FAIR WEATHER FRIENDS, SUNSHINE PATRIOTS

ANDREW JACKSON AND BARRACK OBAMA

Reading Jon Meacham’s biography of Andrew Jackson, I was struck by some disturbing similarities between the atmosphere of Jackson’s aim for a second term and the present attitude of a great many former avid supporters toward President Barrack Obama.  As I read of the vitriolic and mindless attacks on President Jackson, ranging from lack of knowledge to lack of rationality, I seem to be reading of the tenor of our own time and what I consider to be the near-abandonment of our own president.

Though broadsides of insult and villainous fiction were common to political campaigns of the early Republic (thinking here of the campaigns of Jefferson and Adams), the attacks on Jackson by such opponents as Calhoun and Clay were unprecedented (attacks including the gleeful revival of the dishonoring of the morality of Jackson’s first wife and the juicy missteps of his friends).

Jackson was early known as “The American Lion.” “The hero of New Orleans.”  Swept into office by his glorious and fearless feats on the battlefield.

Leading unbowed with a British bullet between his heart and his lung.  Revered, honored, idolized: the crowds all but demolished the White House during the riotous “celebration” of his Inauguration to his first term.

But soon, age advancing,  illness and pain sapping his strength, tired—and his often pitiless megalomania wearing thin (Jackson might well have turned the phrase “My way or the highway), the crowds turned against him. Old friends drifted away.  Many who would have (and did) push and shove their way into his glorious presence merely to say they had laid eyes upon him (or to gain some post in government as reward for their adulation) now either sought his downfall or stood by to watch..  The mighty were near to fallen after one term.

As we know, Jackson did not fall but shuffled uncertainly into a second term.  But the crowds were smaller, quieter.  The friends more cautious.  Fewer risked being seen to grasp for his coat-tails.  “Fair weather friends” and, as Meacham writes, “sunshine patriots.”

No one could have been more surprised than Roger Taney himself when Jackson reached out to him appoint him Attorney General.  Taney was glad of the office and pleased to serve but was pained personally and vicariously by the ugliness of the opposition now being faced hourly by the man who had called him.  As I read an excerpt from Taney’s memoirs, I could not help but think of how the light in which Barrack Obama gleamed in those heady days of his triumph so quickly has dimmed.  Taney wrote of those who had dimmed the light and decided it prudent to turn their backs on Jackson,

It seemed to me that every man who by his support of him in 1824 had made him so prominent in the canvas of 1828 and by that means brought on his this vindictive rivalry , was bound to do more than give him a mere cold political support; was bound to make personal sacrifices if they were necessary to support his administration while he continued to deserve his confidence and continued to be unjustly assailed.  Such sacrifices seem to me to be necessary where new enemies were combining with the old ones to wage war against him in the same fierce spirit of hostility.

I cannot but think in those same terms of those who now mutter about a president who played a round of golf, who has not stopped a flow of oil as might a king commanding the waves to turn, who has not stopped the wars or single-handedly brought prosperity upon the  land.  Where are they now, those hundreds of thousands of cheering, joyfully weeping

crowds of worshippers on that night of the welcome of a new god?

It is now “mere cold support” as the multitude wakens from its dreaming of a new day and turns toward the sound of other promises, perhaps to see if something better, easier, less politically and personally costly might lie in that direction.  Is that a “Tea Party” over there? And will those who attend be given what their former hero, briefly acclaimed. seems to withhold?

John Meacham writes to Jackson’s followers and surely to each of us who hailed Obama’s seeming Deus ex machina onto the political stage;

In a way Taney was calling for followers to play a more consistent and demanding role in politics than might be comfortable for them.  If a mass representative democracy were to work well, a leader’s troops could not be…sunshine patriots.  They would have to be vigilant, keeping abreast of the shifting calculus of politics through the newspapers and standing read to argue the party line with passion and conviction.

And Meacham writes that Taney was urging the emerging political troops of the 1830s “to wage constant partisan combat, no matter what the issue.”

Our “troops” are all-too-quiescent.  All too willing to let the leader andthe government they elected take the onslaught alone.  I read every day in
“Facebook” of calls to join the “Coffee Party.”  Where is it?  Who leads it?  I know where the “Tea Party” in my area will be held next week—but where Oh Where is the Coffee Party?  At my house?  Would you come?  Probably not.  Busy.  Where is the passion and conviction to support the values and principles of that young man who amazed the world by taking leadership in such times as these.  Did we think that his passion and conviction would bring about the age of peace and plenty we so desired?  Has he not worked the miracles we assumed he could and would work?  Has change not come fast enough for those who waited as long as tomorrow for the world to be changed?

The voices of those who would turn back the clock, turn out the destitute and the sick, make quick work of enemies (and continue to makemore) and turn back the stranger at the gates—those voices are loud, passionate and organized.  Most of us are letting those voices take  the day.

Fair weather friends.   Sunshine patriots.“If a mass representative democracy were to work well, a leader’s troops could not be…sunshine patriots.”  Hear him!  Hear him!

Edward Frost