Whatever political beliefs you subscribe to, I think we can all agree that the tone lately has been an endless parade of “historic” and “unprecedented” (and “unpresidented”) moments. Some have been truly worthy of the description, others have been called that with such insistence that we’ve learned to pick our battles. Tonight, I’m going to ask that you take a moment for another…
…Tonight, President Obama will deliver his final official address as the 44th President of the United States.
It’s another (less frequently observed) precedent set by our first President, George Washington.
Nearly a dozen outgoing presidents have followed in his footsteps and taken advantage of their final days in office to share one last official message.
In Washington’s Farewell Address (printed in 1796) he warned against the dangers of letting divisions between parties deepen…
“One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.”
Spoke to the importance of education…
“Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.”
And the unifying power of patriotism…
“The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.”
And we all committed it to memory, lived our lives by it, let it guide our non-partisan politics to this very day and the United States of America lived happily ever after…
Not so much, but along with some rather prophetic statements, Washington acknowledged his own humanity and capacity for error.
“Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors.”
In the coming days, we will once again be witness to this peaceful transfer of power that was one of the founding ideals of our nation.
In that spirit, the spirit that has carried our nation from the beginning, I ask only one thing: listen.
No matter which side of that dangerous aisle you fall on. Listen.
And spoiler alert. Come Inauguration Day, the message will be the same: Listen.
Because in the words of our first president: “…public opinion should be enlightened.”
Pay attention, stay involved, and always strive to be enlightened.