Tuesday, March 06, 2007

State Of Affairs: The American Republic

Before I get into the meat of this post, I want to stress that this is not a partisan post. This is not a Democratic thing, nor is it a Republican thing. It is an American thing.

As I look back at the various presidencies that I have witnessed in my lifetime, I have noticed a commonality that is worthy of some commentary here. It seems that all of the presidents that have been re-elected to a second term (in my lifetime) have faced a mounted campaign by the opposition to drag the sitting president into the gutter, during the second term. All except for those that didn't get the second term, that is.

For a brief synopsis of this,
read this article from the NYT. (It's a bit dated, but illustrates much of what I am trying to say here.)

At a glance, it would appear this nation (that has influenced so many over the last two centuries) has seemingly developed some flaws along the way. In all of the history of democratic republics, there have been stumbling blocks along the way. Rome, ancient Greece, were models of democracy at some points in their history, at least in the time of their highest grandeur. But they too had flaws. If they hadn't, they would still be in existence in their original forms today.

But, as flawed as a democratic republic can be at times, the alternatives of absolutism and/or anarchy are not viable options to ensure that the individuals of a given society are as free from repression, as humanly possible. Monarch or emperor worship does not allow for freedom, any more than does the anarchist view of "every man for himself" does. So, here we sit with a system that is imperfect and often leases itself to abuse and mismanagement.

But that does not mean that we should accept anything, just because whatever that anything may be, is better than its alternatives. One must look to improve the system, not tear it down further. By tearing it down, it weakens. And if it is weakened by the people that comprise it, it can possibly set the stage for one of those alternatives that we do not want to think about, to come into play. (The Weimar Republic comes to mind here.)

A republic, if you can keep it is a phrase often quoted by many, said by Ben Franklin. It appears every so often during the course of op-ed pieces, essays, and other forms of expository writings. But do we really know what he meant, when he said it?

If we look at all the forms of government that has existed before and after that time, we see there are many. Not all have had the people's best interests at heart, not all have served the people well. Just look at the Soviet Union under Stalin, France under Napoleon, and Germany under Hitler (just to name a few). All gave the people an illusion. Are today's governments any different?

In the history of the U.S., there have been many internal movements for equality. The women's movement, racial equality, gay rights, all were noble movements in their day, all had a place in American society. All were needed and still are, but only to a smaller extent than the leaderships of these various movements today would have us believe. Why do I say this?

One thing I have noticed in all of my ponderings about mankind, is this. Once fairness and equality is achieved in anything, the goal then becomes empowerment. If we look at freedom from a sensible standpoint, we see those that truly want to do the right thing; but once that thing is done, they turn greedy and want more. They seek to extend their influence into other areas and seek more power, as if it were some kind of drug. So it is with politics, as well.

Many politicians start out with the idea that they are going to reform the system for the people. That's the platform they campaign on, that's what they get elected on. Once in power, they may try at first. But they all soon come to a stark realization that the system is set up for corruption. Lobbyists, special interests, and the likes are the real driving forces that govern, not the people that sent them there in the first place. This attitude and philosophy knows no party lines, knows no political ideologies. Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals, or whatever, all are part of that same system. All want power. All will abuse that power in some way, in order to keep that power.

Sure, the party that has been out of power will always paint a rosy picture of what they will do, if only we give them a chance. When there is a generalized malaise caused by the party that is in power or some outrageous scandal that makes the people indignant and angry, the opposition is always ready to cash in. They will promise a change, they will promise anything. But once in power, they forget their promises. Then, it soon becomes more of the same, only with different faces and names (and different special interests).

After years of Democratic rule in the Congress, we saw the erosion of principles. The Jim Wright and the Dan Rostenkowski affairs were but a sliver of the corruption that took place over that time period. Then along came the GOP's Contract With America and the promises that came with it. One particular promise still comes to mind when I think about it is, term limits. Did term limits get implemented? Not as of this writing, nor is it likely to. Why? Because the only thing that supersedes the desire for power is, the desire to keep it.

