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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

DOS and the Occupy Movement

I haven’t written on this blog in a while (been busy, and not doing much gaming, so I haven’t had a lot of gaming material to write about).  I usually do not delve into politics here.  But after two months of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, I’ve decided to discuss my thoughts on it.

Ever since OWS started, something about the movement has bothered me.  I knew that I did not agree with what the people participating in it were saying, nor what they were doing, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  Although I absolutely believe in people’s right to protest or demonstrate, I have thought since day 1 that it is not acceptable for people to pitch tents in public parks that expressly do not allow camping, or to so crowd into a public area as to prevent the rest of the public from using it.  However, I could not really articulate the real reasons behind my dislike of the OWS movement, until today.  Watching the news stories of the Occupiers crowding into the area of the New York Stock Exchange and purposely blocking streets to cut off access, I finally realized that what they are doing is the physical equivalent of an old-school Denial of Service attack. (more…)

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Years ago when I was a kid, I asked my father if George Washington was our greatest president. He said that Washington wasn’t a very good president, but he’s famous because he was the first. I believed him for a while (my father was pretty astute at politics, and most of his other observations that I can remember, have turned out to be accurate).

However, a few years ago I read the book Patriots, by A. J. Langguth (I highly recommend it, by the way — it is an excellent read), and this book painted a very different picture of Washington. It did not cover the Washington Presidency, since it only covered the Revolutioary War… but Washington was clearly one of the great military geniuses of all time. The reason I say this is that, for all intents and purposes, the man was able to beat the greatest military in the world at the time (Britain’s) with effectively no army. The Continental Army was never a regular fighting force the way the British Army was, and the men kept disbanding and going home because they were only signed up for short periods of time. For example, when Washington made his famous crossing of the Delaware to attack points in New Jersey, he did so in foul weather (thus shocking the British, because a more experienced general would not have been crazy enough to try it) — all because he knew his men were due to stand down in a few weeks and this might be his last chance for even a small victory before the next spring.

Of course, being a great general does not necessarily make one a great President, but having seen what a clearly brilliant and inspirational man Washington was during the war, I decided I would read a biography of him. I did so a year later, and after reading about his Presidency, I can only look upon it with awe. You see, here’s the thing… at the time Washington took office, all major (and most minor) countries in the world were run as some sort of a monarchy. Indeed the reason our current form of government is often called the “Great American Experiment” is because no one had tried a republic since Rome — and Rome really didn’t work like the U.S. did anyway. People at the time — in other countries, plus many in the U.S. itself — were convinced the idea couldn’t succeed… convinced that the “masses” needed a King, who ruled by Divine Right, to lead them.

And so, George Washington took the oath of office for the first time not just in his life, but effectively, in human history. He had no one to look to for guidance. There were no precedents. Other than a few spare paragraphs in the Constitution delineating his basic authority as the national executive leader, there was nothing for him to follow. He was starting from square one, and he was acutely aware that not only were there no precedents, but that he was going to be setting them all. Rather than worrying about his own personal “legacy” like some of the more shallow presidents we have had in recent decades (*cough*Clinton*cough*), George Washington was concerned with the legacy of the Presidency. He wanted to make sure he didn’t do anything that would set a dangerous precedent and ruin things for the country after he left office.

Washington, in many ways, was the model of what a President should be — and sadly, was the opposite of the Presidents we have had since. He did not have anyone to look to, to help him be a model President — he simply followed his intuition, his own judgment, and used his own keen and rarely mistaken intellect to figure out just what a President should do. Specifically, George Washington did four things that set him apart as the greatest President we have ever had — these are things that Washington did because he thought they were right, and if only the subsequent Presidents, including those in recent memory, had followed his lead, I can’t fathom how much better off the leadership of the U.S. would have been. Here are the great things Washington did as President:

