Monday, August 3, 2009

DC - A Policy Guy Wanders

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." -- POTUS

As interesting as the economic landmarks were, I was much more interested in making a tour of the Presidents. I have no idea if Pres. Obama was 'at home' when I came calling, but it was very interesting to imagine him or one of the kids pulling back the curtains to look out at the small crowd of photographers, families, and protesters (below) standing vigil. I wondered how long it takes before the novelty of omnipresent amateur paparazzi wears off. Imagine looking out your windows every day and seeing a throng of people. Then I wondered what it would be like if the White House lawn was armed as well as the X-Mansion and decided I wasn't dignified enough to be sticking my camera through the bars and moved on.

"Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential." -- POTUS

Washington and the Distinctive Unit Insignia of the The Big Red One from near the FDIC and Red Cross HQ. Being a Cornellian, I'm rather fascinated by that nickname for the First Infantry Division, the oldest division of our army.

I marched across the green between the White House up to the Washington Monument and was amazed at the number of baseball games going on. Game after game of coed softball all over the parks! I paused once in a while to cheer on a batter or applaud a good outfield catch.

From Washington, you can see the Capitol Building (Congress, pictured right), the Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln and the WWII Memorial, and the White House. It is a fitting layout in tribute to our first president. There are so few people who have been put into such high office with so much humility, so much willingness to put it all down to return to a simpler life, and so many excellent first examples. John Adams, our second president, had apparently wanted to make the President serve a life term. Yet as Washington peacefully laid down the mantle, so Adams also turned them over in one of the world's first peaceful exchanges of power between political parties.
I gazed up from the foot of the monument. Yes, he stands that tall today. This is what he said:

  • Arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness.
  • Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.
  • Friendship is a plant of slow growth and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.
  • Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.
  • Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.
  • Happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.
  • If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

Of similar bold assertions was our third President, Thomas Jefferson:

  • A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.
  • Errors of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.
  • Every generation needs a new revolution.

  • Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves are its only safe depositories.
  • Experience hath shown, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.
  • He who knows best knows how little he knows.

Sauntering around Jefferson, I visited a remarkably flat memorial, that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President during the only economic crisis of the last 100 years worse than this one. I walked it backwards and spent much of it wondering where a statue of the man himself was. The walk consists of his more famous sayings carved into stone, with occasional reflecting pools and waterfalls or statues of Depression-era bread lines.
His dear wife, Eleanor, gets a statue of her own as our first delegate to the UN. Since she is rather less often quoted, here are some of hers:
  • Do what you feel in your heart to be right- for you'll be criticized anyway.
  • Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility.
  • Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.
  • In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.
And so finally, after more than two hours of walking I came round to the lanky Illinoisan himself, whom I trust you will read with as deep a voice as you can manage:
  • The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty. Plainly, the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of liberty.
  • My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.
  • How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg.
  • I care not much for a man's religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.
  • Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.
  • No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent.
What a debt of gratitude we owe to these men and their wives.

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