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What Would George W. Do?


The nation celebrates its 231st Birthday this Fourth of July but for many, there seems scant reason to celebrate. In poll after poll, Americans will tell you that they feel the nation is on the “wrong track” – even as the economy continues to expand with inflation in check and low unemployment? What gives?

I’m no historian but I sometimes wonder about how far we’ve come in twenty-three decades and ask what the first George W. would think of life under George Dubya.

Were George Washington, America’s greatest military leader, to wake up on July 4, 2007, I’d bet someone would have to tell him that we’re in a war. Although the war on terrorism was brought to our shores and has expanded to include a foray into Iraq, signs of war on the home-front are noticeably missing. Other than bumper stickers opposing the fight against terrorism, there are no signs of war at home, few sacrifices being made by anyone who isn’t in the military. Washington would no doubt find this general ambivalence troubling.

American ambivalence has allowed for a gradual erosion of the principles our Founding Fathers fought for: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Just weeks ago, voters in California selected a new Member of Congress. Less than ten percent of voters went to the polls. A state of affairs that would likely lead Washington to ask what good are rights if they are not exercized?

Most Americans will remember the Boston Tea Party from their History Books. One of the catalysts to the American Revolution, the Tea Party was, at its core, a tax revolt launched in protest of a tax levied on the colonists’ favorite beverage. Today, not only do we tax tea, but we tax coffee, beer, wine and more. Among industrialized nations, the United States has one of the lowest per capita tax burdens, which would probably please Mister Washington. And under George Bush, we’ve expanded individual financial liberty by rolling back the burden of the personal income and estate taxes. But I wouldn’t count on it lasting.

History has shown that the American government can be even more oppressive than the Imperial British when it comes to reaching into our pocketbooks. We only won the “right” to choose the people who will take our economic freedoms away, a right most of us take for granted when we stay at home on election day.

When constructing the new Republic, our Founding Fathers struck a bargain within the states, creating a bicameral legislature where both the states and the public would get representation in the Senate and House respectively. At the time of the first Congress, this was a cozy arrangement. Each of the thirteen States had two Senators, as they do today. In the House, the largest delegation, Virginia’s, consisted of ten members; the smallest, Delaware, had but one.

In today’s Congress, while many states have but one member of Congress, the largest delegation – California – has fifty three and thirteen more states have more than Virginia’s original ten representatives. While the grand compromise between the States may have made sense in 1789, it has made the United States Senate one of the most un-democratic directly-elected bodies in human history. And I’d imagine Washington would not be pleased with the way the Senate conducts itself. The need for so-called “super-majorities” – two-thirds approval – cloture votes and special rules are not written into the Constitution. In today’s hyper-partisan world, they have led to a gridlocked environment where the Senate would be lucky if it could pass a Flag Day resolution.

George Washington was famously anti-partisan; a cautious and shrewd man who lived in an tumultuous time and understood the need for compromise. Today he’d find himself in an America that is as divided as it has been since the presidency of John Quincy Adams but he’d also see hope for our political future. The American people are following his lead and rejecting party affiliation. With nearly twenty percent of Californians now registering as “Decline to State” and the nascent candidacy of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg – who has tried, and rejected, both political parties – Washington might see, as I do, evidence of change in the works.

If George Washington were to wake up on this July Fourth, he may well agree that the country is on the “wrong track” but he might also be encouraged. Although Americans have not chosen to reconstitute our government in 23 decades, we do have a tendency to stir the political pot when things go awry.

Share  Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 10:58 AM | Permalink

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