First Past Presidents Forum: Part 2

Welcome back to the First Past Presidents Forum on the State American Politics. 

Since the panelists have already been introduced, we will get right into the questions.

It you missed the opening session, I think you would be well advised to review the discussion at:  http://www.timeparables.blogspot.com/2012/05/first-past-presidents-forum-on-american.html

 John P.“Good Morning, President Washington, President Lincoln, President Jefferson and President Adams.  I hope you are all well rested after your (longer than planned) break.  I understand you used the weekend to visit some of your old stomping grounds and to take a look at some of the developments that have occurred in this country since you last trod its earth”

John P.“I would like to start the first question off with President Washington.  My first question seems particularly apropos since you turned down the chance to be President for life and even a third term. What is your opinion of “term limits” and what would you suggest we do today in respect to such an idea?”

President Washington:  “I think elections have become an absurdity in your country today. It is more about being reelected than doing the right thing. Your politicians have made a career out of being re-elected and you have created marketing firms, public relations firms and a myriad of sycophants and boot-lickers who exist solely for the purpose of helping your candidates get re-elected for life.  I was very much against this idea for office and I felt that no man no matter how great, or woman by the way, should be elected for more than two terms for any office in the nation.”

John P.:  “President Adams, I understand you had some views about this as well?”

President Adams:  “I have repeatedly said that I was in favor of term limits. I will repeat my advice again as no time in American history do I think you have more need of this advice than now.  I am for making of terms annual, and for sending an entire new set of politicians to congress every year or at least every term.”

President Jefferson:  “And I have said, perhaps more eloquently than John that:   ‘My reason for fixing them in office for a term of years, rather than for life, was that they might have an idea that they were at a certain period to return into the mass of the people and become the governed instead of the governors which might still keep alive that regard to the public good that otherwise they might perhaps be induced by their independence to forget.’  I think two terms is enough for anyone who is elected to any office in the country.”

John P.:  “Let us move on to the next question.  This question has to do with bi-partisanship and working together across party lines. There are many who think that we have never been more polarized than ever before and that it has become impossible for Democrats and Republicans to work together or to compromise. President Lincoln, can I start with you on this subject?  What is your opinion about partisanship and what do we need to do?”

President Lincoln:  “Thank you John.  I have very strong feelings about this issue.  You may think you have polarization today but you forget that I presided over a country and congress that went to war with each other. In point of fact, the war was as much between parties as it was between states.  I tried to tell the people that ‘We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.’  It turned out to be a fruitless plea as you know. However, that does not dismiss the necessity of compromise and collaboration for the public good.”

President Jefferson:  “I think an evil that you have instituted today lies in the taking of oaths to support certain positions. Any requiring of any person to take an oath other than an oath of office is an abomination. To take an oath to support an amendment, regardless of the nature of the amendment fixes forever the opinion and position of the oath taker and prevents them from compromise or seeing other possibilities.”

President Adams:  “I warned this country that there is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.  Many have said since then that I am wrong. If so, it has only been because of great leadership which has managed to reconcile the differences between the two parties and find that middle ground which follows the truth more closely.”

President Washington:  “I strongly concurred with Mr. Adams on this issue and said the following at my commencement speech.”  ‘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.’

John P.“I have one more question for the panel today before we open it up to the audience.  All of you have endorsed the importance of knowledge and education for a free society.  What do you think of the state of education in America today and what would you recommend we do about improving it?”

President Jefferson:  “I do not see that your education system today is fostering the open minded ability to critique and question the important issues that you must address. I have said that ‘The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.’  However, your politicians seem bent on politicizing issues of marriage, race, religion and many other private matters that are not the province of government.”

President Adams:  “I believe: ‘There are two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live.’  Your education system today has seemed to forgotten this important point.  One can be smart and intelligent but that is only one kind of knowledge.  The role of education and the role of a school are not the same thing.  When I was president there was a great deal more illiteracy and ignorance than there is today. However, your education system has not evolved with the times.  It now seems unable to either show people how to make a living or how to live.  I would suggest you revisit Socrates and Plato and ask how they would teach today.”

President Lincoln:  “My views on this subject are well known:  ‘Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in. That every man may receive at least, a moderate education, and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other countries, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance, even on this account alone, to say nothing of the advantages and satisfaction to be derived from all being able to read the scriptures and other works, both of a religious and moral nature, for themselves. For my part, I desire to see the time when education, and by its means, morality, sobriety, enterprise and industry, shall become much more general than at present, and should be gratified to have it in my power to contribute something to the advancement of any measure which might have a tendency to accelerate the happy period.’

It is evident that this esteemed objective has now become the general good to which your entire populace aspires to but nevertheless, it has lost some vitality that was essential to the original mission and purpose of education.  Thomas mentioned that you are not creating “critical thinkers” and John Adams mentioned that your present system seems to ignore helping people to make a life.  I think it is important to realize that all systems must change, evolve and adapt to the new times and circumstances they find themselves in.  It was the changes in the world that really brought about the end of slavery as an institution.

The War Between the States was just the final gasp of an evil institution that had outlived any purpose, if any good purpose ever indeed existed for it. Your school system today has outlived its original purpose, at least in its original form and needs to evolve. Education remains essential for any democratic government, but schools are not necessarily where education must take place. And if you want to keep a democratic government, education must be as accessible for the poor as for the rich.”

John P.:  Thank you all for your great insights and comments. I now want to invite the audience again to post questions or comments or send them to me via text at 612-310-3803. 

