Same As It Ever Was

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our current slate of elected officials. Well, not just the current slate, but the last 20 years or so, anyway. With very few exceptions, I keep wondering, “Where are the statesmen?” Where are the politicians who understand complexity and work hard–together–to tackle big issues? Why are they acting so unlike Jesus when, in fact, so many of them claim to have a direct line to God? And why does every Senator and Congressperson live in the back pocket of the Corporation?

A thought keeps crossing my mind: “Has it always been this bad?” And then I came across an article in The New Yorker with the following passage:

Look at the exhaused Treasury; the paralyzed government; the unworthy representatives of a free people; the desperate contests between the North and the South; the iron curb and brazen muzzle fastened upon every man who speaks his mind, even in that Republican Hall, to which Republican men are sent by Republican people to speak Republican Truths–the stabbings, and shootings, and coarse and brutal threatenings exchanged between Senators under the very Senate’s roof–the intrusion of the most pitiful, mean, malicious, creeping, crawling, sneaking party spirit into all transactions of life.

That text was written by Charles Dickens on his first visit to America. In 1842. He went to see a congressional budget debate in Washington and couldn’t believe his eyes and ears. Note: when Dickens uses the term “Republican” above, he does not mean in the modern sense (as in Republicans vs. Democrats). He’s talking about the ideal of the Republic itself and the men (no women back then) elected to serve it.


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