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Ltryptophan's avatar

Would it be good for us to elect leaders with the traits of the forefathers?

Asked by Ltryptophan (9102 points ) April 5th, 2012

Washington was not the sort of politician that you just rustle up from some ivy league school. Those men were overturning everything!

Traitors.

Today, we certainly don’t seem to elect that sort of daring leader. Which is strange considering how well we know our roots. So was the leadership style of the forefathers (not the content of the constitution) just a passing fad? They set it up and we just go along la-di-da….

I say no, rather they set a precedent. We should pick our leaders like they have the intestinal fortitude to lead us into that first revolution.

What do you think?

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32 Answers

marinelife's avatar

I think a state of permanent revolution is a state of discomfort. I think a different kind of leadership is required these days.

Ltryptophan's avatar

I’m not saying for the leaders to lead us into revolution, but just to be the kind of men (and now women) that Washington, et al, were.

CaptainHarley's avatar

It may well come to that again.

ragingloli's avatar

The corporate elite will not allow people like that to even be available for election.
But that is not a bad thing. The last one of the sort we had here ended up starting a world war and murdering millions of people.

Ltryptophan's avatar

@ragingloli who do you mean? Roosevelt?

Ltryptophan's avatar

You think Hitler was a Washington?

ragingloli's avatar

@Ltryptophan
He certainly was a revolutionary.

Coloma's avatar

Well, scruples, character and integrity are not what they used to be. Ones word and handshake mean nothing in todays political games. To return to an era of true integrity we’ll have to start raising kids with integrity again. Good luck, in the age of the narcissist and sociopath. lol

wundayatta's avatar

There is no way I’d ever want to have a leader with the kind of mindset the “forefathers” had. Times are so different now. Who they were is relevant as history, but it is not appropriate for current conditions, nor, I imagine, for any future conditions. They were a product of their time, as we are of our time.

It is a mistake to look back with nostalgia. We have no idea what things were really like back then, nor what they were really like. What we know now is largely mythic. We do not know the reality of the time or the people. We need leaders for our time, and those leaders can only come from our time. They can not bear anything but the barest of resemblance to those of previous times.

Ltryptophan's avatar

I can’t agree…I would say they are not in the same club. Washington fought a revolution against tyranny not to establish it.

Ltryptophan's avatar

@wundayatta I dig what you’re saying, but…

Come on, it took a certain categorical righteous daring… This is the mark of zoro these men emblazoned on the very fabric of our culture. I can’t say that is even as much as 10% myth.

Qingu's avatar

@Ltryptophan, Washington was a slave-owning aristocrat. He had a lot of good qualities, to be sure. But he came from a different world.

We also know very little about what Washington was like in actuality. He lived in a world that did not have a strong factual historical tradition. A lot of the “history” about Washington is legend and mythmaking—just like the history written about 17th and 18th-century kings.

I agree with the saying, “the past is a foreign country.” I don’t think it makes sense to compare ourselves today to our ancestors. We can admire things about them, but we shouldn’t hold them up as examples.

Qingu's avatar

I’m also not sure it was actually right to fight the revolutionary war.

Ltryptophan's avatar

@Qingu what we know for sure about him is he gave us freedom. No ifs ands or buts.

Qingu's avatar

His military strategic skill helped give wealthy male landowners freedom from a distant monarchy’s taxes. Then he was essentially coronated as king. It’s a good thing he was willing to give up the position and help the nascent democracy movement instead of cementing power for himself.

He was not a god, and he was not “the father of our country” or any of that paternalistic nonsense. At most you can argue that he was the single most important leader of many important leaders during the American revolution.

Sorry, but I can’t stand hagiography in place of history.

Ltryptophan's avatar

President Washington, I commend thy spirit, and thy bravery, and thank God for thy merit in christening my homeland in freedom. May God preserve your legacy unto the end of this world.

ragingloli's avatar

freedom for white males

Qingu's avatar

Is President Washington registered on Fluther?

More seriously, he wouldn’t have preserved my freedom. My ancestors were Jews who were denied the right to vote. He also would not have preserved the Indians’ freedom. American incursions into Indian territory — opposed by the British — were a major reason why the colonists went to war.

Here’s something to think about. I doubt you’ll find many people who support Mu’ammar Qadaffi’s treatment of Libyans. But that doesn’t mean we should pray to God to preserve the legacy of the military leaders of the Libyan rebels. I’m sure some of them are fine people, but they’re also flawed humans. You in particular, @Ltryptophan, would probably have some problems with Libyan rebel leaders, many of whom are Islamic fundamentalists.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Ltryptophan Canadian here. There are more ways than one to achieve freedom.

