Skip to comments.For the record...
Posted on 12/07/2008 8:37:17 PM PST by pickrell
It is much easier to look backwards, to examine all of those plans, decisions and safeguards which could have been crafted a little better, if we had only known then, what has proven so expensive now.
Accordingly, it is also stunning, and downright humbling, for us beneficiaries in that distant future, to now appreciate just how much effort, foresight, and stark brilliance, obviously went into the proposals, conflict and eventual agreement by those of the past who got so much so right.
And yet if we are to do our part now, as they did theirs then, we must begin by understanding just what they managed to foresee and how they prepared for that- as well as what they knew they couldn't possibly anticipate, and must settle for establishing "adjusting mechanisms" for centuries-removed generations to deal with.
Madison wasn't happy. He was a very small, slightly-built man with what some may have whispered was a generous bit of hypochondria. The man later acknowledged as perhaps the greatest political thinker of the century spoke in a voice barely above a whisper, and his colleagues and enemies alike knew that this soft voice necessitated intense concentration on the part of all his colleagues in the Constitutional Convention hall... simply to hear him. Me? I think that was yet more evidence of quiet wisdom! For those around him who recoiled at the harsh, often angry tones of those with whom they disagreed, realized that this little man who developed and wrote most of the ideas for the eventual Constitution... bore listening to, even if that hearing required effort. "Speak softly and carry a big thought..."
He, Jefferson and the other Republicans had initially agreed that the Federalists were to be feared and thwarted, since they plotted to install a powerful, central, Federal government, with sovereignty over all the various States. And wasn't that exactly what they had shed so much blood over, to escape, a mere decade earlier? To throw off the yoke of tyranny from distant England, only to now accept this same tyranny... from a closer, central government? Madness! Madness.
And to think that the very man who symbolized and stood fast as the critical figure of the revolution, retired General George Washington, had somehow, along with John Adams and others, been suborned or enthralled by Hamilton into that madness... was incomprehensible! Wasn't a loose, informal association of States the only way to insure the fruits of the revolution? Why, Hamilton was so far gone that he was proposing a national currency and a- (sputtering rage occurred here)- a Federal tax! No- worse, make that various and assorted Federal taxes! It was no secret that the power to tax must of needs be accompanied by the power to enforce that taxation. And this meant Federal powers and Federal troops to enforce them. These Federalists were barking mad, obviously.
The Federalists had countered unrelentingly and eloquently, in private and in public, that the Republicans were wrong. The mistake of keeping all sovereignty and power reserved entirely unto the States left all and each of them powerless to the eventual, inevitable depredations of powerful European interests, who had already begun quietly testing the waters to strike alliances with separate States, or with mini-blocks of 3 or 4 of the 13 States, to the mortal peril of the remainder. Several of the southern slave-owning States were at the brink of pulling out of the convention due to insistances by other States that slavery be abolished; madmen were proposing women's rights, and giving a "popular" vote to the landless and the idle!
No writings appeared to the effect, but it could not have escaped many that the question of the "western lands", which were a part of none of the 13 colonies now assuming to themselves Statehood, lie there waiting to spark an unavoidable Continental uncivil war. If the United States were to disassociate, which State or States would then own these incomprehensibly vast tracts of land, bigger than most European countries? If they were not owned by all States equally- necessitating a Federal system to administer them to the benefit of all- then which State or States would seize them? How long could they defend them against the other shifting counter-alliances among the remaining States? And once foreign powers insinuated themselves onto the Continent through alliances with individual States, how long before those weak States reverted to mere colonies-in-fact of their new masters-in-waiting?
More was at stake than most people would ever know.
And so Madison began shifting his views, and deftly pulled an increasing number of delegates along with him. A Federal Republic, a contradiction in terms, would have to be made, in order to avoid disaster. In an unheard of invention, sovereignty would be shared in spheres of influence, by a strong Federal government, and by strong individual State governments, with safeguards carefully constructed against tyranny. To save a nation- no, more importantly- to save the very idea that it was possible for any people so determined, to throw off the chains of monarchy and dictatorship, and establish a government owned and controlled by a citizenry consenting to their governance, and with an active and real ability to shape the laws and rights attendant therein... was at stake in this mad New World.
But his ideas of three branches of government, the Executive, the Judicial and the Legislative branch- itself divided into two houses, a Senate and a House of Representatives-, was too radical... too much for the other delegates to swallow in one bite. The idea that Senators and Representatives would be elected in proportionate numbers to population set the stage for tyranny by the more populous States over the rest. And yet, the larger States countered that they were going to have no part of being dictated to on equal terms by the three grocers and the spinster who together populated Rhode Island!
Our high school civics classes taught us how, after intense negotiation, adroit sometimes-secret manuevering by Madison and others, and the sheer terror of failing, that a compromise was finally reached among the best legal minds, possibly of all times. They exited that hall with a document to be submitted to each State for ratification, which was so brilliant, simply because a large number of men who didn't trust each other- (and frankly didn't trust the population as a whole not to be bamboozled out of their liberties by slick talking politicos)- sat for weeks hammering out and agreeing to the greatest bulwark against tyranny that they could assemble, and still have any functionality left to the government.
They left enough room in the framework for shifting morality to allow redress of many of the inequalities and wrongs included in the original Constitution... a mechanism for amending the Constitution without bloodshed. Sadly, the intractable issue of slavery proved only be determinable by force of arms, and that was a great tragedy. Yet somehow the framework survived even that great upheaval.
And yet... they utterly missed one little thing.
