I just got back from a short tour of Washington, DC and after seeing many of the monuments and the inscriptions of the words of our founders, I got to thinking about how eloquent they were. How they were able to express their idea’s and thoughts about what this nation should become, where it should be headed and what would become of it’s people. I was struck by the effect of the words. In particular, this quote from Thomas Jefferson gave me pause to think…
I am not a advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
I think about our most recent elected Presidents, from George W. Bush and his memorable “Bring it on!” to Bill Clintons feeble attempt to define what the word “is” is. From George Bush Sr.’s “Read my lips, no new taxes!” to Ronald Reagan’s “You can tell a lot about a fellow's character by his way of eating jellybeans.” and I wonder where the eloquence has gone. Somehow, I don’t see any of these words inscribed on a monument as a message for generations to come. Yes, I understand we live in a world of sound bites and infomercials, where any given politicians stand on a matter is summed up in 30 seconds and where the nightly news is limited to one minute snippets that barely scratch the surface of a given issue. Where politicians from both sides seem to hem and haw over the questions which are posed towards them. It seems to be an indicator of our attention span as a nation.
I got to thinking about politicians of old. About how they probably had no speech writers, no spin doctors, no opinion polls, no focus groups and no stump speeches that repeat themselves from place to place to sway them. They probably didn’t have a bevy of lawyers and advisors telling them what to tell the public. The words that they wrote were, most probably their own and were heartfelt. They seemed to look forward and have a message of the future rather than on the present or in the past. Unlike today, the words those people spoke or committed to paper were measured and meant to last for eternity. They were bold in the message that they were meant to convey. There seemed to be no attempt to try and hide behind safe terms and traditional idea’s. It makes me wonder where those idea’s and sentiments are today.
I look back upon Mr. Jefferson’s quote and I’m reminded of the whole issue about gay marriage and the subsequent proposal about a constitutional amendment banning the very notion. I’m reminded of the Defense of Marriage Act, the notion of free speech zones, and the war against terrorism. I’m reminded of the whole Whitewater episode during the Clinton years and the personal attacks and scrutiny that our elected leaders of both parties are subjected to and must endure. Our elected leaders always seem to be in defense of something, whether that defense is of a personal nature or of some kind of moral standard.. Most of the times, the defense seems to be that of the status quo. This causes me to wonder about what Mr. Jefferson or some of his colleagues might have had to say had they lived in our times. Naturally, nobody could predict what their reaction might have been or what they might have done in the aftermath of 9/11. Nor, can anyone predict with any certainty how they would have come across in front of a myriad of television camera’s and snipers in the press on from both sides of the fence.
I would like to think that they would have had a more meaningful message and inspirational message for all of us. That the world is a large place, with enough arms to embrace all cultures and that the times we are living in, while certainly ours, do not entirely belong to us. That our government, and in turn, all government has a responsibility to those being governed not only in the immediate days but for generations yet to come, and, in that vein, we should focus our efforts forward and not in the days left behind. I wonder what it must have been like to have been around during the birth of a nation when idea’s and ideals were in the formative stage and were to serve as a guide for the many years to come. When progress was measured in the expansion of the rights and liberties of the citizenship and not in the maintenance or retraction of the same.
America, to me at least, does not seem to embrace change anymore and if we do, it seems to want to change back to the days of old. Internally, we argue about things such as the “moral decay of society” and how we should proceed with the economy and jobs. We seem to be becoming a country where exclusion is more of the norm than inclusion. Externally, we argue with our allies such as France and Germany about the need for war and defy institutions such as the United Nations that are recognized worldwide. We seem to want to seek simple solutions to complicated matters.
Maybe, we the voting public, are to blame. Maybe we don’t demand enough of our elected officials. Maybe, in a world where information flies around the globe at the speed of light, we don’t take the time to measure our words and responses. I doubt Mr. Jefferson or any of his contemporaries would say the same. Their thoughts were measured and eternal. Today, we want our news and views to fit in one paragraph, a nice neat package that plays the same music to the same listener, the message never changing, the words only slightly altered to suit the audience.
Being that America is the so-called world’s only superpower, I’m afraid the we’re living up to Mr. Jefferson’s words when he says “We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”
Somehow, “Bring it on” seems to pale in comparison…