Time for Questions:

How would you address these questions? What are your opinions on the State of American Politics?  What would you change if you had a magic wand and could simply wave it and change our political system?

Life is just beginning.

“The grandest work that a mortal can accomplish is to get people talking, and thereby stir people up to do something.”  —  Susan B. Anthony 

 

The First Past Presidents Forum on American Politics: Part 1

I summon them!  I summon them! I summon them! 
Let it be the quick or the dead.
So long as they are American Presidents, born and bred.
I summon them!  I summon them!                                                                                                               
You are called to the first ever Past Presidents Forum on the State of American Politics.                                                                                                                                                        

I have repeatedly cited the famous quote by Santayana that “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”  What better way to discuss current events than by calling upon these esteemed and worthy (Dare I Say) experts from the past.  What better way to review the State of American Politics than through the eyes of our past presidents and leaders.  Would there be any who would say that Adams or Jefferson despite their somewhat opposing viewpoints would not be able to sit down together to discuss politics and perhaps even reach a compromise?  Note the comments of Jefferson in a letter to a friend and then ask yourself whether this seems to be characteristic of today’s politicians:

“Differing on a particular question from those whom I knew to be of the same political principles with myself, and with whom I generally thought and acted, a consciousness of the fallibility of the human mind and of my own in particular, with a respect for the accumulated judgment of my friends, has induced me to suspect erroneous impressions in myself, to suppose my own opinion wrong, and to act with them on theirs.

The want of this spirit of compromise, or of self-distrust, proudly but falsely called independence, is what gives [some opponents] victories which they could never obtain if these brethren could learn to respect the opinions of their friends more than of their enemies, and prevents many able and honest men from doing all the good they otherwise might do. These considerations… have often quieted my own conscience in voting and acting on the judgment of others against my own… All honest and prudent men [should] sacrifice a little of self-confidence, and… go with their friends, although they may sometimes think they are going wrong.” –Thomas Jefferson to William Duane, 1811. ME 13:50

 

John Persico:  Moderator for this discussion.  Blogger, writer, teacher and consultant.  It is my privilege to host this panel discussion on the following topic and issue:

What do you think of the state of American Government today?  

Panel Members are:  George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

John Persico:  I would like to introduce each of our panelists though I am sure most of you are very familiar with their backgrounds.

George Washington:  The first President of the United States of America.  You turned down the chance to become president for life or a monarch of the newly emerging federation of colonies.  You abhorred party politics and saw politics as an evil to be avoided.  You freed your slaves when you died and made no money from your role of president of the USA.  Many consider you as the greatest of American Presidents for your leadership, courage and compassion.  Your position on government can be characterized by the following quotes:

“Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is a force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”
 
“The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.”
 
John Adams:  The second President of the United States of America.  You were highly educated and you represented enlightenment values promoting freedom and democracy. You advocated for a strong centralized government that would help to create uniform trade and culture between the 13 colonies.  Your position became known as Federalism.  You were a strong advocate for eliminating slavery in the new Republic.  Despite your many contributions to the new government of the United States you were defeated by your major adversary and also best friend Thomas Jefferson.  Your position on Government was summarized very succinctly in your book:

Thoughts on Government:                                                                                                                            
“There is no good government but what is republican. That the only valuable part of the British constitution is so; because the very definition of a republic is an empire of laws, and not of men.”
 
Thomas Jefferson:  The third President of the United States of America.  You are famous for being the principle author of the Declaration in Independence.  You served two terms as president after defeating your best friend John Adams for the presidency. You organized the Democratic-Republican Party to help get you elected.  You tended towards states’ rights and were afraid of the Federalists since they advocated a strong centralized government which would take supremacy over the individual colonies.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
You were a strong advocate for freeing all the slaves but you nevertheless neglected to do so in your own estate.  It was also claimed that you fathered several children with one of your own slaves named Sally Hemings.  You were considered one of the leading and most influential intellectuals (along with John Adams) of your times.  You have made the following statements which somewhat reflect your thoughts on government:
 
“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”
 
“The republican is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind.”
 
“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.”
 
Abraham Lincoln:  The sixteenth President of the United States of America.  You have been named (along with George Washington) as one of the two greatest Presidents in American history.  You ran for the presidency as a Republican. You were elected during one of the most turbulent times in American history as the conflict over slavery and states’ rights reached a boiling point. Your election led to a Civil War between the states over these issues.                                                                                                                                      
Your strong leadership and bold actions led to a reunion of the country and the abolishment of slavery as a legal institution.  Many of your critics say you cared more about keeping the country together than you did freeing the slaves.  Your presidency was characterized by many actions that gave the Federal government considerable power over the states and military.  Some who say you as a new Caesar assassinated you on April 15, 1865 as you began your second term in office. You have held the following beliefs about the role of government during your life:
 
“It is the duty of every government to give protection to its citizens, of whatever class, color, or condition, and especially to those who are duly organized as soldiers in the public service.”
 
“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves – in their separate, and individual capacities.”                                                                                   

Due to the lengthy nature of their travels, we will reconvene and begin our discussion after the panelists (fresh from trips of over 200 years for some) have had a chance for some rest and sustenance.

Time for Questions:

In keeping with our modern technology, I would invite any of you who have questions for the panelists to either put them in the comments section today, send them to me by email or text message me at 612-310-3803.  Tom and John were particularly curious about our new technology and would love to see it in action.

Life is just beginning.

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”   —  Issac Asimov

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