Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Reticence of our Fathers

In a speech at a naturalization ceremony at Monticello, VA, yesterday, President Bush said:

"As a statesman, Thomas Jefferson held all three top posts in the executive branch. He served as the first Secretary of State, the second Vice President, and the third President. Not bad for a man who hated public speaking. (Laughter.) It seems Jefferson got away with only delivering two public speeches during his presidency. I'm sure a lot of Americans wish that were the case today. (Laughter.)"

Jefferson was not a fan of public speaking, but his fear was less of making a fool of himself than of imitating a perceived monarchical practice. In this he was no exception to most 18th and early 19th century presidents, almost all of whom did not publicly campaign for office. The patrician presidents of the founding era believed that power sought was power illegitimate. Because George Washington laid down his sword after the revolution and quietly went home to Mount Vernon, and because he was wrenched "from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection," this man alone in the country's history received a unanimous vote of the electoral college. Gone is this era of presidential humility; in its place we find avarice, narcissism, and self-promotion - the keys to the contemporary White House.

Perhaps President Bush would not have been heckled this day had he taken his rhetorical responsibility and the Office from which his words would emanate more seriously.

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