Today, we see a new era of Democratic control, one that promised us the moon, the stars, and the sun in order to get into power. Do we have hope, now that the corrupt Republicans have been voted out of power? I can't say that we do. Again, we have new faces, new names, new special interests, but none of them are in this for the benefit of the people, they represent. They will govern until the people get sick and tired of them and the next round of rotten politicians sell the people their particular bill of goods, for the specific purpose of getting elected.

So, I guess if asked, it's safe to say that we have been able to keep this republic that the founding fathers have given us, so far. But with all that's been going on over the last 50 years or so, I wonder how long we will be able to continue to do so. With all of the polarization in the political arena today, it's a wonder there hasn't been fighting in the streets. But, that still may come someday, if we aren't careful. If we consent to tearing down the offices and institutions just for political gain (and the empowerment that comes with it), this may very well become a reality in many of our lifetimes.

Much of this isn't new. Scandals have been a part of every single presidency from George Washington on. One only needs to read the book, Executive Privilege by Jack Mitchell to see this plainly enough. Power struggles based on ideology aren't new either. One only needs to read the many books that detail the early days of the American republic, to get an understanding of this. The Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans were very polarized at the time, much like we are now.

But beside everything else, there is one thing (beyond a shadow of a doubt) that was true then and still holds true today. This imperfect system that is rife with corruption still beats the hell of absolutism and anarchy, any day of the week. It always will.

Knowing this, the questions then become:

How much are we willing to sacrifice to keep those horrible alternatives from becoming a reality, here in this day and age?

When will we realize that corruption does not have to be tolerated?

Is there any hope that someone, somewhere can lead this nation in a bi-partisan way, to meet the challenges that we all must face?

Is it even possible for the two parties to stop continually tearing down one another, with low-life dirty tactics; is it possible to sell their very best ideas to the American people, not because of their own interests but for that of the people?

I am beginning to wonder.

Naive, you say? Well, maybe a little. Cynical? Definitely.

I just think there has to be a better way for the government to meet the obligations of the people. That's all. There has to be a better way, but it has to start with the people demanding better.
It's no wonder that the best people for the jobs, don't want the jobs. Until then, we will get the government we deserve. No more, no less.


Anonim said...

Good commentary. Enjoyed reading it.

But, your analysis was essentially inward (on the domestics, that is). How about the outward outlook? 'Foreign entanglements'? A good part of today's rift (or the severity of such) appears to be caused by major disagreements there. It also appears to be a colossal source of corruption, too (Haliburtons, defense contracts, etc.). Can you keep the republic while becoming an empire of sorts?

Mary Ellen said...

Corruption...sure there will always be a few corrupt people in every administration. It's when the corruption is so inundated in a ruling party that it becomes dangerous to our republic that we have to really worry. I believe this is the case with our present administration. In all the years that I have been aware of our government and voted, I've never seen anything like this.

For instance, in the last 4 years or so we've had to deal with the Abramoff scandal, illegal wire tapping, outing of a CIA agent, a White House official found guilty of obstructing justice, the (possibly illegal) firing of 5 US Attorney's who would not bend to the politics of this administration, Congressman preying on underage pages in the White House, lies about non-existent WMD's in order to make a pre-emptive attack on a Sovereign country, the list goes on and on. This goes well beyond any other administration I've ever seen. These aren't just small flaws, these are things that eat at the core of our American Republic.

Today, we see a new era of Democratic control, one that promised us the moon, the stars, and the sun in order to get into power. Do we have hope, now that the corrupt Republicans have been voted out of power? I can't say that we do. Again, we have new faces, new names, new special interests, but none of them are in this for the benefit of the people, they represent.

What is bothering me is the garbage I'm hearing about how the Democrats aren't fulfilling their promises they made before they were elected as a majority in the Congress and Senate. They are expected to clean up the mess that the Republican party has made of our country in the last 6 years because of their lack of oversite to this President, in just a few short months? It's going to take a long time to get us back on track again.

