PHILADELPHIA — Nary a year removed from the 2012 presidential election and candidates are coming out of the woodwork to line up for 2016.
Certainly, at least some of the candidates either have grand intentions to serve the American people or they want voters to think they do. After spending a few days in Philadelphia, the cradle of the American republic, it’s clear more candidates should follow the example of George Washington.
To be sure, he wasn’t perfect in every aspect. But, in the 1770s, he was a strong leader at a time the country — which technically wasn’t yet a country — needed a strong leader. Washington gave so much to this country and continued to serve event when he resigned himself to retirement.
“The great object for which I had the honor to hold an appointment in the Service of my Country, being accomplished, I am now preparing to resign it into the hands of Congress, and to return to that domestic retirement, which, it is well known, I left with the greatest reluctance,” Washington wrote in June 1783 as he prepared to step down as commander of America’s armed forces.
The next year, in a letter to Marquis de LaFayette, a French aristocrat and military officer, Washington noted: “I am solacing myself with those tranquil enjoyments, of which … the Statesman whose watchful days and sleepless nights are spent in devising schemes to promote the welfare of his own, perhaps the ruin of other countries … can have very little conception.”
Despite Washington’s desire to enjoy his retirement, he was called to return to service to lead the Constitutional Convention of 1787. It was out of that Convention the United States Constitution emerged to replace the Articles of Confederation.
But, Washington’s duty wasn’t yet finished. In 1789, he was elected to serve as the country’s first president.
In his inaugural address, Washington said: “I was summoned by my country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love, from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection.”
Any candidate for public office — whether it’s local dog catcher or president of the United States — should take a moment to study Washington’s approach.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy urged Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” While it’s good advice for all citizens, every politician should heed this idea. Elected office doesn’t, or shouldn’t, exist for its great health plan or its all-expenses-paid island vacations; it exists to serve at the will of the people.
Elected office shouldn’t be about handing out as many freebies as needed to ensure one’s re-election. Despite what some politicians think, their power is not limitless; the people are still in charge.
Recently, Washington’s personal copy of the Constitution toured the country. Aside from the fact the document is 224 years old, what’s remarkable is the handwritten notes Washington himself wrote in the book’s margins.
He had no predecessor to look to as a guide, just the words. So, as Washington studied the Constitution to determine what exactly his duties as the nation’s first president would be, he wrote three words in the margin next to Article Two of the Constitution: “President,” “Powers” and “Required.”
Washington took the time to actually read the document. Apparently, he had the novel idea of trying to understand the powers granted to him. That’s a concept more politicians should try.
It never hurts to brush up on what the Constitution actually says.