Political culture of Founding Fathers differs greatly from today's

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This week we will celebrate America’s 237th birthday. There will be flags flying, fireworks and barbecues. Americans will honor military and veterans units marching in local parades. We will remember the Continental Army and fledgling Navy who persevered against long odds to make America the remarkable country it is today.

But it wasn’t just the Continental Army and the Navy that struggled and sacrificed to win our independence. There were also our Founding Fathers, the members of the Continental Congress. Immediately preceding their signatures on the Declaration of Independence are these noble words: “(W)e mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

And that is just what they did. Seventeen of the 56 signers fought in the war, and many lost their homes and businesses to vengeful British soldiers. Five signers were captured, and one died after release as a result of mistreatment while a captive. Another’s wife suffered the same fate. Others had sons captured or killed in battle.

They knew the cost of signing the Declaration and they paid it. And none surrendered their sacred honor.

COMPARED TO THOSE revolutionary times, being a politician today is a breeze. Salaries and benefits are excellent, and most make more money after leaving the Congress than they did before. Their fortunes are enhanced by their service, not sacrificed.

No longer do we ask politicians to pledge their lives. But we still ask the military and first responders to do that. The firemen and policemen who died in the Twin Towers and the military men and women who died in Iraq and Afghanistan provide recent inspiring examples of heroism and sacrifice for their fellow citizens.

What do we ask of Congress? We ask them to pledge their honor. We insist they take an oath, that says in part, “I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

Military officers take the same oath, and enlisted men and women a similar one. But the military and political cultures developed since revolutionary times have diverged dramatically. The military culture has changed less. Honor is required, courage is revered and speaking truth to power is necessary. Difficult decisions are to be embraced, carefully considered, and then made quickly. The ultimate goal is mission accomplishment while simultaneously protecting your squad, wingman or shipmates.

The political culture is strikingly different. Honor is optional, courage is risky, and prevarication is acceptable. Difficult decisions are to be avoided and kicked downstream. Congressional districts are carefully crafted by partisan state legislatures to ensure the ultimate goal of re-election.

One reason for the recent divergence between military and political cultures is the diminishing percentage of members of Congress who have served in the military. Fewer and fewer have gone through the rigors of basic training, the perils of combat or long separation from home and family. They have never forged the bonds of comrades in arms.

Only 18 percent of today’s Congress has military service, while as recently as 1977 it was 80 percent. Back then, the veterans of World War II and the Korean War dominated Congress.

America recognizes the disparity between the Congress and the military. For 16 consecutive years, the military has rated first in Gallup’s annual poll of confidence in America’s major institutions. Congress came in dead last, with only 10 percent of citizens having confidence in Congress. In the 41-year history of the Gallup poll, no institution has had such a dismal performance.

NOT ALL POLITICIANS are cowardly, nor is everyone in the military courageous. But Washington politicians work in a tainted culture in which party leaders capture the well-intended and marginalize the courageous. For those politicians who put their constituents ahead of re-election, put country ahead of party, lead instead of follow and speak the truth even when unpopular, we thank you. You have the character to help lead us out of today’s political malaise threatening America’s future.

On Independence Day, between hot dogs and fireworks, remember with reverence the signers of the Declaration of Independence 237 years ago, and the sacrifices they made to set America free. And hope that once again America may be blessed with political leaders of selfless courage who do what is right for the country rather than what promotes their own re-election. Such men and women must be found, supported and elected to lead this great nation.

(The writer is a retired U.S. Navy officer. He lives and writes in Savannah.)

Comments (16) Add comment
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myfather15
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myfather15 06/30/13 - 02:17 am
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Sometimes you simply read an

Sometimes you simply read an article and realize there is nothing to add. Well said Mr. Conant!!

Young Fred
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Young Fred 06/30/13 - 02:37 am
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A most excellent letter

"The political culture is strikingly different. Honor is optional, courage is risky, and prevarication is acceptable. Difficult decisions are to be avoided and kicked downstream."

Truer words have never been spoken on these pages. I look at the sacrifices, and effort put forth by my parents and grandparents and I look at current culture and weep.

The people before us, put forth so much in order to “give us a better life” and we have squandered that. We have let them down. Those that put their lives on the line to build a better future have allowed us to become, basically, a people with too much time and not enough sense!

If we were to face a Hitler, George III, Stalin, Mao or Hirohito, I don't have confidence that we as a nation could handle it! I've no doubt our military would be up to the task, but a truly tough confrontation would require the overwhelming support of the people. I just don't know if we're up to it.

We all (I would hope) want a better future for our children. After witnessing our current culture, I'm beginning to believe we have to pass through hardships, real hardships, A baptism of fire, in order to appreciate what we have.

It's unfortunate that a learned people would have to suffer in order to appreciate. Perhaps if we gave history its due, raised up and educated our children to understand the sacrifices of those before them we wouldn't have to suffer in order to prepare them for reality.

Or we could just buy them a new Iphone and say “screw it”.

jkline
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jkline 06/30/13 - 05:04 am
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Brilliant Letter

Perfectly put. True and depressing. To make our country better is up to "We the People." Are "We the People" up to it?

Thank you, Mr. Conant, for one of the finest letters I have ever read.

Rhetor
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Rhetor 06/30/13 - 05:30 am
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true in some ways

Yes, our political culture has changed, maybe for the worse. Keep in mind, however, that few of the founding fathers had military service. Only 2 of our first 6 presidents (Washington and Jackson) had military service. Conservatives love to remember bygone days of old that never existed in real life. Thanks for writing.

