When looking at lists of the greatest presidents America has had, George Washington is often among the highest ranked. He led the colonists against the British in the American Revolution for Pete’s sake! How could he not be ranked highly? In my list he ranks highly for one simple reason – his ability to say no.
After the British were defeated and America became its own formally recognized country, George Washington was elected as the first President of the United States of America. He would serve for two terms, albeit the second was reluctant. Following his second term, Washington refused to run for a third term thus setting a precedent of presidents serving only two terms. That precedent has withstood the test of time until FDR served a third and then fourth term as leader of the free world.
George Washington is the perfect example of what an American president should be. His presidency is marked by a series of actions that would define the nation and its federal government. His character, however, would epitomize what an American should be. His ability to say no, as I mentioned above, is what we should all aim for. Washington, revered as he may be, always had a notion of sharing power rather than monopolizing it. Unfortunately that was not a precedent that persevered through the ranks of the United States government.
Today we have a series problem. No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, I think we can agree on that. A blame game is useless, because let’s face it, this is everyone’s fault. No, I’m not talking about the shutdown, I’m talking about our political system.
In his Farewell Address in 1796, Washington said several things regarding political parties. The most important of which was:
“There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the Administration of the Government and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true–and in Governments of a Monarchical cast Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate & assuage it. A fire not to be quenched; it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest instead of warming it should consume.”
What Washington means is that a party system has serious fundamental flaws. Party politics has a natural inclination to destroy the system with their divisions. As a society, he argues, we should be monitoring parties to keep them in check. Unfortunately that hasn’t worked so well.
We can see today that party politics has done what Washington had feared. The spirit of the party that Washington mentions has been in serious excess such that the wheels of government have literally shutdown. Now, again, I am not specifically mentioning the current government shutdown, but rather, the two ruling parties have become increasingly uncompromising in their beliefs.
There is no longer a gray area of politics where one can believe this or that. Instead there is a deep rift, in which you either side with the democrats or you side with the republicans. That is what Washington feared.
Washington, like the other revolutionaries and founding fathers, sought to create a place where different opinions were welcomed. They sought intellectual discourse and debate, freedom and peace. Today their legacy seems to have become something much different. Instead of their ideals, the nation has accepted and embraced political talking points and close-minded arguments.
I think it’s time we change that.