In the cracks and crevices of your old high school history textbook, you’ll probably find a little tidbit of information that we as a country have all but forgotten: George Washington did not want to be president.
Washington’s little known reluctance to the office was vitally important to the founding of our nation. It meant that the former general approached his position from a solemn perspective, not one of ecstasy and elation. Such an approach to governing allowed for Washington to set dozens of important precedents and cultivate the young nation.
Today, much of Washington’s work is forgotten. The only living memories of his presidency are superficial, from his face on currency to monuments in cities named after him. In practice, much of the precedents set some 200 years ago have faded away only to be replaced by newer traditions. The most important of these being the birth of the presidential campaign.
For much of the 19th century, presidential candidates traditionally did not campaign for the presidency. Instead, they typically stood behind large, complex machines created by political parties that would do campaigning for them.
Presidential candidates often refused to give speeches or write editorials on their own behalf. When Whig candidate Winfield Scott attempted to buck convention and took to the campaign trail in 1852, for example, Democrats heavily criticized the candidate. They claimed that Scott decided to “beg…for votes” and was encouraging “man worship.”
There were many issues with 19th-century campaigning, namely the heavy usage of corrupt, political machines to achieve their goals. Thankfully, due to the advent of the internet and information democratization, our nation has seen nearly a complete collapse of the political machine.
In the 21st century, our politics have become exceptionally decentralized. Interaction with candidates and voters can happen instantaneously from all over the country. Even more important, however, is that in today’s age, information is not monolithic. Don’t believe what a particular candidate said? There’s a fact-checker for that. Thanks to the internet, people can get their information from thousands of sources.
What the 21st century gets wrong, however, is exactly what the 19th century got right. Today, there is a weird cult-like following of candidates. The Strokes endorsing Sen. Bernie Sanders is cool, but what does it have to do with him running for president? Campaigns should be centered around ideas, not people. Another prime example of this in practice can be found in this tweet, where a man is holding up a large sign that reads, “BETO IS OUR CHRIST.”
That is precisely what the Democrats got right in 1852, that the “man worship” of presidential candidates is innately damaging to our democracy.
We live in a technological age, where the need for constant television ads and political propaganda is no longer. Candidates should take a page out of Washington’s handbook and let the office choose them. Otherwise, we as a country will continue to lose touch of the solemn nature of our country’s highest political calling.
Matthew Geiger is a freshman studying economics at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Matthew? Tweet him @Mattg444.