Qingu's avatar

Psh, Canadians aren’t free! They still bow the knee to the queen of England to this day!

And they have public health care, the greatest tyranny of all.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Qingu Public health care: you call it tyranny, I call it freedom. Tomato, tomato. :P

Aethelflaed's avatar

Good lord, no. Adams was a contentious ass who failed to get along with almost anyone most of his life. Jefferson was pathologically shy and terrified of public speaking. Washington was a rather poor military leader, and would not win a presidential race today. All of them were constantly paranoid about conspiracies (as were the rest of people at the time, but not a quality suitable for today). Also, I think you really, really, really underestimate the role of mob violence in the Revolution.

They didn’t really give us freedom. They gave some freedom to white men who owned property. They failed to actually end the stamp tax. But for most people, freedom and change came very gradually over the course of the following centuries. Freedom is still being obtained for many, today…

bkcunningham's avatar

@Qingu, if what you say is true, “He lived in a world that did not have a strong factual historical tradition. A lot of the “history” about Washington is legend and mythmaking—just like the history written about 17th and 18th-century kings,” how do you know what to pick and choose that is truth and what is not? At what period in history can we know that writings and historical accounts are based on fact?

Qingu's avatar

The same way we know anything about historical figures, by evaluating the sources and the conditions in which the sources were writing. Things written about Washington by the equivalent of his “court historians” are probably hagiographical. Things written about him in private notes by his acquaintences are probably more enlightening.

CWOTUS's avatar

I’ve never seen you be so emphatically wrong, @wundayatta. Ah, well. First time for everything, I guess.

We do know that “the forefathers” were much like most people of today. There were rich men and rabble rousers, just like today. They were mostly men of influence, just like today. They had their personal interests, their petty jealousies, their bitter rivalries, just like today.

Read about the political wrangling between Adams and Jefferson, sometime, two nominal friends who were very bitter rivals during Adams’ presidential administration and when he stood for re-election and lost. Jefferson, for all that he is lauded today, let his minions roast Adams for “not starting a war” with France, which Jefferson well knew could be the ruination of this new nation in the 1790s. (For those who don’t know, Napoleonic France was a much different nation than the one that had helped us gain our independence from Britain. During most of the 1790s American ships were routinely raided by the French, causing a great hue and cry in the new USA. Adams knew that it would be complete folly to risk war with France at that point – since we had no navy to speak of, and no funds to start one – so he attempted diplomatic solutions that cost him his re-election, and saved the nation.)

Jefferson was no fool. He didn’t really advocate for war with France, but he certainly didn’t come to Adams’ defense and explain to other nut cases of the day (we’ve never lacked for nut cases in this country) to explain what an idiotic idea that was.

Washington, too, was by no means a god. Didn’t he lose nearly every battle he fought against the British in the Revolution? The point was that he persisted, he demonstrated considerable personal courage, and he inspired a nation. When victorious, he accepted a leadership role in politics – which he apparently disliked even more than most other presidents have ever disliked that sport – because he realized the necessity of continuing that leadership.

Maybe that’s what we need more of today: People to be president who don’t want to be.

Jaxk's avatar

I’d say they did a pretty damned good job. Did they right all wrongs, no. They created a country and government that was intended to avoid the pitfalls of most governments. The country wasn’t ready for full democracy but with the system they created we were able to avoid the chaos of countries like Libya. We didn’t devolve into tyranny (at least not yet). I’d say they did good despite any personal failings.

I for one, would like to see a bit more long range thinking in our politicians and a little less short term personal gratification. I suppose that’s more in line with @CWOTUS in that we need people less committed to personal power.

wundayatta's avatar

As @Qingu says, @CWOTUS, Hagiography. I’m surprised that you go for it on one hand. On the other, though, I suspect it means an awful lot to you in a way of identifying yourself, so of course you would choose to believe what is called history.

Our freedom was not given us by our forefathers. Our forefathers gave us myth and some history. We are the ones who give ourselves freedom—such as it is. What happened over 300 years ago, while crucial in that history did not happen in any way other than it did, is not essential because history could have gotten us to this place in any number of ways. What is most important, is that we are responsible for our own lives.

