It seems that each day’s news brings the announcement of yet another candidate for the office of President of the United States. Millions of dollars will be spent to acquire what many believe to be the most powerful position on earth. Unfortunately, the character and integrity of those seeking the Presidency rarely if ever approach that of the first occupant of that high office.
Tomorrow, Feb. 22, we celebrate the birthday of our first President, George Washington, a man so esteemed by his countrymen that he was asked not just to be their President, but also their king. Washington wisely declined the offer of ultimate power, choosing instead to devote his time and fortune in humble service to the nation he helped create. In his Farewell Address, Washington observed that he had spent “45 years of [his] life dedicated to [the country’s] service with an upright zeal.” He was known as the “Father of our Country” for his service in the Continental Congress, as commander in chief of the Continental Army, as president of the Constitutional Convention, and finally as the first president of the United States. Through this devoted service, he earned the admiration and respect of those with whom he served. Chief Justice John Marshall described Washington in his eulogy as “First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen, [yet] second to none in humble and enduring scenes of private life.” Some key characteristics of Washington’s dedicated, selfless service desperately need to be emulated by today’s political leaders.
First and foremost, George Washington was a man who always exhibited a strong and passionate belief in God. Edmund Burke, the great English orator, once said that anybody “possessing any portion of power ought to be strongly and awefully impressed with an idea that they act in trust; and that they are to account for their conduct in that trust to the one great master, author and founder of society.” Washington’s first official proclamation on Oct. 3, 1789, began by stating that it was the “duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”
Washington set a precedent of taking the oath of office on the Bible at his first inauguration, a tradition that some modern-day officeholders are rejecting, choosing instead to swear by another god or to no belief at all. Others make mention of God in speeches or at religious observances, but their actions do not reflect a belief in a sovereign God. They desire to be politically correct by being “neutral” to the one true God so as not to offend anyone else. As Washington once noted, “actions, not words, are the true criterion” of a person’s beliefs. We need statesmen who say what they believe and then act accordingly.
With a complete disregard for those they have been elected to serve, today’s politicians are more interested in what they can get out of holding office as opposed to what they can do for the people. Washington not only declined to accept a salary as president; he also declined to serve more than two consecutive terms in the office, setting a standard observed for over 100 years after his tenure. That certainly is not the norm for politicians today as greed and corruption have infiltrated the ranks of both major parties.
Most in politics today are driven by a hunger for power. A devotion to principle gives way to a love for power and party politics as elected officials vote for what is in the best interest of the party, not what is in the best interest of the people. Upon leaving the presidency, Washington issued a prophetic warning that political parties would likely “become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reigns of government.” He further declared that the spirit of party would “distract the public councils,” “enfeeble the public administration,” “agitate the community with ill-founded jealousies,” and “open the door to foreign influence and corruption,” all of which we have seen in past Republican and Democrat administrations. We need elected leaders loyal to the people, not to party bosses.
Public service is a sacrifice, not a selfish desire to advance one’s personal philosophy or political agenda. Washington understood this, stating that “the great principle which has governed all my public conduct is a sincere desire to promote and secure the true interests of my Country.” Great leaders follow great principles, and this nation again needs leaders who aspire to public office by selflessly serving their country as did our first president.
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