Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Anybody Home?

On September 8, the Baltimore Sun printed a column by Gordon Adams calling for the impeachment of our illustrious president. Adams gives us a bevy of good reasons to "throw the bum out," but he seems to have missed a crucial point. The public has been calling the current administration to task in for its misdeeds for four years. In all that time, the word impeachment has been bandied about, but in the Senate, where the job must get done, it seems to be the elephant in the living room.

While it is certain that many Americans would like to see George W. Bush impeached, it is equally certain that few in Congress have the political will to do so. In fact, senators who have served their country long and well and have been betrayed by the duplicitous promises of the president himself refused to take him on. Perhaps they believe that biding their time for three more years will preserve their political standing. Meanwhile, regular folk wonder if there will be a political system in three years.

The larger public is becoming increasingly impatient with the president, but an increasing number are also becoming impatient with politicians who do nothing in the face of the rape of this country. If a single party was attempting to dismantle all regulations that prevented it from establishing absolute hegemony with respect to the economic system, it would be unfortunate. However as time goes by, and the Democrats continue to do nothing, one begins to suspect them of complicity.

There is no "working with" this administration. Democrats who use this as an excuse for inaction are liars. Democratic senators and representatives who receive letters and petitions from their constituents calling for impeachment and do nothing about them have failed to carry out the responsibilities entrusted to them when they were elected.

A president was impeached for lying about a consensual sexual act. His successor lied to Congress, the press, the public, and the United Nations in order to invade a sovereign nation that posed no threat to the United States, causing the death of nearly 2000 U.S. citizens, and the word impeachment has not come up. Is extramarital sex really that much more important than the thousands of lives that have been lost as a result of Bush policies? Judging by the actions of Congress, it is.

Talk of class warfare in politics is discouraged, but in the current situation, where no one is standing up against the establishment of a plutocracy, such talk is nearly inevitable. People are rarely motivated to do things to others; they do things to benefit themselves. Why would Democratic representatives ignore calls for impeachment, unless they had something to gain from doing so? While Democrats have always considered themselves the "people's party," Democratic politicians typically derive from the same socioeconomic stratosphere as their Republican counterparts.

The first concern of the wealthy and powerful is to secure and maintain wealth and power. In light of the policies enacted over the last five years, the gutting of federal agencies intended to protect ordinary people, and the blatant profiteering seen at the highest levels of government, Democrats would be hard-pressed to prove they were doing anything other than securing and maintaining their own positions.
© 2005

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A New Venture

As much as I think about the state of the government in this country, I have come to realize that almost all of my opinions and thoughts are colored solely by my knowledge of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. And while these may be two of the most seminal documents in modern history, they are the result of a great deal of deep thought on the part of their authors. In general, my education has tended to assume that what scholars have to say about primary sources is somehow more intelligible or more important than the primary sources themselves. The reasons for this tendency are unimportant; the results, however, are quite important because this tendency has left me in ignorance of the thinking and motivations of the founders of this country, except as interpreted by others.

I have undertaken a careful reading of the Federalist Papers, written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison and published in 1787-1788. For my own benefit, I will attempt to apply my understanding to our government in general, and the current political state of affairs. I invite readers to join in a lively discussion, to comment, and benefit in any way they can from this venture.

Each posting will include a link to the document discussed.

The Federalist Papers, No.1, by Alexander Hamilton

The Federalist Papers was a series of newspaper columns published between the Fall of 1787 and the Spring of 1788. Their authors were the movers and shakers of the day. They were the best educated men of their day, the products of an educational system that placed more emphasis on discovering knowledge than on rote learning.

The first of the Federalist Papers was a preamble to the rest and an explanation of their purpose and scope. By no means, however, does it lack substance. The United States of America has often been called the "great experiment." Hamilton was aware of the experimental status of this country and its government and took it seriously:

"It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force."

Many of the founders subscribed to a belief called Deism. Deists believed that the world had been created by a Supreme Being, who set it in motion, then sat back and watched, without interfering further. In many ways, this is what the founders did with our government. Perhaps they believed that once we had made a conscious choice, the government we created would continue on its course carried by momentum. Surely they never foresaw the country we live in today.

It is possible that they envisioned a government that would evolve as the country matured. However it is almost certain that the trust they placed in their successors in government was predicated on their successors having a similar education to their own. Such is not and has not been the case. The founders were schooled in philosophy, logic, and mathematics; they studied Aristotle, Plato, and Euclid. Today, many students do not know these authors, and fewer have read them. If my own case is typical, they have had much more exposure to commentators than to the great thinkers themselves.

Hamilton discusses the factors that would motivate voters to accept or reject the Constitution. His words on the subject are almost prophetic:

“Happy will it be if our choice should be directed by a judicious estimate of our true interests, unperplexed and unbiased by considerations not connected with the public good. But this is a thing more ardently to be wished than seriously to be expected.”

Hamilton hoped for public service; he anticipated self-service, and we got what he expected, in spades. Hamilton noted that the establishment of a federal government would affect people of this country in a fundamental way, but he expressed the hope that they would consider the Constitution based on its merits rather than on their fears or selfishness. He was also aware of what he called "a class of men" who were hungry for power. This class of men still exists, unfortunately many of them have satisfied their hunger, often with the aid of others much like themselves. Nevertheless, Hamilton thought that the founders' vision for this country was viable, noble and good.

“So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society. This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so much persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy.”

Hamilton was careful not to demonize dissenters. His was a more genteel time; his interest was in abolishing tyranny, and his education conditioned him to engage them in rational discussion to help them discover the truth for themselves. Just as the Bill of Rights would decree that a person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty, Hamilton generously assumes that those who disagree with him are good, if misled.

“...nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.”

Again prophetically, Hamilton warns readers that those who disagree with them are not their enemies and should be tolerated. It is interesting how many political movements have completely disregarded Hamilton's advice. Names like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Tse-tung spring to mind. Sadly, this has become the dominant feature of political discussion in the United States today. Politicians play an all-or-nothing game, even if compromise is appropriate. It is not uncommon for the minority party to search relentlessly for something with which to discredit members of the other party in positions of authority. At times, this has the effect of preventing such persons from doing their jobs, from being effective, and from carrying out their own or their party's agenda, whether or not it is the perpetrators' intention.
© 2005

About Me

I love my country, that is why I criticize its absurdities; I love my freedom, that is why I do it publicly.