Do you honestly believe that the mess at Walter Reed Hospital would have been investigated if there wasn't a Democratic majority? They knew about all the problems over there and swept it under the rug. THAT'S what the Democrats are doing for our military and their families. THEY will get this fixed instead of trying to protect the President from bad publicity.

Do you think there would be an investigation about the firings of the US Attorney's for political reasons under the Republican majority? Hah! I don't think so.

Look how long we had to fight to get a 911 commission from the Republican majority. Bush fought tooth and nail to shut that down. He and Cheney refused to go under oath during that commission and the Republican majority allowed them to get away with that! The Republicans did nothing but lob a few softball questions at those in the Republican administration and refused to dig or insist on answers when they weren't given. Look how long they've stalled on the 2nd part of that investigation.

This deep seeded corruption that we are seeing now has nothing to do with "oh, this happens in all 2nd term presidents". No. Bush was a crook in his first four years and it is in his second four that we are reaping the rewards of his arrogance and ignorance.

In Clinton's second term, he would have gotten much more done had he not had to deal with Ken Starr and his phony excuses for investigations. All that money and time spent that came up with nothing! Even during that time, Bill Clinton did his job. In fact, he warned Bush about Bin Laden before he left office. He told Bush that he was the guy to watch...be careful. Bush didn't, and even after being warned about Bin Laden wanting to attack the US, he ignored it. He was given information that terrorists were talking about flying planes into buildings. He ignored it. Then we hear a from Condi, "We had no idea that anyone was planning on flying planes into our buildings". Lies. Lies. And more lies.

How anyone could believe that Bush actually cares about our country is beyond me. He sends our military troops into war unprepared, uses them for photo-ops (the healthy ones) and ignores those that have returned from his war that are battered and broken by giving them sub-par health care (and that's putting it mildly). What he did (or didn't do, I should say) to help those poor people in Louisiana is a crime in itself.

I don't think the corruption that has overtaken this administration has anything to do with an imperfect system, but everything to do with a President who thinks he is king and doesn't have to abide by the laws that are set out in the Constitution.

Didn't our US Attorney General just say in response to the investigation on the US Attorney firings that he didn't have time or he would not bother to abide by any subpoenas regarding that issue? He thinks he is above the law too.

We have almost two more years of this guy as our president...we'll see if our American Republic can take anymore of his idiocy.....I guess a lot of it will depend on if he sends us into another war...before finishing the two that he already started.

The people are already demanding better, they showed that when they threw out the Republicans in the Congress and Senate last November. And by the looks of Bush's approval ratings, they figured out what a big mistake they made by believing anything that comes out of his mouth. Well, most everybody has, there's still that lingering 30% or so who can't face reality.

beinghad said...

I think all individuals are prone to corruption. Perhaps some more than others, but every human, being imperfect by design, has both selfish tendencies and the possibility of altruism. I have always felt that the key to a healthy society is not simply democracy, but democracy combined with a genuine vested interest on the part of those who would do the voting.

In the USA's current economic state, the little guy has almost completely been washed off the map by big business and that pesky 3 percent or so who control 93% of the money. When a Wall Mart closes down 14 or fifteen small stores, it creates only more wage slaves and removes from the community 15 people who had up until them a place and a face in the community. This sort of playing field builds the law of the jungle, not civilized, entrepreneurial ingenuity.

I live in Belarus. Though there is not the sort of personal access to resources and business, the holdover ideology is that each individual is supposed to be responsible for his or her corner of the world and that his or her labor goes to the betterment of the whole. Both of the previous two comments make a similar point: Though of course all want to be comfortable and free from fear and assault, it is felt that this outward rather than inward orientation builds on the altruistic side of man's nature rather than on his personal greed. You can argue as to the relative success, but as of the moment, even after 15 years of poverty, a democratic poll of the region shows that well better than 50% want to return to those days.

