WHY ARE THERE NO GREAT STATESMEN LEFT IN AMERICA?
Attorney Jonathan Emord
February 1, 2010
Many conscientious Americans who are keen observers of politics have been perplexed for quite some time now. They look across the Democratic and Republican parties and, with few exceptions, find no great men of letters, no great orators, no great intellects—in short, no great statesmen. Why is it that a country of such extraordinary achievement and promise would in the first decade of the twenty-first century have virtually no first class statesmen?
In eighteenth century America our national landscape was covered with giants educated in principles that arose from the Age of Enlightenment, statesmen whose command of the English language produced some of the most extraordinarily persuasive deeds and writings in defense of individual liberty in world history: Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Thomas Paine, Sam Adams, James Madison, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, George Mason, and John Marshall, among many others. In the nineteenth century we also had our share of brilliant leaders with a command of the English language unsurpassed in the history of politics, among them: Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, Stephen A. Douglas, Joseph Story, William Lloyd Garrison, Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglas, and Abraham Lincoln. Likewise in the twentieth century, eloquent and distinguished leaders transcended the moment and spanned across all future ages with extraordinary contributions to the world of law and politics, including, but not limited to, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Charles Evan Hughes, Louis Brandeis, Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, William O. Douglas, Robert H. Jackson, William J. Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan. Yet in the first decade of the twentieth-first century we search in vain for rhetoric and achievement comparable to that present before the century began. Why is it that we seem to be producing so few great statesmen? Why is it that not since Ronald Reagan have we had a president with clear vision and passion for our founding principles and individual liberty?
The issue is complicated but admits of at least three answers. First, beginning in the 1960s we lost our previously strong attachment to, and education concerning, the great principles defining and defending individual liberty and limited government from the Age of Enlightenment perfected in the Declaration of Independence. We lost touch with the meaning of the founding concepts that demand protection of the inalienable rights of man, on retention of just governments instituted among men to protect those rights (to life, liberty, and property), and distrust of government as an inherent danger to those rights which must be checked at every turn to avoid abuses. Second, beginning in the 1930s we increasingly accepted the view that the federal government through social engineering could achieve as great, if not greater, social good for mankind than a free market. Third, at least since the last decade of the twentieth century, voters have increasingly sought not intellectual excellence and ideological purity from their politicians but promises of government largesse from an ever expanding state.
We see in the campaigning of George W. Bush and in his government service as great a zeal for government spending and bureaucratic growth as existed before or since. In other words, George Bush made the word Republican virtually indistinguishable from the word Democrat in its meaning. Before Bush, Jr. the Republican Party could rightly be said to be the party of limited government, free enterprise, and a strong national defense. In the aftermath of Bush, Jr. the Republican Party was no longer the party of limited government (Bush grew government more than any other President in American history save the present occupant of the White House) and the party of free enterprise (Bush expanded federal government regulation to a greater extent than any prior president, stifling free enterprise in countless ways). No one on the national scene in Republican Party leadership has championed in word and deed the former principles, so there is no present major party alternative to an essentially big government, rights indifferent, anti-free enterprise government agenda. No wonder so many Americans are joining the Independent and Libertarian parties.
I believe we have virtually no great statesmen in America because we have almost no politician on the national scene with an ideological heart and soul, who believes in principles rooted in timeless truths and is unafraid to defend them, even at the risk of losing re-election. We have instead a society of political panderers, who cater for every vote by feeding special interests the answers to questions they want to hear. As government has grown into every nook and cranny of American commercial life, politicians have learned that promises of government largesse to fill specific nooks and crannies can build a coalition of beneficiaries that can win elections. Why stand for principle when doing so risks alienating constituencies that oppose a sincere view? Why master American intellectual history and become proficient in the use of it to argue in an impassioned ways to achieve a clear vision when doing so not only risks alienating those who benefit from an unprincipled, bloated welfare state but will do nothing to secure the blocks of single issue voters who just want to know one thing from you.
Enormous peril attends maintenance of this society of political panderers who have become entrenched Washington power brokers. Without great statesmen there is no one with political power capable of overcoming great obstacles, no one with political power capable of defining our unique purpose in the world based on our unique past, and no one with political power who can transcend the single issues and articulate a clear vision of a great American future, inspiring each of us to reach that goal.
The last great American statesman to sit in the White House was unquestionably Ronald Wilson Reagan. Since Reagan we have had two inarticulate presidents who shed his mantle (George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush); one intellectual who lacked principle and clear vision (William J. Clinton); and one demagogue out of touch with our unique purpose and mission in the world (Barrack Obama). It is said that a great crisis brings forth great leaders, but we now have great crises (the worst economy since the Great Depression; wars against insurgents in two countries; and a general war on terror), yet we have virtually no great leaders.
To restore American greatness, we must regain our strong attachment to and education concerning the great principles from the Age of Enlightenment perfected in the Declaration of Independence. We must reject the view that the federal government through social engineering can replace, and achieve more than, enterprising individuals given the freedom to create, debate, market, and retain the fruits of their labors. We must demand great intellect and ideological purity from those who would represent us—but to do that we ourselves must read of, and remember, our founding principles and act upon them rather than on pedestrian desires to have government pay our debts.
© 2010 Jonathan W. Emord - All Rights Reserved