Presidential Selection

Washington Death Mask

Halloween is just around the corner, when, by tradition, all souls departed return to their earthly haunts for a night.

Were the spirits of our Founding Fathers to be among them, I wager that no change in our political system would astonish them more than the monstrous process we rely on to fill the presidency.

Certainly, the bitter and protracted process we have today bears little resemblance to the simple one that twice elevated our first executive, George Washington, to the post.  Washington, whose spotless reputation helped reassure Americans that the novel office of a civilian executive could be filled responsibly, was the near-unanimous choice of the small group of electors, appointed by the state legislatures, who gathered to settle the issue in 1789 and again in 1792.  He did not campaign for the office, and no promises were made.

Washington, as famous for his ardent federalism as for his total abhorrence of political parties, would be horrified at the prevailing partisan strife and competition.  He would find appalling the careerism that prompts unfit and unlikely candidates to vie for eminence.  He would be chagrined to learn that our national energies, which should be devoted to the arduous work of governing, are instead being diverted into a vitiating quest for party supremacy, which dominates a greater part of the calendar with each election cycle.

Above all, Washington would revile the self-aggrandizing impulse that, as it continues unchecked, erodes the vitality of a great government whose genius rests on interdependency.

Image: Life mask of George Washington, from this source.