The political rivalry between Obama and Boehner pales in comparison to the animosity rampant among Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, and Adams
Many commentators say that today's vitriolic relations between the two major political parties are as bad as they have ever been. President Obama's jobs speech yesterday sets the stage for a bitter election year and yet another likely "no" from the Republicans on major elements of his program, despite the public's evident distaste for gridlock in Washington.
But this partisanship is surely no worse than the 1790s -- when the two-party system emerged out of the competing visions, and personal hatreds, of the Federalists led by Hamilton and the Republicans led by Jefferson and Madison. Indeed, the fundamental issues of America's first decade and the source of its vicious political divisiveness -- the balance between federal and state power, the tension between government action and personal liberty, and the ambiguities in the Constitution on these and other crucial issues -- remain a powerful source of contention today.
Most of us know that the creation of a national government under the Constitution, written in 1787, was spawned by the inability of the 13 newly freed colonies to act in concert under the Articles of Confederation adopted after victory over the British at Yorktown in 1781.
Yet few of us except keen students of history know that Madison, who in 1789 was along with Hamilton the most articulate advocate for ratification of the new Constitution and establishment of a new national government, reversed course in the 1790s. He and his mentor, Thomas Jefferson, had a dark vision of the new administration of George Washington.
At one level, they viewed it as a return of oppressive British rule, with strong central authority too far removed from the people and too similar to monarchy in its conception of the presidency and imposition of economic policies on the states. At another level, Madison and Jefferson were concerned about the transfer of power in a national government to a northeastern merchant class and away from southern planters -- and, according to historians, they feared at an even deeper level that a national government could someday abolish slavery (although until after 1808 the Constitution prohibited any governmental limitation on slavery).
Thus the political party of Jefferson and Madison was born, with its call for return to the Spirit of '76 concealing many complex reasons for its emergence. The main target of their growing partisanship was Hamilton, architect of the Washington administration's national economic policies. For his part, Hamilton, as leader of the Federalists, believed that Madison and Jefferson were equally dangerous in their inexplicable abandonment of Constitutional principles of nationalism and their dangerous and hypocritical populism (reflected in initial enthusiasm for the French Revolution). His loathing of them matched theirs of him.
Seeking to stand above the fray as bipartisan leaders of the whole nation were Washington and his successor, John Adams. They were bewildered by the political rancor and incapable of adapting to the divisive politics of the decade. For example, much of the political bitterness was played out in views of Britain and France. Both Washington and Adams believed deeply in neutrality for a young America as relations between the great European powers deteriorated into war. They sought mightily to negotiate peaceful terms with both nations when they threatened American commerce on the high seas.
However, to oversimplify complex diplomatic history, the Republicans bitterly attacked the Jay Treaty of 1796 resolving commercial disputes with Britain (and ending British hostilities on America's Northwest borders), and the Hamilton-led Federalists attacked Adams for seeking a similar treaty with France (which was accomplished in the last months of his presidency). Indeed, Washington was called a monarchist by republican critics simply for announcing a doctrine of neutrality.
The no-holds-barred rhetoric of the time was remarkable.Two Republican organs -- Philip Freneau's National Gazette succeeded by Benjamin Franklin Bache's Aurora -- make the talking heads of partisan cable TV look mild in comparison. The Aurora called Washington's Farewell Address the "loathings of a sick mind," asked whether he was "an imposter or an apostate" and accused him of being traitorous, like Benedict Arnold. Of Adams, it said he was but "old, querulous, bald, blind, crippled and toothless" and, during his re-election campaign, a worthless public figure who needed "like polluted water to be cast out the back door."For his part, Hamilton referred to the Republicans as Jacobins, ruthless purveyors of "peoples'" rights who would bring a reign of terror to America from France. Indeed, during the presidential election of 1800, Jefferson hired a "publicist," James Callender, to attack his opponent, John Adams ("a repulsive pedant...a gross hypocrite").
The fevered competition broke relationships among the Founders. Adams and Jefferson, who had been strong friends during the revolution and later as diplomats in Europe, split bitterly (only to be reconciled years later in their old age). Hamilton and Madison, co-authors of The Federalist Papers, became mortal enemies. And, in the service of their partisan passions, each took actions judged harshly by history. Jefferson was disloyal and duplicitous to Washington (when Secretary of State) and to Adams (when Vice-President). He and Madison supported the violent newspapers of the time. And Hamilton was not only grossly disloyal to Adams (who was not sufficiently anti-Republican) but was a driving force beyond The Alien and Sedition Acts (attempting to suppress Republican speech) and a hare-brained scheme to raise a standing army to protect against a non-existent French invasion.
