Power Centers

George Washington's Namesake Could Use Some Of His Wisdom

My NPR colleague Andrea Seabrook, who covers Congress, and I both happened to catch the Diane Rehm Show Wednesday on member station WAMU-FM.

Diane was discussing the global debt crisis, including the U.S.'s current fiscal and governing woes, with her panel. After she began taking questions and comments from listeners, one came in from John. He had this advice:

For our politicians, you have to remember, the Preamble of the Constitution states we are supposed to form a more perfect union, okay? That said, I would also like to suggest to all our politicians at every single level, please, read George Washington's farewell address. That is super insightful. If they read that, they wouldn't have ever gotten into this mess. From now, from years past, George Washington's farewell address...

I placed on my mental to-do list rereading Washington's famous address. Andrea, however, didn't waste any time summoning it to her computer screen.

She found a marvelous paragraph which I didn't remember. It makes John's point perfectly; decades of policymakers might have avoided the current crisis if they had just internalized the first president's advice:

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it, avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should co-operate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

If only the city that bears his name had as much wisdom as the man himself.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: