December 16th, 2010 09:31 EST
Endless War, Scare Tactics Turn The Government Into The Rich Man's Bank
Just what Jefferson and Madison feared
(American Creation, Joseph J. Ellis, Vintage Books, 2007, 283pp, $16.67)
When the Federalist Alexander Hamilton proposed a bank chartered by Congress, the Republicans Thomas Jefferson and James Madison shuddered. They feared the federal government would become a giant brokerage in the service of a rich elite, exactly what it has become.
The historian Joseph J. Ellis in American Creation writes about this in the much larger context of the failure of the founding fathers to redress the grievous wrongs of slavery and the removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands.
There has always been a consensus that Madison`s and Jefferson`s fears of a government conspiracy to make bankers rich at the expense of an agricultural and tradesman majority were tinged with paranoia. But events have given new life to their conspiracy theory.
The early Republicans, who were in few ways like today`s Republicans, represented not so much a farming constituency but a slave-holding planter class, as Ellis points out. But they glossed over this in their fatal failure to address the issue of slavery itself.
Nonetheless, a number of their fears are coming home to roost. The slave class has been replaced with a permanently poor underclass. The middle class, built by trade unionism, industrialization and federal regulatory action, has been dismantled as we have sunk deeper into the Reaganesque myth of trickle-down economics.
Madison and Jefferson probably did not harbor the notion that a federal government more or less permanently at war might actually wage war in the service of bankers, but someone must carry war debt, and the banks find the interest fabulously profitable. It is no accident that our ruling elite uses the word war so casually, applying it to drugs, poverty, any subject du jour. War means profiteering.
Ellis raises but does not endorse the idea that Madison, who wrote The Federalist Papers with Hamilton, might have conceived of a form of government that would engage in a permanent and civil discourse about the tension between state sovereignty and those actions that must be taken by a federal government to bind the nation together.
Madison and Jefferson were not the most fathomable of men. They put off the slavery issue for another day, and that day came on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, South Carolina. As for the Native Americans, who have suffered near annihilation, justice has never come. Nor can one say
that African-Americans have achieved anything like justice. The Civil War or, if you like, The War Between The States, was not waged by the North to end slavery. Ending slavery was an afterthought. It was waged to hold the union together. And from the South`s point of view, it was waged by northern bankers.
The fears of Madison and Jefferson, whatever their justification or its lack at the time, should now be revisited in the light of what is happening. Successive federal administrations have used scare tactics to privatize our security, creating a huge and secretive industry that serves an increasingly rich elite.
And as for banks, perhaps, as Ellis suggests, we needed The First Bank to stabilize our economy and put it on a sound footing. But now we witness a federal government claiming that certain banks "banks the federal government itself allowed to grow too big "are too big to fail and must therefore be bailed out of their recklessness with taxpayer money.
So the banks, having already screwed the taxpayers with predatory loans, must now be rescued by the taxpayers. It makes prophets of Madison and Jefferson, the former paranoids. They feared a banking elite, they feared a federal government in its service, and the last election, however troubling and unhelpful, in all likelihood reflects the public`s inchoate sense that the nightmare of these two founders has come to pass.
As for Madison`s idea of a never-ending discourse about state and federal bounds, we have no discourse "we have only clashing, ill-informed, slogan-slovenly ideologies. Jefferson and his bitterest opponent, Hamilton, sat side by side in George Washington`s cabinet. They had to speak to each other, not to the cameras. More important, Washington insisted on civil discourse and decent behavior. All that has been swept away by 24-hour cable rant and bilious ignorance.
Our affairs have devolved. We have no one of Washington`s stature to require of our leaders that they conduct themselves with civility, moderation and, above all, the will to compromise. We have only reckless pundits egging them on. There is no discourse, no listening, no respect, only big mouths and bad political breath.
The giant brokerage has come into being, not as latter-day Republicans envisioned it "as a scandalous giveaway to slackers "but rather as a fabulous giveaway to the already wealthy. The banks feed off the government`s wars. The more the government succeeds in scaring its citizens the more money it is able to funnel to a rich elite who make arms for the military and contract with the Department of Homeland Security to do tasks the public knows next to nothing about. Unaccounted billions are spent.
And the issue that vexed the nation from the beginning, the issue its founders shielded their eyes from, remains "the unjust, inhumane treatment of fellow human beings.
If you want to give a thoughtful Christmas gift, give American Creation. It is even more unsettling and revealing than it was when it was published in 2007. It can`t be read without seeing its astonishing relevance to what is going on under our noses.
Djelloul Marbrook is a retired newspaperman. His second book of poems, Brushstrokes and Glances, will be published by Deerbrook Editions on December 20, 2010. His first book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. It won the International Book Award in 2010. His novella, Artemisia`s Wolf, will be published by Prakash Books of India in December. His novella, Saraceno, was recently published as an e-book. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com