New Day, New Names, Same Old Issues

Sam Houston: You Know, the “Texas” Guy
Reading biography of Sam Houston (I should say “another”). Most think of him in terms of Texas… the guy that led a ragtag army to defeat Santa Anna, served as President of the Republic of Texas, governor when it became a state, the namesake of the city of Houston, etc….

Less known today…
His Texas days were preceded and followed by US public service. He was a prominent member of the Andrew Jackson inner circle, lived a while at the Hermitage, was a multi-term member of US Congress from Tennessee, led the Jacksonian attack on the Adams/Clay faction on Capitol Hill, sparred politically with John C Calhoun, was governor of Tennessee, was a Major General in the Tennessee Militia, was wounded in the War of 1812 as a Lieutenant in the regular US Army.

He also lived at various times in the Cherokee nation, spoke the language, was the surrogate son of a powerful chief, was an instrumental liaison in a treaty to resettle them when the US encroached on their land, later served as Ambassador to the US from the Cherokee Nation.

At the time of the Civil War he was a leading candidate to head the Confederacy, but he considered it a bad idea to secede and instead was removed as governor of Texas for standing his ground and opposing it. This despite the fact he’d been raised on a Virginia plantation and his family had been slave owners for generations.

He’d personally met and conferred with Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Lafayette, and many others that were instrumental in the birth of the nation. He was at one point contender for candidate for the US Presidency as the nation struggled to bring a strong third party to bear (a battle we still fight).

Ummm… Great. Who Cares?
Reason I bring it up… the political battles they were fighting then in the states and on the national front (and the promises being made) were earily similar to those we face (and hear) now.

Any of this sound familiar?
When Houston became governor of Tennessee, his inaugural address included a call for infrastructure improvement (bridges, waterways, etc), government promotion of commerce and trade, a call for public funding of education, and like a distant echo… a call for relief for poor homesteaders and squatters in east Tennessee who could not pay for their land.

[Imagine my disdain to see another personal hero embrace a mortgage bailout. Sometimes history just pisses me off.]

“Great Statesmen” Were Once “Politicians”
Notable fact: Many of his plans echoed those he criticized John Quincy Adams for promoting in his presidential inaugural address. Worth remembering that “great statesmen” were also politicians, we’ve just cleaned up their memory a bit since. If people were perfect they not only *wouldn’t* be politicians… they *couldn’t*.

Re-Runs of History
The issues of his day could be todays headlines… bank regulation, national vs state role, a currency crisis, federal deficit, treatment of minorities, media bias, foreign intrusion, universal education, infrastructure, political favors, our role abroad, government corruption, “stolen” elections, the need for a third party in a perpetual two-party system, vicious attacks on personal associations.

Nothing we don’t see, and vicious as today if not more. Maybe we could bring back duels?

Tells me a few things

  • One: Everyone thinks politics has “become” dirty. Bullshit. Politics has always been dirty.
  • Two: If we ignore history (an American national past-time) we’re doomed to repeat it.
  • Three: The names change, but politicians don’t. They’ve promised the same reforms since the dawn of our nation.
  • Four: Some problems are endemic to the fact that a nation exists. They can be treated but never cured. They only die when we do.

The Nastiest Election Ever?
Someone says it every election, just a sign they don’t have a grasp of history. There’s nothing new to be done in politics.

Political corruption is as old as politics, followed by the habits of:

  • (1) pointing it out where it exists, and
  • (2) alleging it where it doesn’t.

Negative Campaigning
It is noteworthy that personal associations and behavior have always been a measure of credibility. It has always been considered “dirty politics” by the guy in the crosshairs and “a legitimate question” by those on the other side. Nothing new. Nobody gets a walk.

Hell we didn’t even invent the game… where we bludgeon each other, the Brits are historically more deft but deadly…

  • Gladstone: “I predict, Sir, that you will die either by hanging or of some vile disease”.
  • Disraeli: “That all depends, sir, upon whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.”

Politics is for the eternally strong of ego, and requires as much strength of stomach as character. Some that last have moral fortitude, others a lust for power that eclipses pain. Whoever wins is eventually replaced by another, and the process repeats.

Electibility: A Chicken in Every Pot
The only thing that lasts like politics are the problems it is supposed to fix. As long as we allow politicians to buy our vote by promising to be our arm to raid someone elses wallet… we’ll never fix a damned thing. Appealing to the greed of the voter is a primary basis of politics.

That said, if we keep electing whoever promises the most chickens in our pot, we deserve our ugly fate. We didn’t have a personal income tax for approximately the first half of our existence (it was created in the 1900s when politicians needed a new way to buy votes), now even with that influx we can’t stay inside our means. We’re running out of people for the politicians to rob on our behalf without destroying the economy.

Nobody wants to hear it, but we need to go on a diet.

CONCLUSION: Politics = Power
Still, in it’s raw form politics is an attempt to gain power over those with whom we disagree. Our guy makes others do what we want done. That part *can’t* be eliminated, and doesn’t always show us at our best. It’s why we work within the framework of a constitution… to minimize the effect of our faults. Occasionally people are altruistic… but human nature isn’t.

Might as well accept that reality. Wishing it were otherwise changes nothing.

One thought on “New Day, New Names, Same Old Issues

  1. Agreed – anarchy is impractical given the selfishness of us humans, but that same selfishness drives democracies. Look on the bright side. The alternative is somebody else telling us what’s good for us.

    Thanks for the history lesson. Interesting stuff.


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