We can't fairly blame them, because they were a product of their own times and their own technologies. They built checks and balances against the usurpations of those who would intrigue at slyly stripping them of their individual liberties and properties; assuring themselves and posterity that these forays by the unscrupulous would be exposed for what they were, by a free press which would guard them all, and whom they would guard with a guarantee of that Free Press.
Who could have forseen the transistor?
At the time, newspapers held many and varying positions, pounding away with vigor at the perceived shortcomings, and dubious parentage, of various politicians, while the newspaper on the other side of the street stridently pounded right back. No individual would, or could, ever have the wealth to buy up enough of these presses to be able to completely embargo the ideas of the other side. And even if they did, what of the next town and what of the big cities further distant? No, the Press was not to be feared, but rather to be protected.
No one at all thought that if a technology ever came along...
...which placed a handful of men in a position where they could propound theories with no dissenting refutation, to enforce what news was to be seen by the public, and eventually even to actually engineer strong influences upon what candidates were to be allowed to be selected, by both sides!!.... or to be taken seriously by the nation's voters...
...were also absolutely unaccountable for the damage that previous engineering by them of public opinion and consequent public policies wrought upon the nation...
...and worse, were in fact in sole control of news of such consequences, to the point where even if the damage those policies produced eventually became unhideable, that they alone controlled how blame was shaped and upon whom...
No one could have foreseen that a day would come where the transistor would enable local newspapers all across the country to sharply reduce their payroll, by simply printing the "news" stories written by a single, powerful, New York newspaper... and thus extending the power to control the news to one single organization- capable and motivated to subvert the access that citizens thought they were getting to the "truth".
No one could have forseen the day that well-coiffed men in expensive suits would sit in front of network cameras, and be broadcast to homes across the entire nation. That these men would one day effectively control the public's perception of countless issues- issues which would form the basis for the votes they would then cast. Through controlling which side of any issue or any story would be allowed to be aired, they alone in their arrogance would decide what was "news" and what was "not".
And that a bare handful of them, trained in the same journalism school, would be able to among them command the supplicants who vied for Senate and House seats, to say nothing of the Presidency itself.
Could Adams, or Jefferson, or Madison have safeguarded against this? Probably not. Certainly not while retaining the freedoms which enabled the Colonies to grow and evolve into the greatest nation that the world had ever known, the cultivar of a wide range of freedoms and rights that the downtrodden across the world could only have dreamed of.
Sometimes time must be allowed, and patience applied, even in the face of tragic betrayal of all that enabled the Free Press to be what it once was. Sometimes a new technology allows what went horribly wrong, to begin slowly righting itself, and the tyranny of the lockstep Media to be broken by a new means of communication by free men and women.
If the electronic interconnectedness of present society, the wonderful technology of the modern personal computer, and the dawning realization that we need no longer tolerate those who acted in concert, (or by simple indifference to other than profit), to suppress the "rest of the story", then perhaps the faith that Madison and the others were left with, as the only hope for distant generations, was not misplaced.
Tyrannies are not cast down overnight. And terrible unintended consequences can attach themselves to the vicious struggle against those who would alone, and without due election, decide for us what is good for us.
The Newspaper of Wreckage- the New York Times- and it's satellite newspaper symbiotes, controlled through wirefeeds across the nation, are feeling the bite of a citizenry who are increasingly intolerant of their selective, patterned distortions of fact and truth. Fewer readers remain each week who haven't yet realized what has been done to them, how they have been lied to and duped. Increasing numbers of minds, young and old, are struggling to hammer out a system across the Internet which truly represents what the Founding Fathers intended... a free exchange of ideas, and, yes, bitter argument open to both sides.
It will be messy, and inefficient, and it will be fraught with misinformation and agendas.
Let us hope so, anyway. By this shall we know it has the inefficiency of honesty.
For only a system which slowly weeds out the chaff, through the eventual disdain of the majority of readers who vote with their keyboard, and NOT through the enforced embargo of a handful of leftist "journalists", will there ever be a chance for the free contest of ideas... and the history of results of earlier applications of those ideas, to add weight and perspective to arguments from each side.
The sites like Freerepublic who have long allowed and encouraged the messy collision of ideas, will become the norm rather than the exception, and through the value of their ideas and philosophies either grow to attract the throngs... or face indifference through lack of persuasiveness of their arguments and vision for the future.
That way, when citizens begin to resist and rebel against usurpations of power by a Federal Government having lived up to, and on the brink of vastly exceeding, the worst fears and dreads of the original Republicans anxious against future tyranny... perhaps the new and FREE free press would enable the next "correction" to begin in time to limit the damage, or at least save what we may from the wreckage.
If WE don't.... who will?
Or, the GOP could have just elected a REAL conservative candidate, like McLame accidentally stumbled on for VP.
The reason we lost is that our side is fractured and hopeless. Just look at recent posts with respect to energy. What insanity it is to see self-ascribed conservatives posting on FR about “alternative energy” sources. There is nothing more liberal than the thought that oil, one of the main reasons the USA is a great nation, is being chastised and blamed as one of the biggest problems in America. These “conservatives” want to eliminate oil altogether! UNREAL!!
Are you saying that, as conservatives, we can not approve of and utilize any kind of energy except fossil fuel? I am not anti-oil in the least, but I am installing a windmill and I do burn corn. What the heck is liberal about that? Wind is not controlled by the government and I can grow my own corn. Self-sufficiency is conservative.
I’m talking about so-called “conservatives” that want to ELIMINATE oil as a source of ANYTHING we use. They’ve bought into the “oil is evil” idea of the left. It’s all over FR in recent posts. Look it up.
Nothing against alternative, it’s just not that efficient in most instances.
Wonderful post, Ron, and a fine analysis of what modern media has done to take liberty, rather than enable it.
Loved the history, too.
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