Monday, February 16, 2009

Thoughts on Washington

Part of my President's day observation has been to cram as much of the miniseries John Adams in as possible. When I last left it, due to the need to go to work, Mr Adams had just been elected president. But I was reminded in the last part what importance his predecessor brought to the office. That man was President George Washington.

One important thing defines his presidency: He could have been king.

Maybe not Constitutionally, but had Washington desired it, he could have remained in office until death. And had he desired it, he could have taken more control unto himself by popular assent.

However, he did no such thing. He acquiesced to the demands of the people to stay in office into a second term, but no longer. This tradition lasted until FDR was elected to an unprecedented third and fourth term. As a result, the 22nd Amendment passed, including a two-term limit.

The reason why Washington established a precedent, and we eventually passed an amendment, is that the original intent of the Founding Fathers was to make our nation a nation of laws, not men. The Senate was not popularly elected for this reason. And the president still isn't.

And the thing they fought against was the idea of a perpetual ruling class: Those that became firmly ensconced in their positions from whence they ruled. And while there were many that served in government capacities throughout their lives, it was generally through a succession of posts, rather than spending decades molding in their seats.

Compare that with the career politicians that spend more years in one seat than out. They stay around long past their expiration date, sucking on the money and power and privilege. And most importantly, they forget the people they serve.

If I could wish it so, the people we would elect would be the most reluctant leaders we could find; those that would be less about getting the sound bite and more about getting their job done so they can get out of Washington and back to the real world to shovel shit with the rest of us.

It takes a lot to be elected President of the United States. It takes more to voluntarily walk away.


Shaw Kenawe said...


Great argument FOR Caroline Kennedy as Senator from New York.

The Founding Fathers wanted people to serve in Congress who were NOT professional politicians, but rather Citizen Legislators--who would serve their terms and return to their former lives.

And this is why President Obama is a perfect example--Young, smart, and not a professional politician.

He served in the US Congress for a very short term, and also in his state legislature.

All that nonsense about his not having "experience" was antithetical to what the Founding Fathers hoped for this country.

PS. Harry Truman, when he left the presidency, said he was getting a raise--going back to being a citizen.

Given 'em hell, Harry!

TAO said...

Yes, Patrick...

Fine point you have made but there is another point that you forgot that is very much tied to the point you make....

True statesmen are leaders because the country and or the cause came first. They rallied people to a higher ideal and it was always country first.

Now, politics is a career, and game where strategy matters more than purpose. One does not risk or sacrifice ones self for a higher ideal. One does not stand up for what one believes if it at all involves personal risk.

It is politics by public relations or by public opinion polls.

Manipulate and be manipulated.

Just read Clinton's autobiography and read some President from 50 years earlier....Clinton just talks about himself not what he was attempting to achieve.

Look at LBJ who sacrificed a second term so that he could achieve success on civil rights even though he knew it would destroy the democratic majority in the was still the right thing to do in his mind.

We do not have leaders who are willing to lead anymore...not willing to lead the whole country....

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more! These career politicians are what is wrong with this country (among other things). When they are more concerned about getting elected again than on their true purpose, representing the people, there is something dreadfully wrong. Until that happens and I am not holding my breath, our representatives will look after themselves and leave the people to hang.

dmarks said...

Shaw: "And this is why President Obama is a perfect example--Young, smart, and not a professional politician."

Most will agree on the first two. However, he has certainly been a professional politician since 1996. He's not a good example at all of this. State leslators, and even long-term mayors count as professional politicians.

Beth said...

People continue to re-elect their representatives for two reasons, they either just automatically pick the incumbent, or they think that having a seasoned person in there to try to get pork projects sent back to their state is better than having a newbie in there. And with the perks our elected officials get, it's no wonder they want to stick around.

Get rid of the perks and the pork and you'd get rid of that incentive for people to hang in there for life.

Patrick M said...

I'll go out on a limb after reading your comments and say I agree. Mostly.

Okay, not much of a limb.

Toad734 said...

I think no term limits in congress is one of the reasons we have so many problems today. Those fuckers get too comfortable with special interest groups and lobbyists to do any real good for the people. Now, I don't think anyone would run for congress if they could only serve for two years so maybe that would have to change as well. But if you find a petition to enact term limits in congress let me know, Ill be the first to sign.

dmarks said...

Toad: I agree with you. However, there is no provision for petitions having any effect at the national level, so there is no point to that.

Arthurstone said...

Proportional voting.

Patrick M said...

Toad: Now, I don't think anyone would run for congress if they could only serve for two years ....

I would. So would lots of other people. The people that wouldn't run would be the ones who want to make politics a career.

Although two years is a little less. If I were going to set term limits, it would be 3 terms (6 years) for the House, 2 terms (12 years) for the Senate. It allows for some experience, and a regular cleaning of house (none of this decades in office bullshit).

Arthur: It's an idea worth considering. It may or may not be workable. It would require an amendment though.

Arthurstone said...

Campaign time limits.

Limit campaign season to three months (or some period of time) before an election.

Limit fund-raising to particular times of year.

dmarks said...

Arthur: The campaign time limit is an interesting idea, but all it does is cripple the ability of anyone to challenge incumbents.

Incumbents campaign all the time, traveling around making public appearances and speeches, as part of their job.

Also, the very rich can get around it, too. Remember when way back Donald Trump was making a major publicity push over a new book he had written and published. There was even talk would run for President. All one of these guys has to do in order to avoid "campaign limits" is to (supposedly) write a book, and travel around the country hawking the book and their ideas. And then at the last minute they declare they are running for office.

Gordon said...

"Look at LBJ who sacrificed a second term so that he could achieve success on civil rights even though he knew it would destroy the democratic majority in the was still the right thing to do in his mind."


Honestly, this is an interpretation I've never seen for LBJ's actions. I can't square it with my own knowledge of the timeline and the history. Do you have a reference? I'd like to read more.

dmarks said...

A few days ago, the fascist dictator of Venezuela rigged it so he will be "president for life", so there is a current events example of someone who went in the opposite direction of George Washington. That is, to seize as much power as possible.

Arthurstone said...


I agree.

Campaign time limits obviously wouldn't work on their own for the reasons you indicate. And many spending limit plans have failed in the courts.

But adding them into some combination of term limits, proportional voting, campaign time & spending limits might help.

Toad734 said...

Fuck that, there is no way I would pack up and move to DC just for 2 years and then have to pack up and go back home. Especially if I had kids in school and shit. That would suck.

dmarks said...

Arthur: I'm not sold on any of these except for term limits. Proportional voting seems too much like replacing 6 with a half-dozen, and I already told you about how i think spending and campaign limits cripple the ability of challengers while leaving incumbents and the already-very-rich untouched.

Toad: While we are thinking of alternatives, perhaps we are at the technological point where telepresence can replace the legislators having to go to Washington? I just thought of this now, and I am sure it is hardly an original idea, and has been discussed elsewhere.

Lobbyists would sure hate it: the costs of flying to hundreds of places instead of just one would be prohibitive. They'd be reduced to spamming the legislators.

As for security, I'm hard pressed to see a downside if hackers manage to hack into secret committe/caucus/etc meetings (which would now be mostly virtual). and make them public

Toad734 said...


If the lobbyist would hate it, sign me up. Hey, maybe that should be a part of the stimulus, that could create jobs whilst decreasing the cost of governing. Imagine them not having to take all those flights to and from DC. Sure, Biden takes a train but most people fly across country.