Scratch
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Scratch 06/30/13 - 06:30 am
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True in ALL Ways

I don't always agree with Mr. Conant, but am in total agreement this time. As a retired officer myself, I have some experience with the military culture that prizes duty, honor, and country. I have recently been disappointed with apparent lack of honesty and integrity in some prominent general officers, but remain confident that the conduct of these few is no indication of a deterioration in that culture. Rhetor's comment that only 2 of the first 6 presidents had military service is historically accurate. I do wonder why he uses that fact to disparage conservatives when the Unites States and it's military had only been in existence for about two decades in the time of those presidents.

carcraft
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carcraft 06/30/13 - 06:39 am
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Rhetor is correct, but misses

Rhetor is correct, but misses the main point that if the American Revolution had failed the likes of Adams and many others would have faced the gallows. Today you get audited by the IRS if you apples Obama!

Riverman1
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Riverman1 06/30/13 - 07:29 am
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Andrew Jackson was our 7th

Andrew Jackson was our 7th president. John Adams was an officer in the militia, but served in the rebel government. Serving in the government of the rebel nation would have been a death sentence is the bigger point. John Quincy Adams, the 6th president, was a child during the Revolution. John Monroe did actively fight.

soapy_725
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soapy_725 06/30/13 - 07:34 am
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The BEEF. Washington politicians work in a tainted culture
Unpublished

Excellent commentary Mr. Conant.

soapy_725
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soapy_725 06/30/13 - 07:36 am
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From the courthouse to the church house, Entertainment rules!!
Unpublished

So goes the July 4th, Decoration Day, Veterans Day, Christmas Day

chascushman
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chascushman 06/30/13 - 07:40 am
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"I do wonder why he uses that
Unpublished

"I do wonder why he uses that fact to disparage conservatives when the Unites States and it's military had only been in existence for about two decades in the time of those presidents."
Because that is what liberals do, they distort the truth. Most of the founding fathers were too old to serve in Military. I guess ole Ben Franklin could have fought when he was about 65 or 70.

chascushman
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chascushman 06/30/13 - 07:48 am
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"Perfectly put. True and
Unpublished

"Perfectly put. True and depressing."
I agree 100%. We have the Marxists and communists from the 60s and 70s running the country. Nikita Kruschev said, "we do not have to destroy America with Missiles; America will destroy itself from within." and it seems that he was correct.

deestafford
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deestafford 06/30/13 - 08:33 am
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You cannot have honor without courage.

You must have principles and be willing to defend them.

There is much to be said about what happened to the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Rush Limbaugh's daddy gave a great speech on what they sacrificed and how their families suffered as a result. Hopefully, the editors of the Chronicle will find this information and publish it on Independence Day, the 4th of July.

There are a vast differences in the quality of the people who were in Philadelphia for the Continental Congress and what we have in our congress in DC today. To cite a couple of differences:

First, they were much better educated. Perhaps the best educated group of people to ever be assembled in one political body. Much better educated than what represents us in DC today.

Second,the men gathered there were already successful in private life before going to the Congress. Many in DC today could not get a decent job in the private sector if they had to.

You often hear something like, "Oh, all those Founders were just a bunch of rich white men." My question to that comment would be "Who else was living at that time had the capability to found a country?" It was very difficult to do what they did. So difficult was it that it had never been done before in world history.

carcraft
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carcraft 06/30/13 - 08:48 am
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Dastafford Or since!

Dastafford Or since!

justthefacts
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justthefacts 06/30/13 - 09:09 am
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Give Credit

John Adams always said that King George III was the biggest contributor to the establish of our country.

dichotomy
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dichotomy 06/30/13 - 11:52 am
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I'll tell you a couple of

I'll tell you a couple of things where the founding father's values would differ from today. The founding fathers would never have envisioned 25% of the country receiving subsidies from the 53% who actually pay federal taxes and they would never have envisioned half of the country paying federal taxes while the other half did not. They would have voted to immediately go to war with any government that advocated that policy.

myfather15
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myfather15 06/30/13 - 12:33 pm
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dichotomy

You're correct, Ben Franklin quote: "When the people find they can vote themselves money, it will herald the end of the republic."

myfather15
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myfather15 06/30/13 - 12:38 pm
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Rhetor

Seeing that this article was NOT only about Presidents and their service, I'm not sure what you're trying to say, besides taking a cheap shot at conservatives. This article was about the Founding Fathers, the VAST majority of which NEVER became President; so who cares how many, of the first 6 Presidents, had military service. Also, militia's were still in existence at that time and wasn't "official" military service. How many founding fathers, NOT Presidents, served in the militia?

Nice snipe job, but anyone with half a brain can see right through it.

CobaltGeorge
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CobaltGeorge 06/30/13 - 04:22 pm
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Reading The 06:30 Comment......

All I can do is shake my head in shame over the ability of someone making such a comment.

CobaltGeorge
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CobaltGeorge 06/30/13 - 04:38 pm
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Thanks

Scratch, carcraft, Riverman1, chascushman, deestafford, dichotomy & myfather15 for stuffing the PIPE of a self proclaimed American with the real truth. You all always do a better job than I can.

A very beautiful written letter, Mr. Conant.

carcraft
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carcraft 06/30/13 - 05:40 pm
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Deestafford, You are correct,

Deestafford, You are correct, Franklin was a top level scientist and inventor. Franklin developed the fire departments, set up the post office and worked on weather forecasting. Franklin developed the lightening rod, the Franklin stove and a musical instrument. Franklin studied electricity, lightening, and the Gulf Stream. He was widely recognized for his intellectual abilities!

dahreese
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dahreese 07/05/13 - 07:33 pm
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"Conservatives love to
Unpublished

"Conservatives love to remember bygone days of old that never existed in real life."

When your mind is still in elementary school mythology instead of modern day reality school, that's what you get.

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