  1. When choosing his cabinet, Washington appointed members of both incipient political parties. There were no actual parties as we would understand them at the time, but there were two factions that were similar to what we call parties: the Anglophiles, led by Alexander Hamilton, who wanted to renew and strengthen our ties with the British; and the Francophiles, led by Thomas Jefferson, who distrusted the British and wanted to improve our ties with the French. Washington stayed neutral in this as best he could (fearing too close a relationship with any superpower given how weak the U.S. was at first), but he was careful to appoint members of both sides to his cabinet — including Jefferson as Secretary of State and Hamilton as Treasurer. Now in the end this turned out not to be the best combination, since Hamilton and Jefferson refused to get along. But, the basic idea that, after winning an election, you appoint members of both sides to the cabinet, is an important one. Washington did it on purpose — because he wanted his administration to represent all the people in the country, not just one party. Contrast this to how partisan most subsequent Presidents have been.
  2. During his second term, when Washington was being viciously attacked by the press (spurred on anonymously by Jefferson), Hamilton and other advisers told him to issue statements to defend himself. Washington refused. He believed that “Freedom of the Press” meant they could say whatever they wanted, however untrue it might be, and that if the President started issuing statements, it would harm that freedom. So he remained silent and let them attack him. In the end, this proved to be a brilliant tactic. The press beat up on him so much that there was finally a massive public backlash. The press ended up being the bad guy, because since he didn’t respond, it looked like they were just picking on him, and the people came to Washington’s defense, forcing the press to cut it out.
  3. Throughout his Presidency, Washington hardly ever used the veto. The reason he avoided it was, he did not believe it should be used as a political weapon. He thought it should only be used by the President if the Congress did something unconstitutional — for example, if they passed a law that encroached on the Judiciary or the Executive. Shy of that, however, he believed that Congress, as the duly elected direct representatives of the people, must be allowed to vote whatever legislation it wanted. Therefore, he did not generally veto even laws he did not agree with.
  4. At the end of Washington’s second term, fearing that the people would not accept anyone else to lead them, the Congress asked him to run for a third term (they basically guaranteed him that he would win if he would run). Washington, however, was getting older and was afraid he would die in office if he accepted another term (and he did, in fact, die only 3 years later). He thought that the first President dying in office would set a bad precedent — that people would come to expect the Presidency to be a “life appointment”, with the V.P. succeeding only after the President died. So he stepped aside after his second term, clearing the field for Adams and Jefferson to run against each other as the second President (with Adams winning)… and setting the long-standing precedent that Presidents step down after two terms… rather than serving until they die. This one act set the stage for the regular and peaceful transition of power that has happened in the U.S ever since. Every time an election changes power the press waxes philosophical about how great it is that we can have these peaceful transitions — but nobody ever stops to give credit to the man who made it all possible in the first place.

It has always struck me, since learning these facts about Washington, that if only Presidents would have followed his lead in these matters, we would have been so much better off. Imagine a country where Presidents did not engage in spin… and put members of both parties into their administrations for balance… and avoided the veto except for Constitutional violations… and were not obsessed with gaining power. Washington did all these things — showed later Presidents the way — without any guidance at all. He did them because they were the right thing to do. He figured out what was right on his own, without history as a guide. The shame of it is, that when he did that, and himself became the guide for everyone else, the later Presidents for the most part ignored him, and did just the opposite… using the veto as a weapon, playing nasty partisan politics, spin-doctoring, and clutching to power with a death-like vise grip. This is why I say Washington was the greatest President we’ve ever had — he did without guidance, what his pin-headed successors have not been able to do even after he showed them what to do in the first place!

These are all things today’s leaders can learn from Washington. They need to learn to shun power as much as possible, rather than seeking it out. They need to learn to include all parties in the process, rather than just their own. They need to remember not to encroach upon the other branches of government to satisfy their own agenda. And they need to stop “spinning” things and just do their jobs. Yes, there is much to learn from Washington. Sadly, they are all too busy making power grabs and pursuing a partisan agenda to notice.

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