We revere the forefathers because they are symbols of the nation, and those symbols help us hold the nation together. But as models for current leaders? No way. Not even close. Those guys wouldn’t stand a chance today. They are racist and sexist neanderthals, among other unappetizing things. A bunch of them probably had mistresses and out-of-wedlock children. Some even had slave children.

As to pioneering spirit? I doubt it. I suspect people today are much tougher. They were responding to events to try to make money. They wanted to free themselves from tyranny. We have our own tyranny today. And I bet we have different tyrannies for different people. I think we know a lot more about how to move our world forward than our forefathers did. Hell, even conservatives libertarians here know more than they did. Give me a choice between Jefferson and @CWOTUS and @CWOTUS has my vote, any day. Any day.

CWOTUS's avatar

I’m surprised, @wundayatta, that you have read into anything that I wrote or have written in the past in this forum that leads you to believe that I still go for all of the various myths that we were fed as children. Surely you know that I don’t subscribe to that any more.

I do think that desperate times sometimes bring out the best in people. I suspect that without the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln (and Robert E. Lee, for that matter) would have been footnotes to history, and little remembered today. Ulysses S. Grant would have been a cashiered officer and a drunk, and would never have had the second chance that he had.

Likewise Eisenhower, Roosevelt and a lot of others that we now (well, some of us, anyway) look on with great fondness.

If the experiment now known as the USA had not been successful, we would not have remembered our founders. Since it has been so successful – in its way – we’ve gotten to a point of relative comfort, prosperity, complacency. The revolutionary leaders we had then would more than likely be malcontents (well, they were malcontents then, too, weren’t they?) facing a much stronger foe on its own ground. Not so likely to succeed. On the other hand, Martin Luther King, Jr., will be remembered as a founder of sorts, too, and deservedly so. He faced a pretty implacable foe, too, and defeated it.

So the men who were the political hacks of their day are now generally thought of as “Founding Fathers”. The experiment in limited government worked, and worked pretty well, for a long time. They get the credit. Hell, they deserve it, just for what they did. It was a remarkable achievement.

But heroes turn to villains with regime change. Lenin was once thought of very highly in a place that was once known as the Soviet Union. Not so much any more. (Stalin at least saved the nation – or was in the position as “supreme leader” when the nation saved itself – so he is still regarded with a certain respect. I guess anyone who can kill up to 20,000,000 of his own people should be accorded a certain degree of “respect” ... and distance.)

I expect that unless we change back to the “leaner and meaner” government that we had prior to the 20th Century that we’ll change to a country that would be unrecognizable to its founders, and the Constitution – as much as I hate to think it – will be rewritten. (This was a particular genius that I attribute nearly solely to John Adams, by the way. The Massachusetts constitution – which he invented and wrote – served as the model for the Federal instrument. And that was an experiment that had never been tried on any national level on the planet, as far as we know. Hagiography or not, the man was a genius.) When the Constitution is rewritten along the lines that many seem to want now, with more focus on government and less on individual liberty as “outmoded” and “past its sell-by date” and “no longer relevant to the times we live in”, then more people will have an attitude surpassing yours, even, and look on the founders with contempt for having such barbaric ideas: freedom to think and speak as you will? freedom to defend yourself? freedom from an all-intrusive state who wants to “improve” your life and “take care of you” and “make you safe”? Barbaric. I hope I don’t live to see the day.

I guess we also disagree to a large extent on conditions now vs. then. I think people today a far, far less “tough” than they were in colonial and post-colonial days. I sometimes think on cold winter days, for example, what it must have been like to live an entire life without electricity, central heating, hot running water (or even cold running water), indoor plumbing of any kind, horse-drawn transportation (if you were lucky and could afford it) and no prepared foods of any kind. Tough? Man, that had to be tough. We have it easy. Unless you’re living under a bridge you have it better than any king from those days.

I thank you for your vote, though. Not that I would ever seek it.

Qingu's avatar

To be clear, I don’t think @CWOTUS was engaging in hagiography. I actually largely agree with him. I disagree that people from other eras were “much like people from today.” I mean I guess to some extent people have always been the same everywhere. But there were huge social differences between Washington’s circles and most people’s lives today that I don’t think you can paper over. I mean, can you imagine what it would be like to actually own human beings as physical property?

I also think Tommy J was a pretty cool guy all things ocnsidered.

likipie's avatar

It really doesn’t matter who we elect, there’s still going to be people who don’t like them. The forefathers weren’t perfect either. I’m sure there were plenty of people who thought they were unfit for the position, just like we do with our leaders.

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