Monday, November 24, 2008

Keeping a Civil Tongue

In the light of recent events and the proposed scope of this new blog, I wish to start things off with a quick comparison of things now to things past. I thank the gracious host of this new blog for asking me to join in this endeavor, and I hope we can generate some interesting dialog.

This republic just finished a contentious and generally aggravating presidential election, coupled with many many races across the country that reflected the presidential campaigns in both tone and content. One of the chief characteristics in this election cycle was the continual advertising that slung personal attacks against all the contenders involved. This characteristic in many ways hid the other chief component of this last election; namely, the deeply divided political stances of our citizens. The mud-slinging was an illustration of the deep-seated frustrations that were and are present, and generally worked to literally beat the citizens down by a non-stop stream of invective. I do not know about you, but I sure got tired of that, and I am happy that this last election is finally over.

I was reminded of another election in 1829. This was also a terrible election that consisted of personal attacks and political hatreds that very nearly tore the nation in half. I quote from the prologue of Arthur M. Schlesinger's book "The Age of Jackson" (copyright 1945, Little, Brown and Company):

"It was no year for righteous men: everywhere they sat in darkness. Two months before, General Andrew Jackson had been elected President of the United States. The ungodly were now in the ascendancy, and those who walked not in their counsels had little but Scriptures for consolation. 'There is more effrontery,' Samuel Clesson Allen, retiring Congressman from Massachusetts, had exclaimed, ' putting forward a man of his bad character - a man covered with crimes...than ever was attempted before upon an intelligent peoples.' The good Reverend Robert Little, pastor of the Unitarian Society of Washington, sadly chose this text: 'When Christ drew near the city He wept over it.'"

The sentiments reflected here are no exaggeration, as the Federalist opposition to the populist Jackson was bitter and deep-seated. It had begun with the opposition of the Federalists, such as Hamilton and the Adamses, to the utopic, agrarian vision of the Jeffersonian Republicans. As Schlesinger points out, the national need for our own manufacturing and middle class slowly outweighed the vision of Jefferson's nation of gentleman farmers, and it was in Jefferson's own administration that the retreat of the Virginia leaders began, and continued through Madison and Monroe. A National Bank had been established, and while the Federalists were out of power in the executive and legislative branches, they had firmly fixed themselves in the judiciary branch " to an ark of future safety which which the Constitution placed beyond the reach of public opinion." (p. 15) The general opinion of the Federalists were that Jeffersonian thought encouraged the rough and uneducated public to gain power that they were not fit to hold.

The four year disaster of the second Adam's presidency was the result of the legislature being generally entirely at odds with his Federalist tendencies. Much like the presidential race between George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore, there had been cries of stolen elections and under-handed dealings, and the legislature was in no mood to cooperate with him. Now, with the second contest between Jackson and Adams, the populist President had gained control of the seat of power by using "Mob-ocracy," and the doom of the nation was immanent. Jackson was strongly in favor of dismantling the National Bank, and for the firm establishment of gold as the money of commerce and trade. Jackson represented the unruly and unwashed masses of the new, western states, and he did not look favorably on the "rich bankers" and the new, industrial wealthy class of the north-east.

The comparison I am drawing is, of course, not perfect, but there are some interesting similarities. I noticed that George W. Bush has been accused many times of representing the wealthy interests, most notably companies like Haliburton and the oil interests. He has also been a supporter of the so-called "religious right" in his opposition to things like abortion and the use of human fetuses for stem-cell research. Obama has been anathema to the religious right, and he speaks of strong federal control to bring down the wealthy and force them to enrich the nation further by legislative action. Obama and his party speak to the poor in this country, and, whether you agree with what he said or not, his campaign brilliantly brought them to the polls and they used their franchise to elect him to power. Since that time, I have heard many conservatives say things that are remarkably similar to the arguments against Jackson in the aftermath of his election to the Presidency.

Along political lines, that is where the similarities end and, because of almost 180 years difference, there are newer considerations that have to be taken into account for a fuller understanding. One, for example, is that the modern conservative viewpoint is actually closer to the older Jeffersonian view that a limited government is the better government. Whether George W. Bush actually represented that or not is a point for another debate. The modern conservative viewpoint further maintains that involvement in foreign conflicts can be a necessary place as a policy. Obama has maintained that our involvement in foreign affairs should be limited to diplomacy unless it is absolutely necessary otherwise to use force. That was at one time a conservative view, going all the way back to the first Virginian President, George Washington.

The last, and I think, most essential difference, is that at the time of Jackson, the ideal of the redistribution of wealth was simply a concept that did not exist. The control of wealth was certainly one that the Federalists would have maintained, but the idea of taxing the wealthy to give to the poorer elements of the country through a government entity would not have occurred to either Jackson or Adams. It would not have occurred in the minds of any of the founders, in fact. The evils of slavery did occur to them. The possible abuses of the wealthy class in control of the government occurred to them. The dangers of foreign involvement occurred to them. The question of wealth was for the earlier generations of this country not a question of "do we have the right to accumulate wealth," rather, it was a question of "how much power should the wealthy have in a Republic?" There was never an idea that being wealthy was, ipso facto, being a bad person that was just greedy. That is the newer controversy and one that must be considered whether one is a conservative or not.

My own place in this, and the reason for this analogy, is simply to provide perspective enough to give modern conservatives a hope and a prayer. The movement has been placed in a position that seems hopeless for the moment, and, yet, we have survived as a nation through disappointing results in the past. I am truly enamored by the old Jeffersonian ideals, yet, through the lens of time, I can see that not having an industrial base would have been a devastating blow to this nation. Jefferson hated it, but he also understood that as well. I hate the idea of redistribution of wealth as a "save-all" ideal, yet at this point my own grandmother, father and mother are counting on the government check that they spent years of paychecks buying into. Rather than bemoaning the latest defeat in the election, let us instead look to the future. We have to be able to fight these political battles by winning the minds and hearts of those that vote. We cannot win future elections by wishing for this or for that. We will win elections by having a real set of political goals. Anything else is either outright treason or, at best, a political daydream.


Kelly said...

"I hate the idea of redistribution of wealth as a "save-all" ideal, yet at this point my own grandmother, father and mother are counting on the government check that they spent years of paychecks buying into."

The key here that they spent years paying into it. The wealth there was not technically redistributed. Yes, I know that many pull from that more than they put in.

That is the problem we have, socialism, or redistribution of wealth has been slowly creeping into the way things are and have been.

"The Social Security Act of 1935, one of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal creations, is seen by many as a socialist program because it is a government-organized and -regulated system. Social Security was designed to provide retirement benefits to citizens through mandatory donations to the program during one's employment years."

But does this mean we have to continue down the path to MORE socialism just because some as been allowed in?

Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

Beautifully said. I am honored to be on your blogroll and will return the compliment. Thank you.

Phelonius said...

We should do what our ancestors had no courage to do: namely, we have sold our children a debt that they cannot afford and we have done so under the guise of social responsibility. These children of ours never agreed to this debt and we have spent like drunken sailors because we are too spoiled and too weak to live under a perceived hardship.

Shame on us.