Thursday, December 1, 2011

When we stopped listening...

No, this isn't another music post. Too many people thinking there's real music out there now. (Kids these days! =P )

No, this is going to be another one of those posts where I discuss politics and history, and Becky will hate it. (She much prefers when I spew a love note in public.) Sorry, my love, but I've been learning things, and now I must vent!

In my post last Saturday, where I was mostly addressing Zeb, he replied with a comment that ended with a few words about our very first President, George Washington. (I mention that in case someone out there thinks our first President was Abe Lincoln or something.) Washington had no party. (Lewis Nicola made a suggestion that Washington become king of a new State, but he was the only one to really make the suggestion. Thus, the idea that Washington was offered to be made king of the United States is a myth. (My source.)) He was unopposed in the election. The framers of our Constitution simply assumed he would take the job, and when he agreed to come out of retirement to take the office, everyone basically said, "Good!" And they left it at that.

Zeb linked a summary to Washington's Farewell Address. It was a nice read, but I wanted to see what was actually said. So I read that, as well. (The man used the word "umbrage" in a sentence without the word "professor" before it! No one speaks (or writes) like that anymore...that I know of.) Having read the actual document and the summary, I have come to the realization that his words fell upon deaf ears...and still do. The House of Representatives stopped reading it back in 1984, but the Senate still reads it on Washington's birthday...and not a single Senator, as far as I can tell, understands a word of it.

But let's back up from our modern day and go all the way back to the election after Washington left office. Washington, having expressed that political parties were a bad idea, was followed by John Adams, a member of the Federalist Party. A member...of the Federalist...Party.

Right. Here's my interpretation of how this went down:

Older, Wiser Parent: See this? This is fire. It burns. Don't touch it. Understand?
Child: Yes, I understand.
Older, Wiser Parent: Are you sure? Because I don't want to see you get burned. If you get burned, it'll hurt. Do you like being hurt?
Child: No.
Older, Wiser Parent: So what won't you do?
Child: I won't touch the fire.
Older, Wiser Parent: Why?
Child: Because it'll burn me, and it'll hurt.
Older, Wiser Parent: Right. Very good.
Child: *immediately puts a hand in the fire and starts screaming in pain*
Older, Wiser Parent: Why'd you do that?!?
Child: I was making sure you were right.
Older, Wiser Parent: ...

Here was a man who'd invested everything he had, including his very life, into the creation of our nation, and then gave his later years into running said nation. On his way out the door, he made a gentle plea, as it were, that those who would follow him to take great care in how they conducted themselves in running the country. Washington had learned from that goofy thing we call EXPERIENCE. And you'd think that these men from another time - men almost certainly WISER than we are today - would heed his warnings. Nope. Human nature seems to dictate that we only learn through our mistakes, and so they had to do exactly what he said not to do in order to prove he was correct. that we've established when we decided to be a stupid nation, let's move forward to 1860, when our first Republican President was elected. (NOW we're at Abraham Lincoln.) Under the misconception that Lincoln was going to ruin their way of life, the Southern States secede. Why? Because of all of the personal discourse that Washington warned about. "False patriots," as Washington may have called them, screamed loudly enough to bring about a shattering of the nation. (Well done, gang.) And we paid for it in blood. This early version of the Republican Party was for a strong central government that would keep the country in one piece.

Today, here in the States, we have these things called "Red States." These are the States that tend to vote Republican most often. In a radical twist, it seems that many Southern States are the ones to vote that way...for the same party that "that heinous Lincoln belonged to." Why? Because modern Republicans are against big, centralized government.


Y'know what? Let's get away from the whole political party thing and move on to Washington's urging us to stay out of foreign affairs. Oh, the occasional alliance to support a peaceful world was all well and good, as far as his address said, but let's not choose sides all the time...unless the other nation presents an imaginary threat to our way of life, like with communism. "They're over there, and we're over here...but let's make sure they stay over there and crush them while we still can! And while we're getting involved with such nonsense, let's also attack anyone who won't easily share their oil. And once we've established a presence in these other nations, let's not leave for a few dozen decades."

Oh, but I absolutely LOVE the part where Washington warns against debt, proclaiming it a necessity in times of preparation of war, but otherwise unnecessary. "As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it, avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by sunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear." In other words, "Don't screw up the national debt unless we absolutely have to in order to stay free. And if we DO have to extend our credit, let's not leave the mess for future generations; let's clean up our own messes."

Thanks for the advice, George, but as an advanced society, we now have it in our power to park the country down the street so China can't repo the nation.

I have an idea. Let's erase all of the history books, and call Washington our first and ONLY President. After that, all others will be called "Ringmasters," as they've led this circus in some of the dumbest ways possible. It seems that all of them ignored the wise man atop the mountain, and we've paid for it ever since.

Okay, I'll be fair. I'm leaving out a lot of details in our history, mostly because I'm not trying to write an entire book on the subject at the moment. But I'm wodering what our nation would have been like - would be like - if we'd heeded George Washington's advice. No debt...No squabbling over petty differences...No Fox "News."

Perhaps one day I'll tackle the task of going over George's address, point by point, and exemplify how we handled each one. Or maybe I'll save it as a book idea. Or maybe - just maybe - I'll get over it and worry more about personal matters. =P

Be well, and DFTBA!


arguskos said...

You know, as much as I agree with the sentiment that good ol' George had some good ideas (and he really did), I can't help but feel that by calling everyone else "Ringmasters", you are marginalizing all the good and valuable works that later Presidents have done. Yeah, they fucked up (quite a bit, as a matter of fact), but they also did some damn good stuff. Lincoln and emancipation comes to mind. Guess that doesn't matter though, Ringmaster, etc. :-/

It's one thing to blast the faults of politics (a good thing to do, challenging the status quo is important). It's another to dismiss a massive part of our history on the basis "they ignored a smart guy from 200 years ago".

