Robert Morrison

There was the headline. It appeared in the staid, stolid, most respectable Investors Business Daily: “Will Washington’s Failures Lead to a Second American Revolution?”

The media outlet IBD is a paragon of fiscal and political responsibility. So what’s with the inflammatory headline? Is this the journalistic equivalent of smoking in the paint locker?

Let’s unpack that “Washington’s Failures” phrase. We’re not talking about Washington, the Father of our Country. Still less are we talking about the capital of the Great Republic. Washington in this header is just shorthand for overweening, bloated federal bureaucracies enforcing unworkable liberal policies. This is not Washington.

George Washington was the leader of the world’s most successful revolution. We have some very promising leaders on the political horizon these days, but I don’t see a George Washington among them.

It may have been Thomas Jefferson who began this practice of using “Washington” as a synonym for excessive federal control. Mr. Jefferson was speaking of the federal government, not his boss when he wrote: “If we waited for Washington to tell us when to plant, we should soon want bread.” He was surely right about that.

Still, referring to “Washington’s failures” is the last thing conservatives should do. We are the ones who revere the Founding Fathers. Every time we blast Washington when we really want to condemn failed liberal big government programs, we detract from our own cause.

President Washington agreed with Alexander Hamilton, his brilliant young Treasury Secretary, on the need for “energy in the executive.” Together, they put down the Whiskey Rebellion with force. Together, they laid a foundation for American security and prosperity. The government presided over by George Washington was a limited government; but what it did, it did with vigor and effect.

“We came unarmed—this time.” That was the placard borne by one of the marchers at a Second Amendment demonstration near Washington, D.C., last summer. I fully support the marchers’ cause. The Second Amendment supports our fundamental right. But this lone placard is a danger. Nothing could be more calculated to ruin our bright prospects for this November.

Toying with revolution, flirting with violent resistance to government, threatening federal officials—all of these things violate the principles of George Washington. All of these threaten destruction of the Great Republic he gave us.

We have endured terrible crises before. During the 1780s, the financial basis for America’s newly won independence was slipping dangerously away. State legislatures—like that of Rhode Island—were passing debtors’ relief bills that caused credit to dry up. The nation seemed to be falling apart.

Robert Morrison

Robert Morrison is a senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council.