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On the Shoulders of Giants

In describing the contributions of the past and how it impacts our future, Sir Isaac Newton once attributed his success to those who came before. In 1676, he wrote to Robert Hooke, “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

Newton’s observation wasn’t original. Like all who use words, some of the best have been written or spoken. It’s really a matter of using the good ones in a rearrangement.

Newton’s observation came from the 12th century theologian/author John of Salisbury who wrote, “We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they but because they raise us up and by their great stature add to ours.”

We indeed stand on the shoulders of giants. Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and countless others who we call Founding Fathers lifted us on their shoulders and handed to us the foundation of an America designed to give us opportunities unknown in the human and governmental experience.

It’s been more than 230 years since those giants put everything on the line for the generations which followed. As they raised us up, have we indeed seen further and have we, because of their great stature, added to ours? Have we, by our governmental deeds, become the giants who will carry future generations on our shoulders to greater achievements?

Or have we become such a heavy burden that the knees of the giants have begun to buckle? Our track record of the recent past isn’t looking all that good. If John took a hard look at us now, he might conclude that we have become ticks attached firmly to the body of America, sucking life’s blood from our country and crafting an anemic future.

Our vision today extends no farther than the partisanship of politics. No better example could be cited than this current D.C. spat, whether we call it a shutdown, slowdown or slimdown. It appears to be little more than a whinefest between partisans who think what’s good for their little party is good for the nation.

We, the government’s paycheck, appear to be of little concern to our alleged leaders. One senior Obama administration official put the situation in context when he commented, “We are winning. It doesn’t really matter to us (how long the shutdown lasts) because what matters is the end result.”

With the mindset of this official, the end result could be a Pyrrhic victory for the president and Democrats who continue to insist that a solution rests solely on the “my way or the highway” theory. It might well serve the “winners” to remember the paraphrased words of Greek King Pyrrhus, “If we are victorious in one more battle, we shall be utterly ruined.”

In addition to the whatever-down, we’re looking at another little problem called the debt ceiling. According to Treasury, we run out of money to pay our debts on Oct. 17. Again, the president says there’ll be no negotiations. Instead, he uses tried-and-true methods to convince the friendly opposition to fall in line: threats of default on Social Security retirement and disability payments and anything else that may impact Americans whose only contribution to a solution is suffering the consequences of incompetents.

With all the problems, real and potential, facing us in the wake of the shutdown/slimdown, your humble observer is happy to report our government is showing real stewardship with our money. Although funding for life-saving research at the National Institutes of Health has been cut, one of America’s favorites will still be belly deep in cookies.

Yes, fellow taxpayers, the Daily Treasury Statement shows the Corporation for Public Broadcasting received $445 million only a day or so after the announcement that government and its honey pots were shutting down. That means staples like the propagandistic “PBA Newshour” and “Sesame Street” and National Public Radio receive funding while cancer research is put on hold.

We should be so proud, and we should show our pride at every opportunity. The next real chance we will have to do so will come in the fall of 2014. In D.C. terms, that’s midterm election time and we commo.

We can become the giants, and we can be selective about who we choose to place on our shoulders.


Pat Culverhouse is a journalist and political columnist who lives in Minden.

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