Who are the George Washingtons of today?

Joanne Butler Contributor
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One July 4th years ago, I was explaining the two competing stories of the genesis of the American Revolution to an Italian graduate student. One side, I said, involved landowning gentlemen-philosophers from the South. The other credited a group of anarchist lawyers from New England. “Being Italian,” the student replied, “I naturally favor the anarchist lawyers.”

Which brings me to George Washington, whose birthday we officially celebrate on Monday (That’s right, it’s NOT “Presidents’ Day”!). Although a man of the South, Washington was not motivated by complex philosophical arguments. Unlike Jefferson and Adams, he did not attend college, nor did he study law. His commitment to the Revolution and the infant United States seems to have sprung from a deeper, simpler desire for liberty, aided by his strong sense of duty.

I believe Washington gives us a model for our present fiscal crisis: he had the courage to do what needed to be done, and did it. Against huge odds he took risks, encountered setbacks, but never gave up. These human qualities didn’t lapse with powdered wigs and silver-buckled shoes. If we look around, we can see them today.

My neighbor to the north, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, is one such example. If you listen to his speeches, you’ll hear the word “duty” a lot; as in, “my duty to the people of New Jersey,” “my duty to taxpayers,” and so on. As I see it, for him “duty” is not just a politician’s catchphrase (alá John McCain’s trademark “my friends”). Christie means it.

Duty means confronting unpleasant, difficult, and troublesome tasks and getting them done. Washington could have remained on his plantation; Christie could have been making big bucks now at a high-powered law firm. Duty compelled them not only to enter public life but also to take up its frequently thankless demands.

As you celebrate Washington’s birthday, I suggest you take stock of your elected leaders. Are they, like Washington, demonstrating their duty to their fellow citizens? Are they, like Christie, making the hard choices to reduce our indebtedness? And if they are indeed doing difficult, truthful work, are you onboard too? After all, Washington didn’t cross the Delaware alone.

Joanne Butler is a senior economics fellow at the Caesar Rodney Institute of Delaware. You can email her at joanne-butler@comcast.net.