The Great Race—2008
The Spectacle of the Modern American Election Campaign
The Land of Candy & Sunshine
As you no doubt have been hearing from the unceasing stream of Barack Obama’s campaign commercials played in a continual rotation on TV screens nationwide, all of our worries will soon be over. Yes, Barry’s preparing for his official anointing as the Chosen One, when the clouds of despair will lift, birds will sing, the lion will lay down with the lamb, the rivers will flow root beer, and all will be right with the world.
It seems that Obama has an answer for everything, and those answers all sound amazingly similar: Let the Government take care of it. Can’t afford Health Insurance? No problem… Let Uncle Sugar pick up that bill. Your antiquated, out-moded, over-priced Union job disappearing? Don’t worry, we’ll make those evil Auto corporations keep operating in the 1950’s, paying twenty-five bucks an hour for an unskilled laborer to screw Widget A to Framazam B. Are you stressed about what the rest of the world thinks about us? They’ll soon love us, when our shipment of French-made Surrender flags arrives in late January. (Soon to be appearing on a battlefield near you. What’s that you say, there are no battlefields near you? Just wait…) Oh yes, all will be sweetness and light under an Obama administration—does anyone know the lyrics to Tommy James and the Shondells’ Crystal Blue Persuasion?? Perhaps we should have a new National Anthem.
Contrary to what so many now believe, Government is not meant to be the solution to all life’s problems. In fact, there are very few problems Government can, or should, solve. The founders envisioned government (note the small ‘g’…) as a necessary evil; something that had to be, but also something to be feared, and kept under a tight leash. They had just fought a long, costly war to rid themselves of a tyrannical monarchy, which regarded the people as mere subjects of the Crown; the last thing they wished for was a government that had the power to intrude into every facet of American life. They saw government as having a sharply defined, and greatly limited, scope of influence… The conduct of Foreign Policy and keeping us safe from our enemies being chief among them. Things that modern Americans take for granted… smoking bans in public places, regulating trans-fats, income tax, abortion on demand… would have provoked open warfare in the early days of our independence.
The strongest party for the first decade of American politics, the Federalist Party, was a strong advocate of bigger, more powerful, more centralized National Government… not unlike today’s Democratic Party. And the first true test of the Federalist’s policies came in the early 1790’s when, at the urging of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, Congress levied a tax on each gallon of whiskey produced. Since many western farmers depended upon distillation to refine their excess grain into this more easily transported, and therefore more profitable, form, this directly penalized those small farmers.
In 2008, there would be protests, of course. Letters would be written to Congressmen and Senators, even the President. There would be pundits on every news net arguing both for and against the tax, and the blogosphere would be up in arms. Figuratively speaking, of course.
That was not the case in 1794, however. Oh, letters were written and protests were raised, to be sure. But the farmers who felt themselves threatened by what they perceived as an abusive over-reaching of power on the part of Congress and President Washington did what they had done nearly twenty years before—picked up musket, ball, and powder and said “NO!”
In response, President Washington called out the militias of Pennsylvania and Virginia to put down the insurrection. Assembling an army of nearly 13,000 men, roughly equal to the entire Continental Army of the late war, Washington marched them into the Monongahela Valley of Western Pennsylvania, one of only two times that an American army took to the field with a sitting President at it’s head.
The Whiskey Rebellion, as it came to be known, accomplished very little, ending with a mewling whimper rather than a bang. Twenty rebels were rounded up; only two actually were jailed. Two were sentenced to death, but were pardoned by Washington. Most were simply fined and released. Within a decade, the tax was repealed, ending the first effort by the US Government to increase the powers allotted it by the Constitution. It was, of course, not to be the last.
Perhaps the most important consequence of the short-lived rebellion was that it led to the demise of the Federalist Party, and the rise of the Democratic-Republican Party, which, like the Anti-Federalists ten years before, argued for smaller, less powerful government.
But that was 214 years ago. Now, politicians routinely buy our votes with our own money, promising they’ll deliver this program or that entitlement to cure whatever ails us… all of course bought with our own tax dollars. Yet there are millions who, like the children of Hamlen town, line up obediently behind the pied piper, eager to dance to his tune no matter where it may lead. To many, there is no problem that can’t be solved by growing Government just a little larger. Can’t handle your unruly child? Just let the Government step in and take over for you. Can’t make your business succeed? Why bother… the Government’ll bail you out. Just can’t deal with life in general? Ok, just trust Uncle… he’s got it all planned out for you. Obama’s got it all worked out.
And for us proud descendents of the Anti-Federalists, the ones who prefer to parent our own children, thank you, or take the credit for our success or the responsibility for our failure, or deal with life according to our own plans, not Obama’s?
Who do you think gets to pay for the candy and sunshine?