Just sayin', Rob. Washington DID make some solid points though (many of which I agree with, others of which are and were unfeasible in reality).

Rob Meadows said...

You just *MIGHT* have a point, "Argy." But the 3rd to last paragraph was written to cover such things. I mean, there are exceptions...but overall, there were far too many idiots supposedly leading our country. I mean, do you know how many comedians were sorry to see Governor Bush vacating his illegally held post? =P

Raistlin said...

I like Washington, but his Presidency was, by and large, an easy one. Everyone liked him, so he had no petty Congress to argue with him, or lobbyists to argue for things he knew were wrong. The closest things he had to parties were the philosophies of Hamilton and Jefferson (of which he listened to Hamilton, predominately, inadvertantly framing the Federalist party for success.)

And yes, Washington argued for an isolationist government, because he viewed (as Hamilton did) the French Revolution as dangerous and England as still an enemy. But when the Native Americans wanted some of their land back, Washington had no qualms conquering tribes and taking even more of the land. It could be argued that Washington didn't consider the Natives their own nation, but the principle stands.

Washington was an excellent president and a role model for our nation, but to lionize him as the greatest man who ever lived is to misunderstand the political culture he helped create. You seem to think the delegation of the Presidency to Washington by the Framers was a good idea, yet many of those same framers, notable James Madison who wrote the majority of the document, eventually became Presidents.

And on Madison, it should be said that he was a man who valued Washington's contributions to the nation very highly. In fact, Federalist No. 10, one of Madison's highly regarded Federalist Papers speaks upon the evils of factions and parties, and argues that the Constitution and a large republic are better equipped to check the power of the parties than a straight democracy. Yet Madison himself contributed to the rise of both the Federalists and later the Anti-Federalists/Democrat-Republicans.

Amusingly enough, the Democrat-Republican party founded by Jefferson and Madison eventually fractured into the Democratic party, and the National Republicans, which later became the Whigs, which later became the Republicans. In this way, both parties can trace their heritage back to the small-government agrarians of Jefferson and Madison.

But that still doesn't get to the core of the problem, does it? Parties are bad and contribute to a disillusioned America and if everyone supported one person, everything would be fine.

Except that not everything went right for Washington (Whiskey Rebellion, anyone?) either. And besides, there have been examples of near universal victories. Reagan won every state except for Minnesota and D.C and we all know that that turned out so well. James Monroe won overwhelmingly in 1816 and was unopposed in 1820, receiving every electoral vote except one (which was an unfaithful elector), and his presidency was plagued by questionable leadership and economic crisis.

Washington's Farewell Address in an important document, to be sure. Yet, I think lionizing Washington as some kind of genius who had all the answers disregards the context of Washington's Presidency. Washington had little on his plate during his Presidency. As such, although I like the Farewell Address, I think it's naive sometimes. Like every historical document of importance to our country, it should be respected but questioned on a regular basis.

Zeb The Troll said...

Well, this has been enlightening!

I have some comments I'd like to make.

arguskos - You're absolutely right. Our list of presidents have had widely varied levels of successes and failures, only some of which might be even relevant to the document referenced.

Rob - Like them or don't like them, I don't think we can accurately label any of our presidents as "idiots". Sure, some were more effective than others and some had a better image than others, but none of them got to that position by being dumb. In particular I mean George W. Bush. Sure, his first election was noteworthy for its outcome (Selection 2000?), but his re-election, while still close, did not. He was also a two term governor in Texas. Make jokes about Texans all you want, but that's a big state with a lot of people to convince that you're the right person for the job, twice. Notably, he is the only Texas governor elected to two consecutive four year terms in office. (Prior to 1975, Texas governors were only elected for two year terms.) Aside from that, how many people do you know that are graduates of both Yale and Harvard? (Yes, he got C grades, but he still graduated from two of the most prestigious schools in the country.)

Make no mistake, I don't think he was a good president, but he wasn't as dumb as people seemed to think he was.

Raistlin - Wow. Thank you for putting that much effort into this response.

I have to say, though, that I don't agree with everything you state as fact either. Reagan, while not the perfect president, was far, far from the worst. His "trickle down economics" was a complete failure in practice (a lesson current R's seem to have ignored or forgotten), but his foreign policy was inspired! "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" FROM THE WALL! I still get shudders when I think back on that day. It almost seemed like smack talk at the time, the kind of thing that politicians say to appeal to their constituents, not to actually get anything done. But he DID. Two and a half years later, that wall came down, and not long after that, so did the Soviet Union. Reagan put into motion nuclear arms reduction and is commonly accepted as the person responsible for the end of the Cold War. It certainly didn't end on his watch, but his presidency got things started and did much of the leg work to make that dream a reality.

Finally, I absolutely agree that a document 200 years old should not be accepted by rote just because it was genius at the time. Much like our Constitution, it needs to be re-evaluated with the current state of affairs taken into account. For example, being isolationist in this day and age isn't feasible. In this digital age, the world has become far too small. That doesn't mean, how ever, that we need to go sticking our noses in everyone else's business, uninvited and unwanted, either. So, today, we can revamp that to include not being a nation that proverbially stares at our belly button, ignorant of the goings on outside our borders, but we should maybe take a longer, harder look at the necessity of our involvement before sending in the storm troopers. Maybe we should try to support alliances rather than forcing them.