recent biographies of George Washington, Washington, by Ron Chernow, or of John and Abigail Adams, First Family, by Joseph Ellis and you will see that the current level of histrionics, division, diatribe, and intrigue are nothing new. Further, most of America had no knowledge of what was transpiring inside the State House in Philadelphia, in 1787, or what kind of government was being developed by the men who had assembled to compose our new nation. The mystery was so complete that after the vote by the members of the congress in approval of the new constitution, Benjamin Franklin reportedly was approached by Elizabeth Powell as he left the State House. When she saw Franklin, she is reported to have inquired as to what form of government had been produced by the members inside the convention. Franklin responded, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it!”
Like politics today, this new constitution was not immediately revered by all.
George Mason, a friend of George Washington, declared that the new form of government “. . . would end either, in a monarchy, or a tyrannical aristocracy.”
Looking at the current state of America and its politics I think many would argue it has met Mason’s fate. It just depends on which side of the political spectrum one is, as to whether or not it is now ended as monarchy or tyrannical aristocracy—Occupy Anywhere anyone?
I think we need to find a way to alter the current political selection process, and fundamentally eliminate the position of professional politician from our culture and revert to the original concept of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The “by the people” part was not designed to be rule by a professional political class as we are today. Just what was the concept of citizen politicians at the time of the founding?
Many of the founders regarded any open interest in power as unbecoming of a gentleman. As a result, people like Washington, Adams, and Jefferson preferred to be drawn reluctantly from private life by the irresistible summons of public service. Ron Chernow writes in his book, Washington, “George Washington felt even to say the word, president, or to merely broach the topic, even in the strictest confidence with friends would seem to betray some secret craving for the office on his part.” Chernow reports that Washington confessed his quandary to Alexander Hamilton in a letter where he said,
“For situated as I am, I could hardly bring the question into the slightest discussion, or ask an opinion, even in the most confidential manner, without betraying, in my judgment, some impropriety of conduct.”
John Adams and most of the founding presidents, all felt that nobles oblige, should be the guiding sentiment for their service. As such, they did not believe that a candidate should campaign for the office. They felt that people should be elected because their prior contributions and actions were so remarkable, as to render the populace unable to see any another as capable of assuming and performing in the office. As such, it was the fact that they had to go and actively campaign for such a position of power innately under-scored their lack of suitability for the job in the first place.
The solemn and grave nature of properly taking this almighty gift of independence and effectively creating and implementing a new government, worthy of the people who had sacrificed so much for this opportunity, led James Madison to create a strong metaphor for Washington to use to captivate the populace. Madison wrote,
“. . . to be shipwrecked in sight of the port would be the severest of all possible aggravations to our misery.”
Meaning, that after we had collectively sacrificed so much, cut our ties to England, and now were left with such difficulty and strife if we fail to provide a just form of government for the people would just be the worst sort of failure and pain. Madison’s view was predicated on the sacrifices and misery suffered by the new Americans in 1787. How much more has been sacrificed and suffered in this quest to live up to our potential, and love of country and its promise in the past 225 years? Are our current politicians living up to the sacrifice of those who have gone before?
Nobles Oblige Often Led to Financial Hardship and Ruin.
For most of the first 152 years, elected public service was a significant economic burden. Many left political office with their business and personal financial interests in significant disarray. These individuals accepted the service to their nation as a patriotic duty or to establish a historical place for their family name. As an example, at the time Washington became our first president, his prior service in obligation to the needs of his forming country had left is estate on the edge of financial ruin. As he was being elected president, he was left with no choice but to put his extensive land holdings in Ohio up for sale and to seek a loan of 500 pounds from Captain Richard Conway of Alexandria Va. Shortly after he made this initial request, he had to ask for an additional 100 pounds from Conway, to defray the cost of moving to New York and the cost of lodging so he could assume the new presidency. So committed to the service to his nation, Washington still felt it was his duty, as he had throughout the Revolutionary war, to forgo any salary. Despite his dire fiscal situation, Washington informed congress of his intent. Luckily for Washington, congress insisted that he accept his salary, so in some small measure, the fiscal burden was somewhat ameliorated. Once again, when Washington left office, his personal fortunes had continued to suffer as a result of the demands of service to his country.
The Coming Storm
As I look at this year’s presidential primary election, and listen to both sides of the debates, I wonder if we have, in Madison’s words, been left shipwrecked in sight of our port. I find myself more and more longing for a Washington, an Adams, a Jefferson, a Madison, a Monroe, a Jackson, or a Lincoln to emerge. I yearn for some citizen politician, motivated by their love of country, their own nobles oblige, some sense of destiny to arise from the depths and steer us from the fate of the looming rocky shore. I desire the rise of a true citizen politician, one who feels it is unbecoming of the character of a gentleman to seek power or political office. I know there are those who believe that in this larger and more expansive world, politicians must campaign actively and very extensively and obtrusively be in our face to gain election. I wonder, is this really and sadly the case?
We have had a few this political cycle whose names have been floated for office, individuals apparently not overtly seeking election—people like: Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, and Marco Rubio. Each of them to date has rebuffed the invitation to lead their party in this election for various reasons. Despite their apparent reticence, there are some who are still actively interested in wresting them as candidates to the national stage. Despite their resistance, feigned or real, sadly, they are also firmly entrenched as members of the professional political class. Where are the real citizen politicians? The ones who would be dragged to this lofty, powerful perch as a result of their sense of duty and obligation? Can we not find some method to identify them and bring them to the national attention without the need for a popularity contest composed of little more than national character assassination? Though I do which this is not the case, perhaps it is simply a pipe dream to believe once again we have and can find such men.
I now most fervently hope that we will not soon be laying plans for all of our children to be reading Daniel Defoe’s, 1919 work, Robinson Caruso, as our new national survival guide!