Good Scenes from HBO's miniseries, "John Adams"

One of my favorite television miniseries was HBO's "John Adams." Every citizen of the Republic should watch it as an adult, as one will gain more from it with the maturity of age, than from the vantage point of youthful naivete.

Many of the political and economic issues we currently discuss were debated, at length, by the Founding Fathers. Many of the issues in this program are relevant to the modern citizen, concerned with the course of our country.

1. President Washington Confronts the French

The French Monarchy signed a military treaty and allied with the fledgling United States in its war against Great Britain. During the French Revolution, the French monarchy was deposed and the official government became republican, like the United States. The First French Republic found itself at war with numerous European monarchical states, who formed a coalition nominally led by Great Britain. France, at this time one of the world's only republics, wanted the United States to support her, and invoked the old treaty. The French had an unofficial ambassador, called "Citizen Genet," who went throughout the land drumming up support for the French cause. He organized mass meetings, raised funds and arms, and acquired a group of influential citizens to support him in waging a "war of words and ideas" in countless newspapers throughout the nation, much to the chagrin of George Washington.

The young United States traded with both Britain and France, and as the wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon (1789-1815) intensified, our trade suffered greatly. Each party prohibited us from trading with their enemy.

While the United States would unofficially side with France, acquiring Louisiana and declare war on Britain in 1812, we did so for our own reasons and on our own terms, as we did not want to seem like a pawn or instrument of a foreign power. This "meeting of the minds" between France and the United States would have probably happened much sooner, and much to the benefit of French foreign policy, had they taken a more delicate approach with us.

Many Americans don't like being presented with biased information or conspicuous propaganda from a foreign power. We are inherently suspect of the politics of the "Old World," despite the fact that our own leaders have, within the past half-century, proven themselves to be as equally adept at subterfuge and circumlocution as the most unscrupulous courtiers at Versailles.

That said, overtly propagandizing for a foreign power, while on American soil, has never gone over well, here. Especially when we feel like the other country isn't being honest with us.

Although we are a young nation, and perhaps still possessed of a youthful optimism and idealism not seen in older lands, Americans are nonetheless a proud and independent people.

During the late 19th century, numerous Irish Immigrants formed associations that raised money, guns and medical supplies for Irish Republican radicals in the homeland, who sought to wage a violent insurrection against the British. The United States was sympathetic to oppressed Irishmen abroad, but highly resented the fact that foreign nations or political movements were rocking-the-boat in our country, causing dissension and chaos, and engaging in activities which harmed American foreign-policy independence and objectivity.

When an ally, like Pakistan, tells us that its doing all that it can to fight terrorism, but nonetheless harbors Osama Bin Laden in one of their most important military communities---their version of West Point or Annapolis---one cannot feel a certain sense of betrayal. When an ally like Saudi Arabia posts opinion pieces in American newspapers, attacking Iran for their human rights abuses, oppression of women and the like, one can't help but feel slightly disgusted, as our Saudi Arabian "ally" is one of the greatest opponents of civil rights and women's rights in the world, and their government is far more brutal than anything seen in Iran, or even under Assad when he had a firmer grip on power. At the current time, the Saudis are getting ready to behead and crucify a teenage boy whose only crime was to protest against his tyrannical government. His name is Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr.

Unfortunately, with the economic resurgence of China, their unique brand of authoritarianism and foreign-aid decoupled from human rights pronouncements, it is feared that such regimes may proliferate throughout the world, and increasingly influence peoples left behind in the current global economy. 

This is why, although I am an avid conservationist, I support President Obama's efforts to become "energy independent." The problem, though, is that the US Dollar is pegged to oil, so a "breakup" with Saudi Arabia could hurt us in countless, innumerable ways. If only they were a democracy! It would be so much easier to deal with them, if they shared at least a fraction of our democratic values. We can have much more frank discussions with allies who are democracies, even if we disagree with them. Of course, such discussions should be had behind closed doors and without resort to whipping up popular frenzies, as we saw with Citizen Genet.

2. Thomas Jefferson Clashes with Alexander Hamilton over National Bank and National Debt

Jeffersonian republicanism feared a strong central government, as well as strong central banks, because he feared that the two structures would be populated by the same folks, and that they would use both instruments as elitist, oligarchic tools to control and dominate the common yeomanry. Andrew Jackson would follow this line of reasoning when he (the greatest of the Jeffersonian Presidents), abolished the national bank. Ironically, he had no problem being elitist and oligarchic with Native Americans.

Hamilton wanted the United States to become an Empire, and he believed that a large economy with good credit, would be crucial in making America a leading power. Yet, in advancing his dreams of international glory and power, Hamilton does not mind the fact that common Americans would have less independence and control over their own destiny.

Many people discuss the Fed, on both the left and right. Moderates want to leave things alone. That said, I do think that Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul agree, in principle, that there is something wrong with the Federal Reserve. Many of the symptoms they have noticed are the same. They differ, though, in terms of their diagnosis, and their prescriptive course of recommended treatment. The Federal Reserve, oddly, has the right to lobby Congress to pass legislation. If they are supposed to be an independent bank, above the control of government and its mercurial passions, one wonders why they have the right to lobby. It is similar, in ways, to permitting Judges to lobby a legislature.

It is also my understanding that the Federal Reserve lobbied Congress to overturn Glass-Steagall, and that this was one of the major reasons why the economy tanked in 2006. There is too much ambiguity about the Federal Reserve and its Quasi-Public, Quasi-Private nature, that makes oversight and regulation difficult.

The only reason why the United States currently has a central bank is to promote economic growth and low unemployment, as well as price stability. That said, the quasi-private nature of the Federal Reserve may infringe on their independence in carrying out such tasks. Rather than abolish the Federal Reserve, as some libertarians advocate, I believe that greater regulation and oversight is what's needed. In addition, we must pass rules such as those passed by the European Union regarding the European Central Bank, and Japan, regarding its Bank of Japan, which prohibit said entities from seeking favor from the government. In effect, they must be insulated in the same way that members of the Judiciary are.

3. Hail Columbia

This shows America's first national anthem, a song called "Hail Columbia." This was our unofficial national anthem up until the 1930s. It played at the inauguration of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

It is an historic tune. I think its a catchy tune. I also think its historical importance and substantive message far outweigh the complexity of its score.

It also discusses republican liberty and freedom--things I very much like.

4. Letters between Jefferson and Adams

This is moving on many levels. By the end of his life, Adams could not really be open with many people. He was so far above his other countrymen, so many sycophants and poseurs around----he couldn't really trust very many people apart from his wife. Intellectually, few were on his level. After his wife died, it was Jefferson, one of the only members of the "old guard" still around, who could really understand him and be his peer and friend on equal footing. And they spent the end of their days communicating, dying on the same day of the same year---July 4th, 1826.

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Comment by Rob Wittmann on November 2, 2015 at 6:22am

I am no longer accepting comments on my blog, as it is too time consuming to respond and/or be drawn into debates or discussions, despite the immense intellectual stimulation and fun that I have with them. My work obligations are simply too high, these days, and strict time management is something I am finding very useful.


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