Witt: Government is serious business

Reading through the writings and speeches of Mark Twain clearly brings to light the fact politics and many perceptions of politics have not changed in more than 100 years.

Here are a few of his thoughts on politics:

— “My kind of loyalty was loyalty to one’s country, not to its institutions or its office holders. Institutions are extraneous…”

— “If we only had some God in the country’s laws, instead of being in such a sweat to get him into the Constitution, it would be better all around.”

— “If we would learn what the human race really is at the bottom, we need only observe it in election times.”

— “The radical invents the views; when he has worn them out the conservative adopts them.”

— “Public servant: Persons chosen by the people to distribute the graft.”

— “ …there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”

— “Senator: Person in Washington who makes laws when not doing time.”

— “The new party member who supposed himself independent will presently find that the party has somehow got a mortgage on his soul, and that within a year he will recognize the mortgage, deliver up his liberty, and actually believe he cannot retire from the party from any motive, however high and right, in his own eye, without shame and dishonor.”

— “Men think they think upon the great political questions, and they do; but they think with their party, not independently…”

— “No party holds the privilege of dictating to me how I shall vote. If loyalty to party is a form of patriotism, I am no patriot.”

— “If we had less statesmanship, we could get along with fewer battleships.”

— And finally: “Every civilization carries the seeds of its own destruction, and the same cycle shows in them all. The Republic is born, flourishes, decays into Plutocracy, and is captured by the shoemaker whom the mercenaries and millionaires make into a king. The people invent their oppressors, and the oppressors serve the function for which they are invented.”

Twain was an acerbic critic of many of the foibles of both American and international life (read “Innocents Abroad”) and he seems to have particularly enjoyed poking the fire under politicians, especially at a time in this country’s history when politics was a raucous and, sometimes, brutal endeavor —  believe it or not, perhaps even more so than today.

Several years following Mark Twain, Will Rogers took up the cudgel and continued to lambast politicians with comments like:

“I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts,” and, “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a democrat.”

It’s good we live in a country where such comments and jokes can be freely bandied about without fear of going to jail or being beaten (not always the case in the past, and sometimes not in the present).

But while we revel in the humor to be found in the activities of government, we should never lose sight of the fact government is serious business, constantly promulgating decisions which affect the entire American populace (some more than others). And the people who are sent to Congress — and the presidency —  need to have the intelligence and moral fiber to do what is best for everyone, not a select few.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.