In drafting the Constitution and seeing it ratified, the founding generation sought to control factions with faith that the many groups in a large nation would be forced work together in the national interest. As Joseph Ellis notes in American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic, "the creation of a two party system succeeded despite entrenched resistance by all the founders to its very existence." Yet emerge it did, in one of the most political fraught decades in our history, with resonance for the issues, divisions and rancor of today.
President Adams sought to stand above the political fray and moderate between the emerging parties, seeking principled national consensus. His archenemy, Thomas Jefferson, was instrumental in creating one of the first political parties and, behind his Olympian self-presentation, acting in a fiercely political way. John Adams was a one-term president. Thomas Jefferson served two terms.
Is there a message from this formative history for President Obama?
Ben Heineman Jr. is is a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, in Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and at the Harvard Law School's Program on Corporate Governance. He is the author of High Performance With High Integrity.
New presidents often err by either trying to impose their will on Congress or being too hands-off. Trump is on course to commit both errors on his top two legislative priorities.
Mucking up an interaction with Congress is a rite of passage for every new president—usually on health care, and especially for those with limited experience in Washington.
The twin pitfalls for a new president are the same ones the great Tommy Lasorda described in his approach to baseball: “I believe managing is like holding a dove in your hand. If you hold it too tightly you kill it, but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it.” A president can try to push his vision aggressively on Congress, risking backlash from members—let’s call that the Bill Clinton approach. Alternatively, he can try to hang back and let Congress act, risking the chance that without presidential leadership, members will come up with something he doesn’t like, or even worse that they can’t pass. We’ll call that the Barack Obama approach.
The Affordable Care Act was behind the last lapse in federal funding in 2013, and Democrats threaten revenge if Republicans try to jam through their repeal bill before a spending agreement is reached.
Republican leaders returned to Washington after a lengthy Easter recess with two discrete goals for the week: Keep the federal government from shutting down, and maybe, if they had the time and the votes, finally pass their bill to replace the Affordable Care Act.
Congress being Congress, this presented a test significantly more difficult than, say, walking and chewing gum at the same time. And as a deadline for funding the government draws near, one GOP priority is threatening to derail the other.
House Democrats on Thursday warned that they would withhold their support for a short-term extension of government funding if Republicans first tried to rush through legislation decimating Obamacare, while an impatient President Trump accused them of wanting to shut down the government for not agreeing to his demands. The rhetorical volleys injected a new round of drama into a spending showdown that had seemed close to a resolution. But it wasn’t clear that any of the threats would actually be carried out.
In 1985, Neil Postman observed an America imprisoned by its own need for amusement. He was, it turns out, extremely prescient.
Earlier this month, thousands of protesters gathered at Washington’s National Mall to advocate for an assortment of causes: action against global climate change, federal funding for scientific research, an empirical approach to the world and its mysteries. The protesters at the March for Science, as scientists are wont to do, followed what has become one of the formulas for such an event, holding clever signs, wearing cheeky costumes, and attempting, in general, to carnivalize their anger. “Make the Barrier Reef Great Again,” read one sign at the March. “This is my sine,” read another. “I KNEW TO WEAR THIS,” one woman had written on the poncho she wore that soggy Saturday, “BECAUSE SCIENCE PREDICTED THE RAIN.” Three protesters, sporting sensible footwear and matching Tyrannosaurus rex costumes, waved poster boards bearing messages like “Jurassick of this shit.”
The MIT economist Peter Temin argues that economic inequality results in two distinct classes. And only one of them has any power.
A lot of factors have contributed to American inequality: slavery, economic policy, technological change, the power of lobbying, globalization, and so on. In their wake, what’s left?
That’s the question at the heart of a new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, by Peter Temin, an economist from MIT. Temin argues that, following decades of growing inequality, America is now left with what is more or less a two-class system: One small, predominantly white upper class that wields a disproportionate share of money, power, and political influence and a much larger, minority-heavy (but still mostly white) lower class that is all too frequently subject to the first group’s whims.
Recent border battles have once again redrawn the lines of the metro area.
On the Saturday before Election Day last November, Jason Lary, a former insurance executive, crouched on a rough patch of grass at the center of a busy intersection 20 miles outside of Atlanta in DeKalb County. Lary was holding a hammer, and he tapped carefully on the thin wire base of a campaign sign. “My hand is like Fred Flintstone’s right now because I banged my hand in the night,” he said, noting his latest sign-related injury. This hazard, though, was worthwhile: “If you don’t start [the sign] with your hand, it will bend. It takes longer—guys are 10 times faster than I am. But my sign’s still gonna be up.”
