On November 6th 2012, we will settle the most important election of our lives, actually the most important in American history. We are literally at the crossroads of history. Media, politicians and public personalities repeat this theme endlessly. I thought I would write on this obviously false claim by reviewing the Presidential elections of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. I do not know what history will write of President Obama but I have read the history of earlier Presidents. However, the validity of the “most important” claim is so flawed that the essay was too easy to write. As I was fact checking the actual history I was reminded of a question I asked years ago. Why have we been having the same argument since 1796? In 1800 Thomas Jefferson was elected on an anti-federalist platform. Jefferson feared an all powerful federal government and his administration reduced taxes to reduce the size of federal government and committed to reducing the national debt. President Jefferson was the first and only President to reduce the size of the federal government. President Jefferson was also the first to invade a Muslim country.
Like the Hatfields and McCoys we continue to fight an old feud that is no longer relevant. The late eighteenth century world of Thomas Jefferson has evolved, world politics has completely changed from mostly Monarchies to mostly Democracies and nationally America has changed from rural to urban. We have globalization where small governments are easy targets. In Jefferson’s time the very poor or slaves could starve to death, this was acceptable to the government but considered poor form to talk about. Today we have a safety net and anyone starving is unacceptable. Communications was so slow that the battle of New Orleans took place after the war ended. Major General Andrew Jackson and Sir Alexander Cochrane had not yet received dispatches informing them of the end of hostilities. The most advanced information system was the post office. America was not a major world power, no commodity exchange in Chicago (Chicago was founded in 1832) and there was no NFL.
The most notable difference is globalization. The increased speed of information and transportation has made the city of Washington closer to Singapore than Washington to New York in Jefferson's time. Whether you believe in hard (military) or soft (diplomatic) foreign policy neither can exist without a large, well funded and strong federal government. With globalization America needs a creditable foreign policy to be competitive. We directly compete with at least twenty nations. We need a world class educational system and that level of results will not be accomplished by a local PTA. In 2010 America was ranked somewhere between 13th to 17th place, all the nations that ranked higher had national educational systems.
Why are we still having the same argument as Jefferson and Adams in 1796? It is time to ask new questions and have new debates. To be a world power in the 21st century we need to leave the 18th century in the history book.