The Changing Sense of “Us”

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Part of what Mark Twain wrote on the death of a military veteran and politician, Caarl Schurz, 98 years ago, is as follows:

“I have held him in the sincerest affection, esteem, and admiration for more than a generation. I have not always sailed with him politically, but whenever I have doubted my own competency to choose the right course, I have struck my two-taps-and-one (“get out the port and starboard leads”), and followed him through without doubt or hesitancy. By and by I shall wish to talk of Carl Schurz the man and friend, but not now; at this time I desire only to offer this brief word of homage and reverence to him, as from grateful pupil in citizenship to the master who is no more.
– “Carl Schurz, Pilot,” Harper’s Weekly, May 26, 1906

Twain used the metaphor of steamboat pilot, reflecting a belief in Schurz as a leader unafraid of risks.  In fact, Schurz had been a Union division commander at Gettysburg, demonstrating courage, intelligence and loyalty.

As election day nears, the US is in dire need of people like Schurz or his contemporary, Joshua Chamberlain.  (How many professors and governors do you know who have won the Congressional Medal of Honor?  Look him up.)

We don’t have these leaders.  We are in fact caught up in petty party politics, the evil of which George Washington himself warned the country.  His warning was 200 years ahead of its time (plus generations of technology), but that’s also worth reading. In his retirement frorm the presidency, Washington said

“. . . . The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

“Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it. . . .”

His full speech can be found at http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/washing.asp

In Washington’s view, parties are evil; politicians who place party interest ahead of the good of the people are evil (remember the government shut down last year?).

Are you voting for evil?