Fear, politics and voting
George W. Bush was a man of privilege who drank too much, played too hard and oversaw the dismantling of the United States of America. A man of means, power, connections and a willingness to expand and exploit the powers of the presidency. Not since Lincoln has the presidential powers been so extended beyond the scope of what the founding fathers intended. Bush followed in Lincoln’s footsteps in suspending habeas corpus, spying on American citizens and creating an atmosphere of fear to criticize his policies.
Lincoln, however, went beyond that in expanding his power to include imprisoning thousands of American citizens in the northern states who voiced opposition to his policies. Many of these were newspaper editors who were denied a trial and some remained in prison until after the war. One elected official was Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham of Dayton, Ohio, arrested by federal soldiers who under the command of General Ambrose Burnside knocked down the doors of his home. Vallandigham’s “crime” was making a speech in response to Lincoln’s State of the Union Address in which he criticized the president for his unconstitutional usurpation of power. For this he was declared a “traitor” by Lincoln and imprisoned without trial then later deported.
In Ohio (a loyal union state and home to Generals Grant and Sherman) the people were so outraged that they nominated Vallandigham for the office of governor even though he had been deported. By suspending habeas corpus, ignoring Congress and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, then threatening to prosecute state judges who allowed criminal prosecutions of government officials who enforced his orders to go forward, Lincoln effectively trumped the judiciary. Lincoln did not have to close down every last opposition newspaper or deport every last opposition politician: rough treatment of a select few sufficed to end virtually all public discussion and criticism of his policies.
Lincoln died never lifting the suspension of habeas corpus. Hence the elevated powers of a central government were born and the once independent states dissolved into submission when the South lost the war.
Fear played a major part in the presidency of Lincoln and George W. Bush. Bush’s effective use of fear allowed his presidency to play out like a wild west show. Surrounding himself with like minded subordinates it was like rewriting history. Perhaps the ideals and freedoms of individual states with limited central government as proposed by the founding fathers was never to survive with modernization and the greed that came with it.
Yet it is ironic the transformation happened right before our eyes and we still act as if we live under the guidelines of the original concept of the founding fathers. Now having the benefit of hindsight it was truly inevitable that we need a powerful central government, not to suppress us but to protect us not only from others but also from ourselves. We are the government and we need to act like it and vote.
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