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History repeats itself in politics

Published May 05. 2012 09:01AM

By Jim Zbick

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," said classical philosopher and poet George Santayana.

A simple paraphrase of this quote is that history often repeats itself.

With the primary elections looming a century ago, an editorial writer for the Tamaqua Courier wrote about several subjects that are remarkably similar to what we're seeing and hearing about in our government during this election year.

Critics of President Barack Obama, for example, have been saying that many of his views and policies about shared wealth are leading the nation down a path to socialism. One local writer had similar concerns a century ago.

"The trouble with socialism is that it has never confronted the question of how exceptional ability is to be recognized and rewarded," a Courier writer stated in his opinion on April 9, 1912. "Under socialism, if there was any difference of reward, it would go to the politician class, the same oil-tongued men who are now representatives to legislatures and delegates to conventions. The result of placing them in positions of business responsibility for which they are not fitted, would be to increase the cost of living."

While criticizing the "high executive," the writer also explained how the average worker was being affected.

"Unsystematic methods and a failure to reward human ambition are incredibly wasteful," he stated. "A business producing value to the extent of $1 million under such methods could usually be made to produce $2 million under efficiency and reward for ambition. The public could better afford to see the man who accomplishes that result get $1 million profit for his labor, than lose $1 million through inefficiency and shiftless methods."

That writer in 1912 said that socialism was growing in the country and would continue to grow "in so far as the old parties give costly and unbusinesslike government."

An editorial on April 10, 1912 told about threats on personal liberties from the "system." By substituting the word "system" which was used in the 1912 editorial with the term "political party machines," this opinion piece would certainly fit today's political/government environment.

His opening statement in the editorial would have pleased the Tea Party activists of today.

"The Courier does not believe that anybody will deny the assertion that there is a more general desire among people today to have a greater voice in affairs of government than there ever has been since the days of the American Revolution," the writer stated. "Under the Constitution, the voice of the people as bearing upon the regulation of the government, must be exerted through the medium of their representatives. And that is just where much of the corruption of politics and in government is festering."

He explained that the Constitution enables the people to exert their voice and therefore the control and power should be vested in the people. However, he blamed politicians who were meshed in the "system" for being failures.

"The system has selected as candidates to represent the people men who are generally regarded in their various communities as good fellows," he stated. "They are ambitious in a certain way. The system appeals to the vanity of these men by going to them and assuring that they would make ideal representatives of the people."

"The people say: 'Well, so and so has always been a pretty nice fellow, apparently quite decent, I don't think he has much ability but I'll vote for him just as a favor. That is just the way the system wishes them to do. So the man selected by the system puts a nice little ring in his nose and a big, strong collar around his neck and brands its mark upon his brow.

"He belongs to it, soul and breeches. When he is elected it asks (for) pay for what it has done, and the man always pays for he is of the kind that will not stand up and fight, particularly when it appears to be more profitable to him not to fight, but to remain submissive.

"So it is that the people, by reason of their gullibility, who have made it possible for the system to control the legislative machinery at such times as it desires to control it."

The writer went on to state that he feels the people were waking up to the political party machines.

"They see their error," he said. "They have been taught a lesson and by a hard master - experience. Today, they are intent on electing as their representatives men whom they will control, men who will be free from the influence of the system."

In one other opinion during the campaign of 1912, the writer took a shot at both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House for becoming what he called the "do-nothing congress."

He began by criticizing lawmakers for blocking legislation, similar to the filibustering tactics we see today. He faulted the legislators in congress for not overcoming their differences and passing legislation.

"One of the most marked impressions made on the visitor to the galleries of congress is the tendency to block legislation by a policy of idling," he said. "The Senate in decorum, dignity, ability and statesmanship seen in debate, is naturally superior to the House. The House has its own sins to answer for but the senate is the graveyard of legislation. This is no new condition but a tradition handed down irrespective of party."

A century later, this sounds very familiar to the government gridlock we see today.

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