This week a postman rode a “bicycle with wings” to the Capitol, carrying with him a bag of 535 letters protesting Congress’ servility towards those who fund them. Rather than being cheered as a latter day Mr. Smith Goes to Washington hero, he was arrested, while Congressmen lamented the lack of security which allowed a mere citizen, lacking even a lobbyist’s credentials, much less a lobbyist’s more welcome bag of money, to almost exercise his First Amendment right to “to petition the Government.”
When his wife’s lawyer learned that the Postman’s letters had been confiscated rather than delivered, he opined, according to The Washington Post, â??Well, that to me is unlawful interference with the U.S. mail.â? When he learned that the postman had been arrested for his idiosyncratically American method of petitioning Congress, he said â??It looks to me like an official postman was delivering mail to Congress. That might be a crime; I donâ??t know. Doesnâ??t seem like one to me.â?
My first book was about the character of a man, but there is something about the tone of a place that matters, too. Here is what the tone used to look like when people petitioned the government, some even within living memory:
A cousin of mine, a few generations back, had been arrested by Yankees for being a potential Confederate soldier. He was seventeen and a hunchback, so it seemed an unfair accusation.
H grandmother, another ancestor, marched to the White House, and was immediately shown in to see Lincoln.
Was her girdle frisked on entry? I think not.
The President promptly released my relative from prison, also giving him a permanent get out of jail free card which said that the boy “shall remain free so long as he remains in school on good behavior.”
Incidentally, it’s too bad that message wasn’t emblazoned above my bed when I was a kid. Had it been, that “pumpkin incident” might never have happened.
You may say that we were Washingtons, and had special access to the White House. Not so. Another woman known to my family, but no relation and no special connection, used to show up at the White House as recently President Harrison, replete with suggestions. The President always saw her.
As recently as the 1920s, a regular citizen with no special connections, as part of the regular White House tour, would shake the President’s hand.
With this in mind, if President Obama had been a real man, rather than the quisling he is, of if he had even the vaguest concept of American history and culture, he would have invited the helicopter postman from Florida to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom.
Obama would then have had one of his “teaching moments.”
He might talk to the country about Thoreau, maybe Gandhi, or at least King, the one figure in American history he surely knows at least something about. He might talk about civil disobedience, maybe mixing it up with some Jefferson. He’d surely bring up PT Barnum and the Wright brothers, talking about the eccentric people with their crazy ideas who are more vital to America than fireworks on the Fourth of July (Americans such as Jefferson, Thoreau, Edison, the Wright Brothers, PT Barnum, on through to Steve Jobs.)
Then, the President might have got to the meat of the issue: the helicopter pilot’s mission was as crazy and unlikely to succeed as the Founding Fathers’ mission, but equally noble. (Admittedly, the postman may not have been as majestic as a Jefferson. But he was, at least, a Thomas Paine.)
While we’re on it, isn’t the gyrocopter pilot’s flight evocative of what Jesus did? To fight, in a peaceful way, for a sublime truth?
Yet the quisling cowards in Washington railed on about threats to their own safety, blind, or at least silent, to the postman’s mission.
Finally, with a flourish, the President would sign an official pardon â?? in advance â?? as Ford did for Nixon, absolving the postman of any charges the neo-fascists, who control our burgeoning police state, might throw at him.
I’m often asked what George Washington would do today. My great uncle was extremely dignified, and concerned with proper protocol. He would probably not have invited the flying postman to stay at the White House, nor done a cheap publicity stunt with him, as I suggested. And, to be frank, he probably would have been okay with the relatively light charges that were brought against the postman (entering restricted airspace is only a misdemeanor), although the terms of the bail would seem unconstitutional. A semblance of order was important to George Washington, at least in the condition the country was in when he became its first President.
On the other hand, if George Washington were President today, we’d be living in a country capable of electing a moral, principled man, who believes in the importance of liberty. And the postman’s flight would not have been necessary. Thus, George Washington would never be President today.
We’re left with a society of people too solipsistic to even be immoral. Perhaps they should be called iMoral.
That is, except for people like Douglas Hughs: U.S. Navy veteran, gyrocopter pilot, postman, and modern day Thomas Paine.
More info about Austin Washington’s critically acclaimed book about his great uncle George Washington is here The Education of George Washington