A Father's Day Wish From the Father of Our Country

Commentary by Pete du Pont

Father's Day is here once again, which made me wonder what George Washington, the Father of Our Country (who had no children of his own), would think if he were here to see what his political children have accomplished. I'm not sure he would have a happy Father's Day. Washington was both optimistic and concerned about the future of the country. He believed that the Founding Fathers had done an excellent job in creating a republic based on the rule of law, but he was also afraid that partisan politics, a decline in morality and foreign entanglements could undermine the country.

Just consider some of the fatherly warnings the Father of Our Country gave us in his Farewell Address, published on September 17, 1796. "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that manclaim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness " these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and cherish them."

Do we still uphold religion and morality as the "indispensable supports" of our country? Or have both been swept under the carpet by some Americans who constantly proclaim that religion and American public life are incompatible with the Constitution and the American way?

"[Partisan politics] opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passion. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another."

Did President Clinton trade technology for campaign contributions? Have U.S. interests been "subjected" to the "policy and will" of the Chinese government? We don't know the answer to that question yet (though we may soon). But Clinton has made it clear that the fear of losing the WhiteHouse to Republicans drove him to take unusual measures.

Yet the Father of Our Country went on to warn: "Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes ofrepublican government."

"Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened."

We have two "institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge": one is public education and the other is the press. Public education (K through 12) has been almost totally controlled by government, while the press has been about as free from government control as one could imagine. Guess which one is innovative, thriving and free and which one has become a total failure. Then guess which institution Washington would smile on.

"As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation ofdebt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen which we ourselves ought to bear."

The federal government is awash in debt. Not only do we have a federal debt of about $6 trillion, we have unfunded liabilities for Social Security and Medicare that could easily reach more than $20 trillion. For years the federal government has been spending as if there were no tomorrow; but tomorrow is coming. Have we been whittling down debt during the good years, as Washington encouraged? While Washington might be pleased that Congress is finally producing a budget surplus, what would he say about the multiple trillions of dollars we owe to the present and future generations of Americans?

"But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand, neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences." Does anyone remember Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and his apparent attempts to give preferences to certain business leaders " especially those who pumped plenty of money to the Democratic party?

Foreign entanglements, unimaginable debt and a general loss of the role of religion and morality in American society. The Father of Our Country warned us against such developments, yet all are manifest. And unless we work to change them, we may never be able to say to George Washington: Happy Father's Day! Are you proud of what your children have done?