Today we observe Presidents Day, a federal holiday originally enacted by Congress in 1879 to honor President George Washington's birthday (the holiday was then simply named "Washington's Birthday"). It is customary on this holiday for the United States Senate to read George Washington's "Farewell Address" on the Senate floor. But presenting the Farewell Address in light of Congress' recent manner of conduct seems disingenuous, and an insult to its author.
The Address begins with Washington's refusal of a third Presidential term. Though no laws prevented it at the time, and though he was pressured into assuming the Presidency again by many of his peers and the American people, Washington declined to set a monarchical precedent and instead insisted that new faces and new ideas be brought into the fold. Au contraire, Congress now consists of lifelong, career politicians whose apparent primary goal is to stay in office and guarantee their more-than-comfortable taxpayer salary. Term limits? An alien concept to those now in power, despite their rhetoric.
Washington then warns the American people against the power of political parties and the polarization they induce. Though he concedes that there is a natural need among people to organize behind values, he is quick to point out that all too often, political parties become institutions of control, manipulation, and vengeance. What could be more prescient? Today a "left-right" political environment has been crafted, predicated upon the ability to keep the American people pointing at each other and across the aisle, instead of allowing these issues to be seen in the proper context of Congress and the government as a whole, where the blame belongs. No more is there any underlying principle which separates the Republican and Democrat politicians in DC. As the late George Carlin aptly stated, "It's a big club, and you ain't in it."
General Washington continues by stating the importance of checks and balances and separation of powers as a means of preventing tyranny. But both current parties have been complicit in eroding these very fundamental principles of America. Both parties in Congress granted authoritarian powers to President Bush in the Patriot Act, and more recently to Obama in the National Defense Authorization Act, to circumvent the 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments (as well as the entire judicial branch) and violate Americans' fundamental natural rights. Laws like these gave the executive branch powers to listen in on phone calls of innocent Americans without a warrant, to seize their bank records, and now to indefinitely detain them without trial or due process, powers given nowhere in the Constitution. And these are only two examples. What's next?
The "Father of our country" then articulates support for a balanced federal budget. But the Senate has not even passed a budget whatsoever in over 1000 days. The House is content with borrowing (and deficit spending) 43 cents on the dollar. This is a group of people who have okayed government spending $40,000 of taxpayer money every second. The thought of Congress seriously considering the possibility of a "balanced budget" seems a remote possibility at best.
Interestingly enough, the largest part of the Farewell Address is spent discussing foreign relations. Washington advocates a policy of good faith, justice, and neutrality towards all nations. He warns that long-term attitudes of hostility (or, conversely, exaggerated alliance) will cloud the nation's judgment in international affairs. A far cry from the situation of war (without Constitutionally-mandated declaration) against the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and sanctions (acts of war) against the people of Iran and Cuba, and entangling alliances, and hundreds of billions of foreign aid, and hundreds of military bases around the world, which Congress and the President has dragged our nation into today.
Government was intended to embrace public servitude, not societal architecture. Their role is to enforce the rule of law, not to tell us and others what to do and how to live.
Does Congress believe in the advice of our Founding Fathers, such as George Washington, or not? "By their fruit you will recognize them." It seems clear that the current assembly of politicians will only continue to give lip service to the political, economic, social, and foreign policies espoused by the framers, whom set up the most magnificent form of government in the history of mankind; that which the current officeholders are, intentionally or not, subverting.
It seems the Senate has confused "Farewell" with the last name of their favorite modern author. Perhaps this year they should consider reading from Congress' new playbook, George Orwell's "1984", instead.