Rule 34. All that must happen for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.
This maxim has been attributed to many men, most commonly Edmund Burke. Regardless, it stands as an immutable truth through the generations.
Every year, depending on which side of the political line they fall, someone is complaining about the politicians in government. It seems this year especially, no matter the political party, many are proclaiming this as the end of civilized government as we know it. In November, the American public is faced with the joy of voting for one of two people they may not agree with (unless they chose to vote third party).
Farming communities tend to be Conservatives in nature and allegiance, with the occasional exception. From our fields, tractors, diners and dining rooms we decry the sad state of American politics. Along with the rest of the nation, we question what happened to men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson who stood for ideals and morals.
What we conveniently ignore is our own lack of involvement. Each year we complain about who our politicians are, but don’t do anything to change it. The reason we had men like Washington and Jefferson in politics was because they were farmers and landowners who felt it their responsibility to be active in government. They knew that if they didn’t, others without scruples would.
What we see in American politics today is what happens when good men do nothing. When those with morals and scruples refuse to dirty their hands with politics and simply complain. By abandoning our responsibilities in a representative government we have allowed the wolves, those without conscience, to enter the arena for their own self-interest.
It is this danger that men like Burke, Washington, Adams and Jefferson warned about. If good people do not take an active role in our government, the government will be run by those seeking only selfish ambition and a lifetime pension.
Democracy is threatened by the inertia of good people, the selfishness of most people, and the evil designs of a few people. – Stanley King
Politics is a tricky thing to say the least, but a mistake most make is in judging it as a profession. The best of politicians were not professional, they worked in other fields gaining knowledge before they ran for public office. A professional politician will always work the angles for their own interest, doing and saying whatever keeps themselves in office.
Those who have professions apart from politics, the law, finance, even farming, have gained a greater understanding of the world through their work to apply to policy and government. Moreover, they have a job to go back to if they go unelected.
Good people tend to avoid politics fearing the filth of the Augean stables, some do it wisely. Not all are suited for politics, but the mistake is when they dissuade others from doing so also. There are some good people who have the temper, mind, and calculation required for the political stage, those who Edmund Burke would consider a part of the Natural Aristocracy. Too often, this class avoids such conflicts for fear of what others would think. Fearing accusations of selfish ambition, they avoid it all together and render no help to the sinking ship.
In 1923 Calvin Coolidge, the Vice President of Warren G. Harding, became President after Harding’s assassination. A man from a rural farming background, who rose from local government to become Governor of Massachusetts, Coolidge was an unexpected President.
What has come to define President Coolidge was his nickname, “Silent Cal.” Learning a lesson few grasp, he understood the weight of his words and their meaning, especially as President. Just as important, he understood how to say no. Politicians by nature are always ready to talk and to say yes.
It does not matter how likely they are to fulfill their promise, they like to say yes and make everyone happy. Saying no requires more grit and more effort. Saying no rarely makes one popular in any circles, and yet that’s what Coolidge often said. Congress frequently proposed legislation that Coolidge believed outside the bounds of Government, to which he replied simply, “No.”
Todays politics are filled with people saying as much as possible, often to their regret, trying to gain everyone’s attention. Leadership does not require a loud mouth, but someone who can control their tongues.
The politics of the day reflect the people who are involved in it. What do our current candidates say about the National character? If we truly wish to make a difference it may take more than simply voting on election day. Be active in your local government, like Coolidge, and focus on making changes from the bottom up.
To make changes requires effort and difficulty, even sometimes saying no. To prosper, as a Nation, and as a people, it will require having the courage to stand up when everyone else says yes, and firmly say, “No.”