With an angry, dispirited electorate looking to undermine the candidates of both parties even George Washington would have a hard time getting elected.
I recently read some biographical information about George Washington and wondered how he would have fared in our current contentious congress and negative media coverage.
He had several advantages: a lack of a 24-hour news cycle, no talk shows, a small group of eligible voters, and a reputation earned as the general of the Continental Army that defeated the British and set the stage for America’s independence. There’s a reason he is considered “The Father of our Country” and the “American Moses.” Much of it had to do with his size and presence, charisma, courage, character, and temperament.
But even back then pundits sniped that he positioned himself as a moral man, but kept slaves. Today, he would lose the African American vote (blacks had a difficult time voting until the Voting Rights Act of 1965) and the liberal/progressive vote.
His reputation was a man of intelligence. But the word on the street was that much of his intelligence was based on the ideas he stole from founding fathers such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. He would be pilloried by today’s talk shows, even though there is overwhelming evidence that his intelligence was based on his own life experiences and dedicated reading.
Like today, discontent with the economy plagued Washington’s administration. Fortunately, his Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, developed, promoted, and helped Washington secure congressional passage of an economic policy agenda that included a national bank, establishing a “hard” currency, the payment of war debts, tariffs to raise revenue, the nurturing of American manufacturing, and federal spending on interstate roads and other “internal improvements” to facilitate commerce.
Could this be the genesis of a jobs creations bill? Even then, it was attacked by congressional parties.
His biggest strength in an election today would be considered his biggest weakness. As much as voters like candidates with military experience — George Washington had plenty — his military record as general of the Continental Army would come under fire. From 1775 until 1781, he only won 2 battles, Trenton and Princeton, and was forced to surrender both New York and Philadelphia to the British. You can almost see the PAC commercials that would fill our airwaves about his incompetence.
While we assume that George Washington was a shoo-in for president in 1789, he had adversaries, but none really came close to defeating him. Each of the 69 electors was expected to cast two ballots. All voted for Washington, making him the unanimous choice as the first president.
Federalist leaders generally agreed that John Adams should be the Vice President — a Massachusetts resident would help establish a regional balance in the Executive Branch. Alexander Hamilton wisely diverted a few votes to Adams to avoid the embarrassment of a tie vote.
Once in office, in 1794, he mustered a militia of 15,000 men to put down a rebellion by farmers in rural Pennsylvania who protested against a tax on whiskey, which has come to be called the Whiskey Rebellion. Trouble was, Washington did not seek permission to take this military action. Hmmm, where have we heard something like this before? You can bet that Washington would have his press secretary on double-duty.
In 1796, Washington turned down a third term of office and delivered his famous Farewell Address. Reviewing it, it becomes apparent that he learned a few things while in office.
He warned against the party system, submitting that "It serves to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration....agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one....against another....it opens the door to foreign influence and corruption...thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another."
We also gain some insights into how he might handle today’s economy: "...cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible...avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt....it is essential that you...bear in mind, that towards the payments of debts there must be Revenue, that to have Revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised, which are not...inconvenient and unpleasant..."
He would make a pretty darn good president today.
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