It is a double measure of today’s bottomless political ignorance and of the intellectual gulf that separates our first chief executives from modern ones that anyone could thoughtlessly compare the purpose of the American Revolution with the aims of the “war on terror.” On February 19th, President George Bush visited Mount Vernon on the occasion of George Washington’s 275th birthday. He exemplified such a measure in what he said.
“Today, we’re fighting a new war to defend our liberty and our people and our way of life,” Bush said in a speech at Mount Vernon. “And as we work to advance the cause of freedom around the world, we remember that the father of our country boasted that the freedoms we secured in our revolution were not meant for Americans alone.”
Without stooping to dwell much on George Bush’s composition skills or his knowledge of history, I am sure he did not write his own speech, and equally certain that much of what he said in it about George Washington was new to him. One of the tasks of speechwriters is to imbue the office of President with a façade of wisdom and literacy. I am willing to bet that Bush, until he vetted the speech, did not know that many new Americans clamored for Washington to become King George the First of the United States, demonstrating even then the vestiges of a clinging psychological need for a monarch.
Many things in Bush’s speech offended me. I will begin with the paragraph quoted above.
“Today, we’re fighting a new war to defend our liberty and our people and our way of life.” No, we are not. We are expending lives and treasure in an altruist moral adventure to spread “democracy” in Islamic countries, something neither George Washington nor any of his immediate successors in office would even conceive of doing. Our liberty, such as is left of it in our declining republic, is not being “defended,” but rather is being sacrificed and discarded in ever growing chunks to the welfare state. And “our people” can be best defended, and the security of this country ensured, by adopting a policy Bush has evaded ever since 9/11: by removing the Islamic threat, and leaving the Muslims to their own devices.
Our “way of life”? I do not know what this phrase means any more. It cannot mean freedom that is protected by the government, because our government is the worst violator of our freedoms. More and more, Americans are expected to report or account to the government in virtually every aspect of their lives. Remember, for example, that April 15th is approaching, and that Americans now work nearly half a year for the federal government to pay income taxes.
“And as we work to advance the cause of freedom around the world, we remember that the father of our country boasted that the freedoms we secured in our revolution were not meant for Americans alone.”
It is not this country’s “duty” to educate at its own expense and the price of American lives other countries on the morality and practicality of freedom. But, how can we work to advance the “cause of freedom” when we have forgotten what “freedom” is, or what are its roots or cause, or never knew freedom except for the crumbs of it that have fallen from the banquet table of statist largess, ultimately destined to be swept up by the federal wait staff? How can we advance it in countries whose citizens do not want it, but “democratically” prefer to structure their lives around a religious book of abominable irrationality (e.g., the Bible, or the Koran)?
How many our soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan will admit before a television news camera that they don’t believe they are fighting for Iraqi or Afghani freedom at all, but rather for the “freedom” of men to flagellate themselves with swords and chains and to compel women to behave like two-legged chattel sheathed in black winding sheets? None. If those soldiers are under the gun of correctness or orders, they’ll say what they are expected to say to save themselves certain grief meted out by their politically correct commanders.
Elsewhere in his speech, Bush stated:
“When the American people chose Washington for the role [of president], he reluctantly accepted….Washington accepted the presidency because the office needed him, not because he needed the office.”
While it is true that Washington preferred to remain a private citizen, Bush’s assertion suggests that Washington was solely motivated by a sense of self-sacrifice, which is perfectly in conformance with Bush’s own code of altruism. While I am not a Washington scholar, I know enough about the man that it is more likely he accepted the presidency because the nation he had fought to create was a value to him. The lesser value to him was his status of a private citizen safely ensconced at Mount Vernon. What would that relative serenity have meant to him if he saw that nation on the brink of dissolution and anarchy?
Washington’s “honesty and courage have become the stuff of legend. Children are taught to revere his name, and leaders look to him for strength in uncertain times.”
Where anymore are “children taught to revere his name”? How many of them go on to college perhaps never having encountered Washington in their “social studies,” or think that he was president during the Civil War? And if, by chance, they are expected by teachers to “revere” his name, in today’s multiculturalist world, would they have been instructed to share that reverence with the likes of Robert Mugabe or Mao or Mahatma Gandhi?
And what “strength” could modern American leaders derive from Washington’s example when they hold that uncertainty, pragmatism and expediency are the bywords of foreign and domestic policies? Washington’s character, integrity, and stature can be only unreal or invisible to modern politicians.
Washington was neither an intellectual giant nor a political philosopher. Neither is George W. Bush. But, picturing them standing side-by-side produces an incredible incongruity. In every respect by which we can judge men, it is a pygmy versus a giant.
One wonders what passed through George Bush’s mind as he spoke about Washington on February 19th. I can only paraphrase a line from Book Four: Empire, from Sparrowhawk, in which another little man incurs the anger of the giant: “As he spoke, he could only imagine the ludicrousness of his small frame standing toe to toe in opposition to the towering figure of George Washington.”