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By George Ferencz

gw4.gif - 58.84 KThe last 50 years of American history have been void of a true, undeniable national hero, and certainly very few would nominate our current president for such an honor. It is with ease that we now point to Bill Clinton and blame him for our national woes, but the president is just a symptom of a greater pox in this country. In these recent decades, the nation has been poisoned by a plague of partisanship ripping apart the Constitution men like Ben Franklin and George Washington gave so much to create.

Lets just talk about Mr. Washington for now, and ask what this true and undeniable American hero might think about the current state of the nation.

While the "average" American – no expert when it comes to the nation's history – believes George Washington's heroism and the inspiration he provides for our day stems from his role in the Revolutionary War or in his years as President, his true mark on American history was stamped in the years in between.

American bravado would like us to forget that our current system of government and law is the second in our history. The first, following the country's independence from Great Britain, consisted of powers delegated to the Continental Congress. This body quickly fell into disfavor with Americans as the interest on the national debt grew to more than six times the country's revenue. Adding to the country's woes was a struggle between liberals like Thomas Jefferson, who fought for more civil liberties, and those aristocrats favoring a more conservative form of government.

gw1.gif - 51.29 KThe towering figure of Washington, standing at 6-foot-2 and clothed in black velvet, helped put an end to the crisis. First, he met with his former colonial soldiers to put down a potential insurrection. Then, he joined 51 other prominent Americans at the Constitutional Convention to strike a compromise. As president of the Convention, Washington set the groundwork for an agreement that led to a revolutionary democratic form of government. We the people were given sweeping freedoms from tyranny, oppression and invasion of privacy.

The problems of our young country were solved for one simple reason: those at the Convention put aside political differences and focused on their goal: preserving the union and improving its society. This nonpartisan spirit of cooperation followed Washington from the Convention to the president's office, to which he was twice unanimously elected. In his final address to the country upon leaving the office, Washington warned the nation about partisanship.

Sadly, the nation that reveres him has not listened.

Partisanship – political and otherwise -- has grown more ugly in this century. In the Cold War and post-Cold War eras the us versus them philosophy became even more intrusive. This atmosphere of fear grew ugly during the McCarthy hearings, as communists became the "them." But in today's world where the United States is the lone super power, our country has been looking inward to find its enemies. With no foreign threat, the Democrats point fingers at the Republicans, the Religious Right damns the gay community, whites grumble about blacks and everyone else watches all of it safely from their homes as if it were a television drama.

But this current crisis goes beyond political viewpoints and extends to the running of our nation. Our government, struggling to find a foe in a peaceful era, has turned its campaigns on its own citizens and is subsequently reducing our civil liberties. Washington and others at the Constitutional Convention knew that in order for the government to work there needed to be a balance between the rights of an individual and those of its country to protect its citizens. However, it seems difficult to believe that the framers of the Constitution, who in the Fourth Amendment prohibited unlawful search and seizures, would agree with President Reagan's property seizure law, or an Internet censorship bill that tramples on the First Amendment.

Add to this growing partisanship the government's desire for control and a media running amok, and you can see how far we've strayed from the original idea. The framers of the Constitution gave the country freedom of the press not to invade the privacy of its citizens and fuel sexual scandals, but to check government abuse and to encourage open debates about the issues of the day. In Washington's time, a person's private life was his own, and the thought of it being anything else but was probably as foreign to the Founding Fathers as the Internet or television would have been.

The first decades of the United States weren't oblivious to sexual scandal, however. There were rumors about Thomas Jefferson bedding slaves, Alexander Hamilton sleeping with other men's wives and there's another that said Hamilton and Washington were involved. But what makes then and now so different -- what gives us an idea of what the Founding Fathers may have thought of today's national scandal -- is that these events remained hidden from the public and certainly did not interfere with the governing of the nation. hamilton.gif - 13.60 K Alexander Hamilton

Sexual matters between consenting adults do not have a place in politics, the governing of this country or its laws. While our system of government remains hostage to a degenerative malady brought into being by its voyeuristic electorate, we run the risk that one day it will be our lives that will be seen through the keyhole. A government already too obsessed with private behavior, victimless crimes and sexual acts doesn't need any more of an invitation then it has to tread on the Fourth Amendment.

The crisis we face in this country today is as great as it was when that Constitutional Convention met in 1787. We have a government out of control. We have a media that is not responsible. We have a political system in shambles. And we have a public that doesn't seem to care. What we need is Mr. Washington to step up again to help us. While he cannot, his spirit can.

gw5.gif - 11.76 KSadly, though, the assault of partisans on values like privacy may make finding such a man or woman impossible. The vision of a free society such as was upheld by the framers of the Constitution over 200 years ago is fast losing ground. Is it too late for us to call –for our own good--on the words and deeds of Washington and of the Founding Fathers? Perhaps there's still time.

© 1997-98 BEI