Lincoln * Institute

Ralph R. Reiland

Ralph R. Reiland

The B. Kenneth Simon Professor of Free Enterprise at Robert Morris University

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Reflections

Presidential 'Know How'

by Ralph R. Reiland
 

We seem only to become more politically frustrated and polarized as one president after another fails in their promise to forge a national unity and bridge our ideological divides.

"Bring us together" was the slogan popularized by Richard Nixon during his 1968 campaign, allegedly quoting the words on a hand-lettered sign being held by an eighth-grader during a campaign stop in Deshler, Ohio.

Nixon speechwriter William Safire inserted the slogan into Nixon's speeches and campaign paraphernalia. Later, Mr. Safire expressed doubts that the sign ever existed.

I wasn't long before the "Bring Us Together" sign was replaced by "Honk to Impeach" placards.

In its news report "Impeachment Honks in D.C. Earn Tickets" the Washington Post described the scene of expanding protests in front of the White House.

The honking started in mid-morning as protesters stood on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue with signs asking motorists to "Honk to Impeach."

The protest "continued through the afternoon with a majority of cars that passed joining in the din," reported the Post. "By 3:30 p.m. special operations division police officers on scooters began pulling over honking motorists and issuing tickets for the 'unlawful use of the horn.' Tickets carried a $5 fine."

The protests and horn-blowing had been occurring intermittently for a week, audible within the White House. The issuing of tickets began, explained the Post, when the "honking and demonstrating and marching created a carnival atmosphere in front of the White House and Treasury Department."

George Washington, soldier, farmer and businessman, father and husband, didn't have the opportunity to attend college. Nonetheless, he was a fervent reader and became an extraordinarily prolific and perceptive writer.

More than a record of his personal experiences, Washington's maxims provide the insight of historical scholarship, a testimony to the nature of political life, then and now, communicating to us an unabashed love of country, symmetry in the personal life, and the duty of being a member of a society of thinking persons.

His intellectual state of mind, character, and actions in rebellion, battle, and administering serve to judge the present and chart the future.

On bringing the nation together, wrote Washington to James Madison in a letter on November 30, 1785: "We are either a united people, or we are not. If the former, let us, in all matters of general concern act as a nation, which have national objects to promote and a national character to support."

Washington cautioned on June 4, 1790, in a communique to Arthur Fenner, governor of Rhode Island, "If we mean to support the Liberty and Independence which it has cost us so much blood and treasure to establish, we must drive far away the demon of party spirit and local reproach."

Wrote Washington to the Secretary for Foreign Affairs on August 1, 1786, "What a triumph for the advocates of despotism to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves."

Concerning liberty, temperament, and the French Revolution, Washington stated a letter to Mrs. C. M. Graham on January 9, 1790, "My greatest fear has been, that the nation would not be sufficiently cool and moderate in making arrangements for the security of that liberty, of which it seems to be fully possessed."

On expelling the disgruntled, said Washington,

May, 1791: "It is much easier to avoid disagreements than to remove discontents."

On July 4, 1798, Washington wrote to the Secretary of War about his love of country and duty to serve, "especially in a case where its dearest rights are assailed by lawless ambition, and intoxicated power, contrary to every principle of justice, and in violation of solemn compact, and Laws which govern all Civilized Nations. And this too with obvious intent to sow thick the Seeds of disunion for the purpose of subjugating the government and destroying our Independence and happiness."

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Ralph R. Reiland is Associate Professor of Economics Emeritus at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.

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Ralph R. Reiland

Email: rrreiland@aol.com

Phone: 412-527-2199