Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Ugly American: Jack R. Van Ens

To be fair, if your parents name you Jack Ens, it's pretty much guaranteed you're going to grow up to be a jackass.

Even still, though, Jack R. Van Ens achieved a new low in the annals of American ignorance with a column published on Christmas Day in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Identified weirdly as a "dramatist, historian and author" without any university affiliation (or any other kind of association -- a web page I found says he "portrays Thomas Jefferson for students in grades K-12 so that they may learn Jeffersonian virtues," seems like the Inquirer forgot to mention that and may indeed be somewhat hard up for experts these days), Jack Ass (using the graphic shown above left) opines that current U.S. President George Bush should have been more like his predecessor George Washington, who "negotiated with his military aides" rather than giving them orders. Apparently, if Washington's men didn't feel like fighting that day because it was kinda chilly or they were feeling rumbly in their tum-tums, then good old Grampa George would give them the day off and tuck them in nice and cozy under their blanky-wankies, and make them feel better. That sort of thing. And America was all the better for it, as opposed to being ruled over by George Bush, who "doesn't negotiate [but] forges ahead with his mind made up." It's a pity that Jack Ass doesn't give one single vivid specific example of Washington ever doing something like this, but it's clear we can trust him that it really did happen (because he's a scholar with such clearly defined credentials). Still, it's a pity because it makes it harder to forget that to the extent there was any negotiating it could well have been because the ragtag, underpaid, under-equipped, untrained "army" that Washington commanded might have mutinied at any second if there wasn't, which wouldn't exactly support Jack Ass's point.

Maybe I'm an idealist, but is Christmas Day really the time for partisan bashing of the president? What in the world is in the water over there in Philadelphia, anyway? I thought they were supposed to be the "City of Brotherly Love." Not even on Christmas they're not? Maybe W.C. Fields was on to something. After all, people are fleeing the area in droves; when Kennedy was elected the state of Pennsylvania had 32 electoral votes, but by the time Bush was re-elected they had only 21. In the 2000 census Philadelphia had 1.5 million people; in 1940 it had nearly 2 million. Showing their diversity and love of democracy, 80.44% of the people of Philadelphia voted for Democrat John Kerry in the 2004 election where Republican Bush won a majority of the country's support.

But let's not dwell on that. Instead, let's take Jack Ass on his own terms, and evaluate the substance of his argument fairly. Granted, it's hard to do it without bursting out laughing and rolling on the floor in hysterics. But, let's try. Click the jump to follow along, won't you?

1. Jack Ass says that George Bush should have had more of an open mind in dealing with the Iraq Study Committee. Apparently, he thinks that's what George Washington would have done. This is an odd idea to say the least, and it's highly ironic that it would be set forth in a Pennsylvania paper -- because when George Washington illegally and unconstitutionally used American soldiers to crush the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania, one of the most hypocritical acts in all of American governance (because the rebels were acting just like Washington did when he refused to be governed by Britain), Washington didn't even meet once with any kind of "Study Committee". Nor did he ask Congress's permission before he used American soldiers to attack other Americans, though Bush did ask for permission before using our forces to attack our enemies by invading Iraq.

2. Jack Ass writes: "When someone crosses the president with an opposing view, Bush digs in his heels, rarely retreating." But isn't this exactly how George Washington reacted when some folks suggested he should give up his slaves, and felt the U.S. Constitution shouldn't be written to allow them to be held?

3. Jack Ass asks: "What happens when Washington's wise listening and negotiation skills are missing?" He answers his own question by stating: "A president then leads unilaterally." Unilaterally? Does he mean "unilaterally" the way George Washington received the votes of every single member of the Electoral College without exception, eerily similar to the type of "mandates" received by the Politburo members in the USSR? Perhaps Jack Ass doesn't know it, but Bush has signed virtually every single piece of legislation that has come out of the Congress during his years in office. He also may not know that Washington bribed voters silly with barrels of grog on election day in order to achieve his magnificent mandates.

4. Jack Ass wonders: "Why didn't Washington strut his military stuff like Napoleon would a few years later? Many colonials would gladly have crowned him their benevolent dictator." Actually, it took more than six years after the Revolutionary War had been won for the people of the United States to decide they even wanted to form a single country, much less that they wanted George Washington in charge of it, so that's one reason this so-called "historian" may have overlooked. It's quite true though, and to George Washington's eternal credit, that he didn't do what "Democratic" president Frankenstein D. Roosevelt did in 1940, seek a third term in office (nor did Washington lie to the country about his physical condition like FDR did, nor did he try to pack the Supreme Court, nor did he build concentration camps and chuck Japanese people into them like FDR). Jack Ass doesn't have a word of criticism for FDR, nor a word of praise for Bush for not being as bad as Frankly D. Rotten.

Jack Ass is quite right, though, in saying that, based on Washington's Sovietlike mandates, he certainly could have done what FDR did, and more (America has a disturbing anti-democratic tendency to elect generals president -- Jackson, Grant, Eisenhower, etc.). Instead, he stepped aside and literally forced America to become a democracy when the door was open for dictatorship. For that alone, to say nothing of his winning a war against the world's only true superpower of the time, Americans rightly worship the ground Washington slept on -- even though it's rather filthy ground indeed.

But Jack Ass is forgetting two things (that is, if he isn't a total moron who never knew them in the first place because he spends all his time dressing up like slave-owner Thomas Jefferson, who only became president because of highly dubious dealings in the House of Representatives and then went on to unconstitutionally buy a third of North America without permission):

First, nothing remotely like 9/11 occurred on Washington's watch. When the Civil War broke out, Abraham Lincoln (who hadn't been elected with a majority of the popular vote) suspended the constitutional right of habeas corpus and played fast and loose with democracy in so many ways that it's hard to understand how he managed to avoid impeachment. Most of all, he unconstitutionally sought to abolish slavery by "proclamation," suggesting that an American president can change the text of the constitution just by deciding it should be so (remember, Washington owned slaves and the founding fathers wrote a constitution that allowed slavery, which is why the constitution had to be amended to abolish the institution after Lincoln was assassinated).* Maybe George Bush has gone too far in seeking to protect America from terrorism. Many people would agree that he has. But for Jack Ass to suggest that Washington would have acted differently is the worst kind of intellectual dishonesty imaginable. There's absolutely no evidence he would have.

And second, George Bush was re-elected in 2004 with a majority of the popular vote. Unlike in Washington's time, women were allowed to vote, and so were black people. People were well familiar with Bush's leadership style, and with the fact that there had not been one single incident of domestic terrorism since 9/11. So, what Jack Ass should have been doing (if anything) was to point his finger not at Bush but at the people of the country, condemning them rather than the president.

But, you see, this cowardly little Jack Ass microbe didn't have the guts for something like that. So, instead, he simply relied on propaganda.

On the whole, I have to say, I wouldn't rather be in Philadelphia.

*Footnote: You can argue if you like that Lincoln was only trying to abolish slavery in the South, not the North, so it wasn't unconstitutional because the South wasn't part of America any more. Except that you can't, because Lincoln said it was, and in fact that was why he was fighting the war, not to free the slaves. Besides that, Lincoln did nothing after the "proclamation" to amend the Constitution to abolish slavery in the North, something that only happened after he'd been killed. So either he was a maniacal racist, and just using slavery as a weapon of war, or else he thought the "proclamation" was enough.

No comments: