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For a large percentage of students in my generation the subject of History was that boring curriculum requirement that consisted of memorizing a lot of dates that would result in, at least, a passing grade. Text books were usually of a journalistic nature consisting of reporting events and dates accompanied by funny looking pictures of men wearing curly white wigs. Often the only time it took on a sense of realism to our very young minds was during a class production of the first Thanksgiving, with classmates taking the roles of the tenacious Pilgrims and the Indians, who we'd been taught were rather savage beasts.

Young minds on average, even those of college age, are usually geared to the present, possibly the very recent past, and the future. They are not wholly concerned with how anything occurring decades, even centuries, prior could really affect them in their 'now'. Most parents of a teenager can attest to the degree of importance placed on the acquired wisdom of mom and dad, whom they're convinced are direct descendants of the dark ages. Freedoms and rights are, sadly, taken for granted or misunderstood entirely, by youth in this country. I confess my own leanings in that direction when in my younger years.

Commencing in 1963 with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the tumultuous battles of the civil rights movement spurred by the slowly awakening realization that the principles of equality were not always, in fact, practiced, triggered awareness in me that such things require constant vigilance. The domestic unrest rampant on college campuses during the Viet Nam era awakened many of my generation to the idea that war was not always a purely patriotic endeavor. I slowly assimilated a real sense that the history I'd always thought boring really did comprise current events of real eras involving real people. We are, as citizens of the world, all characters in its history.  

In addition to the times I'd lived in as a young adult, I also developed a deep interest in the historical trends of the twentieth century listening to stories told by my grandmothers of the depression years, and by my father who'd served four and a half years in Europe during WWII. Then, three years ago, while visiting my son and daughter-in-law in Pennsylvania, we made a weekend trip to Philadelphia and I became enthralled with Independence Hall and the presentations given there by the tour guides. The Liberty Bell, and all the wonderful museums and renovations of the original birthplace of the Declaration of Independence, were compelling. Visiting Gettysburg and Valley Forge brought history to a life of its own. I wish every American could have, at some point, the opportunity to visit these preserved treasures.

With the affairs of current politics hanging pointedly in mind lately, and having missed its original airing, I took the time this holiday weekend to watch the rerun of the highly acclaimed HBO Mini-series, "John Adams". I discovered that a finely produced documentary film is a terrific way, not only to learn, but to experience history, be inspired by it. The entire series has been recently released on DVD and I'd urge everyone to make an effort to see it if you haven't already done so. Through impeccable acting and reproduction of period costumes and sets, the fervor of the young upstart nation and the passion of those responsible for its founding, is brought right into your living room.

As a woman, I was engrossed in the subtle role of Abigail Adams in the career of her husband, John, and her son, John Quincy. Oh, to have a woman of that stature, intelligence, and patience running for our first female president today! But, more, to watch and realize the dedication and determination of those representatives was pure intrigue. To learn that they, too, had severe disagreements and had to learn the art of compromise before anything could be achieved was eye-opening. To learn that they, too, were subject to a few of the baser human natures such as ego, power, and stubbornness was enlightening. That they, too, were susceptible to voting for the good of their own individual colonies' interests rather than the sacrifices required for unity was made clear.  

I've determined that it was probably, arguably even, Thomas Jefferson that was the most intelligent of the founding fathers. It was he that foresaw the dangers of too much power being given to the 'central' government. It was he that was concerned that laws written in stone by one generation were not going to remain applicable for generations to come. The Electoral College system immediately came to my mind. It worked then, now it is a travesty.

But, what I came away with most strongly by watching this series was the responsibility of citizens to keep watch on the leaders. Most of my columns here at Fabulously 40 have dealt with that premise in one form or another and now I reiterate it yet again. This upcoming election is so crucial to our lives, the lives of our children, and the state of the Globe, it is imperative not to be blinded by hype. Not to judge too harshly if a candidate seems to waffle because of media pressure, but to complain to the media that forces them into that stance. Yes, we really must make a wise decision at the polls, but more, much more importantly, we must remain even more determined after the election!  

Regardless who is the victor for the office of president, we must be even more involved in demanding the transparency promised, and that the courses outlined be followed. It's going to mean taking time to remain fully aware of what your state representatives and senators are doing on every issue. If that happens to be stalling or worse, nothing, then they need to be told that they will removed from Congress at the first opportunity.
No more selling of soul, lies, and game playing to get votes. We must insist on enactment of term limits for the Congress as has already been done for the president. Watching "John Adams" brought even more to light, that the powers of the president and the overall direction of the nation are usually the results of the Congress. The mess we find ourselves in today is largely due to the inept and in some cases, downright spineless, actions of Congress. The Executive and Judicial branches of government are for the most part a product of the proficiency, or lack, of the Legislative branch. Here is where we must focus both before and after the election.

Susan Haley



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