Friday, October 29, 2010

Can We Do It?

As George Washington lay dying, strangling on his own phlegm and unable to swallow, he agonized over the future of the new country he was so instrumental in creating. The week or two prior to his sudden illness was spent thoughtfully preparing a statement to the nation on the danger the new country faced. It was never to be completed.

Not for the first time, and certainly not the last, the new government, imperfect and embryonic as it was, stood ready to crumble and slide back into the old European mold of violence and privilege.

It was, of course, a matter of money. Of who had access to it and who did not. Bankrupt and debt ridden, the new government had turned to the genius of Alexander Hamilton, a bastard son of a Scots, West Indian planter and whose claim to financial aptitude was as bookkeeper of a West Indian Island store. Within weeks Hamilton had hammered out a financial system that, with the help of Salomen and other financiers, allowed the new government to stay afloat.

A glaring problem with Hamilton’s system was that it pretty much invalidated the continental scrip in which the men who had actually fought the war had been paid,, therefore leaving them penniless, while the men who had benefited greatly by the money changing hands, as it always does in war time, gained exponentially. In short it was paid for by the poor who had already been robbed of most of their livelihood for the years it took to win the war.

Tom Jefferson, that radical dreamer, and the stubborn genius of the little James Madison weighed in hard against this usurpation of the wealth of the “common man” with limited success.

And thus the new government fell into two factions, The Federalists, who believed only those with access to capital had the intelligence and no-how to govern and the Democrats, who had great faith in “the common man.”

Upon hearing of a plot by the Federalists to wrest the control of government from the people who had fought for it by instigating an electoral tie, and forcing an appointment of one of their own, Andy Jackson, out in Tennessee, called up 100 of his militia followers and prepared to march. The governors of both Virginia and Pennsylvania threatened to take similar action.

Compromises were made, deals were cut, the fragile new government survived.

Down through the years the two-party system has continued its ebb and flow, the struggle between privilege and poverty, the powerful and the disenfranchised.

The adversaries names and their agendas have altered and clouded at different points in history but the basic questions have remained the same. Can we do it? Can ordinary people govern themselves?

And secondary but of supreme importance is the question; Is the purpose of government to protect the material wealth and opportunity in the hands of the few, the strong, the quick? Or is it to maximize the welfare and the opportunity of the many?

Time after time in our history this country has been torn down the middle, seemingly hopelessly divided.

The question of slavery threatened to strangle the new government in its crib. Only by kicking the can down the road to the next century did the founding fathers reach agreement.

News of the French Revolution and its excesses set neighbor against neighbor once again. Thugs roamed the streets of our port cities filling the taverns, threatening private businesses, ready to club and annihilate those of opposing views.

The Indian question, later settled so violently and illegally by Jackson who, defying the order of the U.S. Supreme Court, drove the Indians from their rich Georgia farms, split the country once again. The Louisianna purchase was derided and railed against as being an irresponsible assumption of debt the new nation could not afford. The purchase of Alaska, known as Seward’s folly, after the Senator who accomplished the acquisition of that distant and frozen wealth, divided Congress and the country.

And when the chickens came home to roost on the question of slavery and the right of a state to override the laws of the federal government finally had to be settled, our worst nightmare as a nation came to pass in the Civil War, leaving scars still apparent in our political and social system 150 years later.

In both World Wars this country argued the question of "Who's Side Are We On?" In both wars the reaction of our large German immigrant populations and the capitalists who made deals with German munitions companies had to be considered.

In 1940 FDR was fighting to resist tremendous Congressional and industrial pressure to get into the war ON THE SIDE OF THE GERMANS. Henry Ford personally demanded that the President plunge the country into support of the AXIS.

Desegregation rewrote the political landscape and set up a social and political division that has lasted for decades.

We have always been divided. We have always suffered fools. Greed always corrupts. Mediocrity and ignorance have always been celebrated in segments of our population. Good has not always triumphed. Justice is often delayed. Do these current divisions and celebrations of ignorance and crippled vision exceed our capacity to sort things out?

I don’t know. I do know that the question is, as it always has been;

Can we do it? Can ordinary people govern themselves? Is the purpose of government to protect the material wealth and opportunity in the hands of the few, the strong, the quick?

Or is it to maximize the welfare and the opportunity of the many?