There needs to be a compromise. There needs to be both freedom of expression and social responsibility available for and expected from every person. And this means that we cannot dismiss each other. On the contrary, we must build from the perspective of the race as a whole and manage our resources, ecology and supply and demand necessities not from the dream that you personally could get rich, but rather that you can do the job of making things better. Material wealth, comfort and power cannot be the sole direction of a human being's life. This cannot be what the word democracy really means.

Greg said...

I think people are constantly "demanding better," but we aren't given a good choice of people. Sometimes good people run for office, but they never win. You really have to be a liar to be elected to anything. But mainly, I think the problem is that good people are not turned on by public office anymore. Public office is now something that rich tycoons do when they get bored making billions.

Mary Ellen said...

I think people are constantly "demanding better," but we aren't given a good choice of people.

The right wing crowd has been tearing down Jimmy Carter ever since I can remember. He was honest, he wasn't interested in being President for the power, and he did everything he could to try and make things better for the citizens of the US. There wasn't and isn't a corrupt bone in his body and even today, he shows himself to be kind and generous with all he does for Habitat for Humanity and other charities.

The problems he had while president was that he didn't want to fight dirty, but the Republicans did the best they could do in smearing him.

I also think that Gerald Ford wasn't a bad guy. Again, he wasn't power hungry, he did the best he could for his country. I may not have agreed with all his policies, but I never thought he was trying to stick it to those who didn't agree with him.

There are good guys/gals out there in our elected offices. Unfortunately, when the corrupt ones are the ones who have the most power (i.e. Bush, Cheney, Gonzalas, Rice, Rove, etc.) we all suffer for it.

LASunsett said...


//Good commentary. Enjoyed reading it.//

Thank you sir.

//A good part of today's rift (or the severity of such) appears to be caused by major disagreements there.//

That's true. But even before this present administration, this kind of partisan politics reared its ugly head.

During the Jimmy Carter years, we never heard about the homeless. Reagan was elected, then Bush Sr. and suddenly we had this huge homeless problem, night after night on the evening news for 12 years.

Then, when Clinton became president, the homeless went away, only to resurface after GWB was in office.

During Clinton's watch, it was Whitewater, Whitewater, Whitewater, then Lewinsky, Lewinsky, Lewinsky.
I could go one, but get the idea.

LASunsett said...


//Corruption...sure there will always be a few corrupt people in every administration.//

A few corrupt people? I would say the it's more than a few. And then, it's not just the administrations, it's the Congresses as well. I would agree that the ruling party seems to have more problems than the minority party, but both parties whether ruling or not, have many, many people that are on the take.

//The right wing crowd has been tearing down Jimmy Carter ever since I can remember. //

Jimmy's people did a fine job of doing that all by themselves. I am going to refresh your memory a bit here with some names that may have slipped your mind (as it was a long time ago).

Bert Lance, Hamilton Jordan, David Marston, his brother Billy, and his sons Jack and Chip brought much embarrassment to him with various scandals.

Truman is both revered and beloved by Dems and the GOP alike, but he so many scandals that he had a 25% approval rating and that contributed to him not running for a full second term in 1952.

It's not just a Bush thing or a GOP thing, its politician thing.

LASunsett said...


//I think all individuals are prone to corruption.//

Outstanding observation there sir (and I am not being flippant when I say this, either).

I tend to think this too.

So, if that is true, why do politicians break their backs to come with some dirt on the opposition, when all people, Dem or GOP, can fall prey to this corruption/power trap?

LASunsett said...


//You really have to be a liar to be elected to anything.//

I had this conversation with my uncle just about two years into Clinton's term. My uncle hated him and I knew it. One night after a night on Bourbon Street (During Mardi Gras) and having ingested copious amounts of bourbon, I asked him why?

He started some intoxicated tangent about how Clinton had lied. I then asked him to name one president that didn't. That made it worse, so I shut up and went to bed.

Point is, they all lie, they all cheat, most of them steal or take bribes in some form or fashion. It's a fact. No, I cannot prove every allegation in a court of law. But that doesn't mean it isn't so.

Maybe good people do not want to be part of that scene or sell their souls to the system.