Wednesday, June 30, 2004
Vice-President Richard Cheney & the F-Word
* What Would Washington Say? What would George Washington and the other Founders like Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin say about Vice-President Dick Cheney's recent "f**k you* to Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy on the floor of the Senate chamber?
In The American Soul, Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders, San Francisco State philosophy professor Jacob Needleman talks about Classical thought – from Plato’s Republic to Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, et al – and its belief in a parallel between the external expression of government and the internal structure of the individual. Thus the Bill of Rights was seen not just as an expression of what should NOT be done, as the courts usually interpret it today, but as what the country, a collection of individuals, should grow into.
Most of the Founders were very concerned with self-improvement: Washington, for example, kept a diary with lists of how to improve himself. In his farewell to the nation, Washington listed similar actions for the country, to guide it in its foreign relations.
Washington (and Jefferson and Franklin) were also very concerned with the divisive factionalism of what they called “the spirit of party.” In Classical thought, it was essential that “ruling passion” be controlled so that the self-interest of the individual not harm relations with other individuals and thus the Common Good. Washington’s lists for both the individual and the nation emphasized the importance of treating others judiciously and attempting to understand their positions.
This is very different than our modern emphasis on the importance of the ego and self-discovery, which often translates as self-gratification. Translate that inner state of the individual into the outer form of the government, and you have the warring factions of the Republicans and the Democrats: Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, James Carville and Al Franken.
The Founders’ system of checks and balances was designed to overcome individual and collective factionalism.
In a private conversation on the Senate floor last week, Vice President Dick Cheney hurled the "F-word" at Sen. Patrick Leahy (D - Vt.), an intemperate critic. Cheney wouldn't repent. "I expressed myself rather forcefully," he said. "Felt better after I had done it."
You can hardly blame him.
As Iraq has moved closer to democracy over the past few weeks, the terrorist opponents of sovereignty, as expected, have grown more desperate and more violent in their counterinsurgency.
A similar pattern has occurred in America.
As Republicans have moved closer to consolidating power in all three branches of government, Democratic opponents of freemarket conservativism have grown more desperate and more rhetorically violent in their own counterinsurgency.
It's hardly surprising that the puppetmasters of the Bush administration, and their cohorts in the think tanks, disagree with the demi-Gods who founded the institutions they're fighting for today. This is a matter not of politics but of culture.
Quoting from Needleman:To put the matter in this way is to grasp succinctly the problem of modern democracy when, through advocating freedom from this or that party interest or sectarian belief structure, or faction, or class interest, or moneyed interest, it then turns us immediately to the influence of some other part – glamour, fame, sexual satisfaction, ego or any other thousand and one impulses that operate within ourselves and society. Hamiltonian precision is superb, but for what – to what end? With interpretations that rigorously argue only for a negative view of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, we are given what is only a pure instrument, a social technology....
[Then Needleman quotes from the Federalist Papers, on ruling passion versus the common good] When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government on the other hand enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest, both the public good and the rights of other citizens.... If the impulse and the opportunity be suffered to coincide, we well know that neither moral nor religious motives can be relied on as an adequate control. They are not found to be such on the injustice and violence of individuals, and lose their efficacy in proportion to the number bound together; that is, in proportion as their efficacy becomes needful.
The [last sentence] expresses, as clearly as can be expressed, the understanding of human fallibility that lies at the heart of the Constitution. The Constitution, by creating a sufficiently republican form of government – that is, not a direct democracy, but a representative form of government which allows for a mediating force through elected delegates who in their turn vote the direct actions of the government – absorbs and modulates the inevitable passions of groups and individuals, and through this structure allows the laws of nature to operate within the nation as a whole. Such is the metaphysics of the American constitution.
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» I simply don't understand how anyone can defend Cheney. from City Comforts Blog
One reader left a comment at Harry's Place on a post titled Where are the eloquent insults of yesteryear?. My own response was as follows: You don't get it, do you? It's obviously not the saying of "fuck yourself" which [Read More]
Tracked on Jul 1, 2004 1:47:48 AM