What’s in a Name?

| August 18, 2011
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So what else is new? We now have a presidential candidate, Texan Rick Perry, who featured prominently in his coming-out announcement a promise to make Washington, D.C., as "inconsequential" in his listeners' affairs as humanly possible. Even in this age of non-stop government-bashing, that was a first. Not "unobtrusive," mind you: "inconsequential."

Say, Rick bubba, you wanna be inconsequential? How's about just not running in the first place? Stay home and count your sponsors' oil wells. That ought to keep you occupied for at least the next eight years.

Surely it must have occurred to some of these ranters against "Washington" that they are thereby disparaging the name of our first and arguably greatest American hero, George Washington, who waged and won the Revolution against enormous odds and lived on to become the first president, helping to establish the very foundations of a united and strong nation on these shores.

And there's more than a verbal coincidence here. As historian Ron Chernow's brilliant and voluminous biography, Washington, makes clear, Washington the man back then, like Washington the city today, was always involved in a desperate struggle against the state's-righters, government-haters, no-taxers, and market-uber-alles zealots of his time.

Know why Washington and his embattled, threadbare troops had such a rough time of it in that first bitter winter of the war at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania? Because the prosperous farmers in that produce- and livestock-rich area of the American breadbasket — chosen by General Washington as a haven for his troops for that very abundance — opted to ignore the ragged, starving patriots and chose instead to sell their goods to the British. You get what you pay for, you know.

Know why the Revolution dragged on for eight years and why, even after the colossal victory over Cornwallis at Yorktown, Washington's troops were on subsistence rations? Because the individual colonies prided themselves on their independence from a central government and declined to tax their citizens for something so big-government-like as a citizen army to counter the well-equipped professionals of King George III and the legions of Hessian mercenaries.

Despite all odds, though, the soldiers of the Continental Army, forced to live on subsistence, still endured and prevailed. And their leader saw clearly that the early Articles of Confederation continued the self-absorbed aimlessness that had hobbled the war effort and, accordingly, lent his enormous influence to the enactment of the Constitution and to the premise of a central government strong enough to protect the rights of all who lived within its thrall.

That was then, however. This is now, when the name of Washington has been made into a dirty word and those who aspire to live and possess power in the city of that name profess to do so as occupiers and enemies — whose boast it is to make the government of the great American republic "inconsequential."

We've had enough problems with tornadoes of late. We don't need the eminence of Mount Vernon spinning in his grave.

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