This was a non-trivial advantage for Lary, who for the past month had begun most mornings with a kind of ground-game whack-a-mole. He would put up signs under the cover of night, only to have his opponents dislodge them by hand or, when that failed, run over them with their cars. Nevertheless, Lary was feeling good. “My opposition? Worn down,” he told me. “They don’t even have any more signs. And I kept a stash, knowing this time was coming. This is not my first picnic with nonsense.”
On Wednesday, the administration launched a new office to “assist victims of crimes committed by criminal aliens.” Some rang in with reports of UFOs.
The term “alien” is used in legal contexts to denote those present in the United States who aren’t citizens. But some callers are using a new hotline launched on Wednesday for victims of crimes committed by aliens to report that they’ve been victimized by extraterrestrials.
On Wednesday, the Trump administration launched the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office. The office, which was originally announced in a January executive order on immigration, intends to “assist victims of crimes committed by criminal aliens,” according to the Department of Homeland Security.
“All crime is terrible, but these victims are unique—and too often ignored,” said DHS Secretary John Kelly in announcing the office. “They are casualties of crimes that should never have taken place—because the people who victimized them often times should not have been in the county in the first place.”
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
Will you pay more for those shoes before 7 p.m.? Would the price tag be different if you lived in the suburbs? Standard prices and simple discounts are giving way to far more exotic strategies, designed to extract every last dollar from the consumer.
As Christmas approached in 2015, the price of pumpkin-pie spice went wild. It didn’t soar, as an economics textbook might suggest. Nor did it crash. It just started vibrating between two quantum states. Amazon’s price for a one-ounce jar was either $4.49 or $8.99, depending on when you looked. Nearly a year later, as Thanksgiving 2016 approached, the price again began whipsawing between two different points, this time $3.36 and $4.69.
We live in the age of the variable airfare, the surge-priced ride, the pay-what-you-want Radiohead album, and other novel price developments. But what was this? Some weird computer glitch? More like a deliberate glitch, it seems. “It’s most likely a strategy to get more data and test the right price,” Guru Hariharan explained, after I had sketched the pattern on a whiteboard.
Cases of brain-infecting amoebae underscore the importance of purifying water before you pour it into your sinuses.
Allergy season is upon us once more, and for many allergy sufferers, that means it’s time to pull two crucial items to the front of the medicine cabinet: 24-hour non-drowsy loratadine, and a neti pot—a teapot-like device used to flush the nasal passages with saline in order to clear allergens and soothe sinus pressure. (It can be seen in action in this very popular gif.) The constant mockery of my loved ones doesn’t prevent me from using a neti pot to ease my congestion. It’s too effective to give up for the sake of pride. But I have also used my neti pot with considerable apprehension since 2011.
That year, a 20-year-old man from Louisiana died of encephalitis caused by Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba commonly found in lakes and rivers in the American South—but which rarely causes infection. More unusual still was the fact that the young man hadn’t had been swimming in freshwater lakes or rivers anytime recently. Then, a few months later, a 51-year-old Louisiana woman also died of encephalitis—primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) to be exact, which is the condition caused when Naegleria fowleri infects the brain. Shortly before she passed away, her doctor learned that while she hadn’t had been swimming in freshwater either, she had recently used a neti pot. Researchers later learned that the other victim had also used a neti pot, and subsequent testing found Naegleria fowleri in both patients’ brain tissue as well as the tap water in their homes. Using a neti pot had allowed the amoeba to reach their brains.
The author of a new book explains the science behind the cringeworthy feeling—and how to overcome it.
It’s when a fist bump unwittingly meets a high-five. It’s when Ben Carson tries, unsuccessfully, to walk onto a stage. It’s trying to introduce an acquaintance to someone else at a party and then realizing you don’t actually remember their name. It’s awkward, and like so many other things, you know it when you see it.
We all experience awkwardness, of course, but some people seem chronically susceptible to it. In his new book, the appropriately titled Awkward, the writer and psychologist Ty Tashiro explores why certain people seem more prone to these cringe-inducing moments, and what they can do about it. I recently interviewed Tashiro; an edited transcript of our conversation follows.
Olga Khazan: Do you consider yourself awkward? What are some of the awkward things you do or used to do?