Not far away, the Roman Senate was debating how to deal with an imminent threat from a nettlesome tribe to the north. After many speeches and heated arguments, the Senate reached a decision: They must find one man to whom they could offer supreme power, but only for the duration of the crisis. They would even bestow on him the title “dictator.”
Eventually the Senate offered the dictatorship to the farmer, Cincinnatus.
Cincinnatus accepted and led his armies to defeat the invaders. When the crisis was over, the grateful Roman government urged Cincinnatus to continue as their leader, but he refused, insisting that he must return to his plow. For centuries, even well into the empire period, Romans enjoyed recalling the un-prideful farmer who had become Rome’s model for bravery and virtue.
The American city of Cincinnati was so named to honor George Washington, another savior-farmer. Like the Romans, colonial Americans pressed their savior-farmer to continue on indefinitely as president. But, like Cincinnatus, George Washington was neither enamored nor changed by power. Both of these giants of western civilization considered power a temporary bestowal.
Compare the spirit and attitude of these two leaders to that of so many office-holders today. Think of the perks of office that tease and tempt so many to run and to stay in office. Think of Obamacare and its egregious, outrageous exemption of Congress from its own laws.
It’s also instructive to ponder what both Cincinnatus and Washington set in motion. Soon after Cincinnatus’ leadership, Rome became a glorious and literal “city on a hill,” (seven hills to be precise), then a republic, then an empire. After Washington’s exemplary service, America became a continental nation, an economic and military powerhouse and eventually the world’s only superpower. One suspects that in both Rome and America, things would have progressed quite differently, had either Cincinnatus or Washington been a vainglorious despot.
Today, in America and around the world, men and women are lured to political office like moths to a flame. Not that there were no such people in earlier times. There were. But today the lures are brighter, and the temptations for those with vaulting ambition are stronger. Today’s perks, ego-feeding cameras, perceived prestige and substantial pay are killing off the selflessness of the Roman farmer and our first president. Today politics can be a career, and a financially profitable one at that.
The current, partial government shut-down and debt limit debate provide an excellent opportunity for true statesmen to stand straight and tall. The time is now for members of Congress to cast their votes without any consideration of whether or not their vote will affect their re-election. If doing so is difficult for any man or woman in Congress, then their hearts are not right; their motivation for seeking office was not pure.
If the takers/non-producers/non-taxpayers really are reaching the 47 percent mark (many non-partisan polls say they are), then America has changed and she is in trouble. In trouble because polls also show that the 47 percent votes. Guess for whom they will and already do vote: those who will provide them with “bread and circuses.” It follows that if lawmakers are to stem the tide, if they are to be a modern day Cincinnatus, they will have to cast some unpopular votes. The glory of office will have to be put aside. If their votes lead to their defeat, they should depart their Washington, D.C., offices with contented hearts. They are selfless heroes.
Yes, much of our problem is career politicians. If politicians will not term limit themselves, voters must do it for them. No one needs to be in office for 25 or 30 years. The need for a genuine citizen-Congress is dire.
Recently we have heard the expression, “too big to fail.” History is replete with examples of institutions and governments that were too big to succeed. Because so many Roman leaders after Cincinnatus stretched Rome’s tentacles completely around the Mediterranean, Rome fell in large part because of her girth. Because George Washington’s successors in office have chosen to stretch federal power and grip from sea to shining sea, our own government is also getting too big to succeed.
Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Obamacare, OSHA, agriculture, banking, IRS, light bulbs, etc., and if three Georgia legislators have their way, Georgians can add to their list … ready? Bicycles.
Are there not 535 men and women in America who will do the right thing and then get themselves home? I still believe there are, and I’m still looking for them.
Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired school teacher and former state legislator.