News Column

Founders' America Is Foundering

Dec. 26, 2012

Clonnie Yearout

Imagine for a moment the presidential inauguration taking place in Washington,D.C., next month. President Barack Obama is delivering his second inaugural speech, and behind him sits his newly elected vice president, Willard Mitt Romney. Romney is replacing John McCain, who served as vice president during Obama's first administration.

Sound far-fetched? Not at the nation's beginning. George Washington's vice president was John Adams of Massachusetts, the man who had garnered the second-highest number of votes in the electoral college. Adams was a Federalist, and while Washington claimed no party affiliation, the new nation still had a vice president who had been the president's closest challenger in the election.

The same situation presented itself when Adams was elected as the country's second president and his Democratic-Republican challenger, Thomas Jefferson, became his vice president. Not until the 12th amendment to our Constitution was ratified in 1804 did we have some assurance that our vice president would be of the same political party as our president.

Having our two highest government executives coming from different political parties was not a huge problem in the beginning. The force of Washington's character and reputation enabled him to transcend ideological differences, and Adams and Jefferson's friendship survived the bitterly partisan political battles fought by their supporters.

Washington held a dim view of political parties, and he warned against their corrupting influence in his farewell address, saying, "The spirit of party serves always to distract the public councils, and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments riot and insurrection."

It seems that Jefferson also held a dim view of political parties. In a letter to Francis Hopkinson, he wrote, "If I could not go to heaven but with a political party I would not go there at all."

Jefferson's views on heaven aside, it should be noted that, for all his prior lofty words on the virtues of representative government, President Jefferson sometimes acted unilaterally to subvert the democratic process. On the other hand, had he not done so, America might never have made the Louisiana Purchase and extended west of the Mississippi River.

Adams' frustration with the political process is revealed in an 1813 letter to Jefferson in which he lamented, "No sooner has one party discovered or invented an amelioration of the condition of man, or the order of society, than the opposing party belies it, misconstrues it, misrepresents it, ridicules it, insults it, and persecutes it."

It is ironic that Adams' words might easily be appropriated to describe the American political climate two centuries later. What we see on the national stage today is little more than a parade of politicians and other talking heads misleading the public through a series of well-crafted lies.

Yes, I know it's considered bad form to accuse politicians of lying, but my goodness, somebody has to do it. A half truth is still a lie, and obfuscation for the sake of political advantage is just as much a crime as stealing, for it robs ordinary citizens of the information needed to make intelligent decisions on the issues.

In a line from Macbeth, Shakespeare described life as "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

While I would disagree philosophically with Macbeth's assessment of life in general, I can easily apply his words to the political stage in America today.

When I check the national news, I know I'll be getting a heavy dose of sound and fury. And I know that it will signify nothing, for I honestly cannot today remember what the sound and fury of two weeks ago was about.

Another Shakespearean line says, "All the world's a stage and the people merely players." If that line is true for the world, then it seems obvious to me that our national government is little more than a huge and terrible reality show where longevity for individual politicians is the only real objective. The players jockey for power and position in order to gain face time in front of the cameras and be the last person standing at the end of the show. Any progress for the nation is incidental.

The representative government established by the founders has evolved into a horrid caricature of the original model. It may make for compelling theater, but it will eventually leave our nation on the trash heap of history.

Yearout, of Roanoke, is a retired public employee.

Source: (C) 2012 Roanoke Times & World News. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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