By David P Shirk
Many people like to quote the founders and other influential people of our nation’s beginnings, yet many seem to miss the point. For example, Thomas Paine wrote several pieces, but started with a work we are all familiar with called Common Sense. Though he had no formal education, and was not a gentleman of the time, he managed to accomplish something that none of the founders were able to do – ignite the common colonists into action. At the beginning, Jefferson and Madison were thankful for this ability, and despite their misgivings about its potential, welcomed it. Indeed, Jefferson found it amazing how Paine was able to get the common man to stand up and learn something that no other man of the time was able to teach. He felt that because of the new ‘awakening’ of the people by Paine’s fiery words, that they would continue on the path of learning, and apply it to a productive end.
Yet once ignited, the people began to forget the deep words if the philosophies of those like Jefferson and Madison, and seemed unable to rise any further then Paine’s teaching of individual rights. What had started as a welcome ‘awakening’ soon turned into a political and social free-for-all that completely left behind the reason for being independent to begin with. Jefferson reasoned that the people should be self-interested in their personal lives, and disinterested in their politics (i.e.- not seeking personal benefit through government action). Those like Paine reasoned that because government in all forms is nothing more than control, that everyone should have a say in it. In spite of this however, Jefferson stood firm in his belief that the newly freed people would naturally strive to become less interested government as it would be small, and hardly worth the time.
These two separate ideas had a fatal collision when actions taken by Hamilton (and worse yet by Aaron Burr) proved to Jefferson and the people alike, that government was not only getting bigger, but more like the very same one they had fought against during the war. And even though Paine then went overseas to aid in the French rebellion and its establishment of a republic, his words had ignited people to continue taking action – maintaining that it was imperative to their new freedoms. Yet Paine had not taken into account (or really did not care) what would happen when a people who were largely uneducated and unmannered started getting ‘involved’ in politics.
So when ‘learned or privileged’ figures began to use the new system to gain personal powers and favors at the expense of others, the people followed the ‘get mad’ doctrine we are so familiar with today. Yet because of their lack of learning and the circles they walked in, they could not differentiate the good politicians or their policies from the bad. So instead of adopting the more ‘enlightened’ course (learning what caused the problem, who exactly was responsible etc), they sought to get the new ‘oppressors’ out of office by electing local hero’s, or anyone the rapidly expanding press deemed as worthy material. To them, the ‘learned gentleman’ was the new enemy, and part of those seeking to gain power over the ‘common man’. As such, you had people getting into office who had no idea how to legislate.
If this was not bad enough, many people began to learn that taking advantage of the situation was easy – all they had to do was pretend that they were a friend of the people. This was commonly done by people claiming to be the ‘common man’ or a friend thereof. Of these people, many were endorsed by local newspapers that had no mercy when it came to slander. It wasn’t long before this slander degraded to all out lies. No one, not even Jefferson or Washington, the very people who gave them their freedom, were immune to the abuse. The papers and other periodicals at the time grew, and with them, the opinion that anyone even remotely considered to be a federalist, old school republican or democrat was guilty of trying to re-establish an imperialistic state.
On the creation of the Sedition Act in the 1790’s, many accused the federalists etc of encroaching on their freedom of speech. Meanwhile the old school federalist like Jefferson and Madison wondered how the freedom to lie could be covered by law. They had understood that such nonsense came with the territory, but could not have possibly imagined when they first started creating a new government, that such entities would do such things. They had not meant the freedom of speech to be used for outright lies. Today, Ron Paul speaks of neo-cons – self proclaimed conservatives whose actions actually oppose the actions of a real conservative. These are looked upon by so many people to be a new thing – especially when they are hailed by the media as being great political leaders. The truth is that all the way back to the 1790’s, the same thing had already done its damage to the Republican Party. So it comes as no surprise that even back then, the ‘freedom of speech’ protected people in the media who were making money hand over fist just stir up trouble. In such a fragile stage of our nation’s development, the combination proved fatal to the dreams of founders like Jefferson.
So as I write this, I wonder how it can possibly be, that with public libraries and an internet that delivers entire books worth of information in minutes, we are following the same trend. How can a people that claim to belong to the ‘greatest nation on earth’ be so blind and so willfully uncaring, that they gladly shrug off every remnant of the REAL American dream, and shoulder a nightmare in its place. I wonder how it comes to pass that we have so many ‘freedom’ movements that hardly a single one of them get the damn point. From ridiculously misled tea parties all the way up to the mouth of the idiots in congress, not a single ounce of the real American dream is present. Just as it did over 220 years ago, the freedom of speech is abused to allow the most inane lies and misconceptions to be uttered to the masses by both the government AND the people. 220 years after we had started to grow, and we still fall prey to the idea that the common man knows what is best for the whole country (and of course themselves). Well, I am sorry, if they knew what was best for them then they wouldn’t always whine for a government safety net. If they knew what was best for themselves, then they would not allow entire buildings full of legislative bull to tell them what’s good for them and what isn’t. The one and only reason I hold this against such people is that they are so trusting of all the nonsense, that they close their ears and tune you out when you try to tell them that it’s okay to think for themselves, and that the idea of a collective interest can never truly benefit the individual.
The smaller the government, the more beneficial to all parties involved. The federal government we know today had nothing in common at all with the one the federalists of the 1780’s tried to conceive. In their minds, the federal government had one purpose and one purpose only – to mediate between two differing judgments from the states or political groups. It was separate from the states not in an effort to be the high and mighty governing body, but so that it held no bias in its decisions. The reason it was headed by the better off of society was not so that they could look down upon the people, but to use their hard earned knowledge and experience to keep the ‘self-interest’ out of government, and ensure freedom, and fairness. They were supposed to be people who had made it in life to put them above accepting bribes and special favors, and their pay was so low that initially, nobody wanted to be a senator (who at the time were paid so little that affording even a book was hard)or representative.
Yet once again – their good intentions were dashed on the rocks of public opinion. Initially, it was quite understandable given the policies of Hamilton and the crooks like Burr. Yet in such messes, a rift was created. As the misinformed public started to vote in more and more self-serving officials, the more and more self-serving the states became. The public’s opinion had allowed people into office that took full advantage in every way, and created another arc in the destructive circle.
So I ask again – what is our excuse today? We no longer have to rely on mass media. We have cheap books and the internet to have discussion and debate – why do we care about what some idiot anchor on TV says? We are all blessed with brains, and I think it’s time we started using them to reason like people instead go mooing from herd to freakin herd. If we do not start learning from the mistakes of the past, and letting fear and frustration get the best of us, we will accomplish nothing. As of now, not even a velvet revolution would help – all these morons out there who know what’s best would have a mooing contest – and the office would go to the highest moo’er, and if you think I am joking or trying to be funny, then you are dead wrong. Second, as the old order passes and people start learning that voting can indeed work, we will have a repeat of the late 1790’s- early 1800’s. Think about it. If our nation went so wrong back then with no nuclear power, no real ‘global enemies’, and no real foreign economic and supply dependence, what do you think would happen with an arsenal of nukes capable of destroying earth 100 times over, Rush or Cheney or some other monkey in office trying to solve global foreign issues, and take your pick of the New Secretary of Treasury dealing with a multi-trillion dollar debt.
If that’s what you people want, then I’m out – that’s too crazy, even for a nut like me. I think we would be far better off realizing the dream of the original radicalism of the US as it was built for, not this mockery of it we have today.