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February 22, 2014

Our first president would 'turn over in his grave'

By Mark Boshnack Staff Report
The Daily Star

---- — A government that seems unable to get anything done. A Congress that not only cannot reach agreement with the president, but with itself. Political posturing appearing more important than governing.

Today is the anniversary of George Washington’s birth, and local residents and politicians were asked what our first president might think of what is going on in the city that bears his name.

State University College at  Oneonta History Professor William Simon said “I think Washington would be disappointed with what he would find today” in the federal capital. 

Washington understood the need for compromise but said political parties were divisive and to be avoided. He was a reluctant public servant. At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, there were some who wanted to appoint Washington a monarch, but he would have none of that, Simons said. He established the two term tradition for presidents and he believed in compromise. He believed that public service should be out of duty and not ambition. Gridlock and extreme partisanship would bother him.

“He would be saddened that public office for some has become an end to itself.”

State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, said, “If Washington were to come back today, he would feel a great deal of pride that the United State has not only survived, but emerged as a superpower.”

But unlike the unanimity that existed when he was elected by proclamation, “the political polarization would be disturbing to him.”

Even in drafting the Constitution, there was sharp debate and discussion, he said. But somehow they worked things out for the better. Washington would be disappointed that there is far too little of that, in the city named for him, today.

Assemblyman Bill Magee, D-Nelson, said its a difficult time in Washington, with so little agreement. Both sides need to come together and set aside politics to get things done, he said.

Several people interviewed at random at the mall felt Washington would not be pleased with what is happening in the federal capitol.

Roger Smith, 64, of Richfield Springs said “Washington would turn over in his grave” if he saw how big government has gotten - some of this has come at the expense of the states.

The Founding Fathers were in favor of smaller government, Smith said.

Heather Muller, 28 of Walton, said, “He probably wouldn’t be very happy about the government in Washington. They aren’t doing anything. I really don’t think they care about the people.”

Dawn Brown, 49, of Cobleskill said the federal government is being run very haphazardly. Washington would not be pleased with today’s politics.

The various branches of government are supposed to be working together “for the good of all of us,” instead of being worried about political concerns,  she said.

Assemblyman Clifford Crouch, R-Bainbridge, said, “I think he would be a little bit upset about the controversy.” 

 He may have dealt with some of that in helping craft the Constitution.

“There was some hot issues in the summer of 1787, but unlike today there was a lot of compromise,” Crouch said.

People on the both political extremes have forgotten how to do that.

“In a democratic government you don’t always get what you want,” he said. “Sometimes you have to accept what you get and save the battle for later.”

Crouch also noted a moving away from the Constitution through executive action.

“I don’t think that’s what George Washington and the Founding Fathers wanted.”

But he would be pleased that there is still a democratic form of government after all these years that is still using the Constitution as its guiding principles, he said.

Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, said that, “He would be encouraged that the republic is as strong as it is and that United States is viewed as beacon of liberty.”

One of Washington’s concerns was the danger posed by political parties. While they have not resulted in the despotism Washington saw as a potential problem, he might feel differently about his concern that each has to diminish its opponents to preserve its position. The effects can be seen in the “massive polarization” that faces not only the two party system but the public as a whole, he said. However, Washington would be encouraged that people are becoming more involved in making their opinions about their government known.

Washington also wanted the Constitution to serve as the governing document in preserving freedoms. But that is being eroded by the executive branch over several administrations, Lopez said. The systems of check and balances is being diminished by the executive branch and regulatory agencies in Washington and in some states, including New York, he said.