Art Callaham: A county of contrasts

January 08, 2012|By ART CALLAHAM

Where in the world did 2011 go? Such was the question I asked myself this week after the New Year brought us all 2012. Like most everyone, I’m still trying to remember to write the number 12 in my checkbook registry as well as on the checks. It seems to me that it was only yesterday or the day before that I was struggling with the number 11.

My good friend Harry Reynolds reminded me that the speed of years only quickens as you get older. When I was a youngster, Christmas came once a year and was slow in coming. Now, at 63, it seems like Christmas comes all too quickly. Now, for me, only the seasons separate the year into recognizable pieces. During my youth, the year was separated into 365 days. Getting old, or as I like to say “growing up,” is not for sissies.

So much for my 2012 New Year’s whine. Now, let me reflect for a moment on 2011 and compare/contrast that year with what was happing 150 years ago. In 1861, America was entering the first year of a war, brother against brother, friend against friend, Americans against Americans in our own Civil War. Interestingly, many “developed nations” of that time — most of them in Europe — had already fought civil wars over principles such as liberty, freedom and the rights of the rulers (government) versus the governed.

The American Civil War split our nation politically in terms of a “cause” as well as geographically. One hundred-fifty years later, our nation, united in a common cause — a war on terrorism — concluded one war staged on foreign soil and continues combat operations in another.

1861 was the first year of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and his efforts to free slaves in America. Slaves owed their very existence to their “masters.” Enslaved peoples made up a significant percentage of our nation’s population. Although predominately black, there were slaves of all colors. Slaves were not free and depended on their masters for work, food, shelter, education, health care, commerce, transportation and basic human rights. Other than work, the provision of those necessities was meager or completely abridged.

2011 was the third year of the presidency of Barack Obama, a president who revels in others’ comparisons of him to Lincoln.  The culmination of Obama’s efforts to date, however, may well result in the enslavement of many Americans to the new master — government. Today, more and more Americans are dependent on the government for work, food, shelter, education, health care, commerce, transportation and basic human rights. Including work, those necessities are lavishly (in some cases) provided to Americans based upon legislation that is not readily understandable to the common citizen, concocted by an out-of-touch Congress, and advocated for and administered or implemented by a similarly out-of-touch president.

The 37th Congress of the United States, sworn in March of 1861, most notably gave up actual fisticuffs among its members within the halls of Congress for legislating the fight among the states. The 37th was a dysfunctional lot divided over issues such as states’ rights, conduct of a war, “national debt” and raising revenue (taxes) to cover or lower that debt.

Ratchet forward 150 years and the 112th Congress, equally dysfunctional and unable to move critical legislation forward, still squabbles over similar issues — yet, like the 37th, the fights are with words and not fists.

Maryland, relegated to “border state status” (citizens’ sympathies torn between North and South) in 1861 has become a bastion of Democrats and therefore a more liberal agenda in 2011. The 1861 torn agenda was predicated on states’ rights, with slavery the keystone issue, versus a strong, or united, central government. Maryland did not secede and join the southern states’ rights rebellion. Today’s political agenda, along party lines, denotes Democrats generally in favor of more, or larger, government while Republicans generally favor less, or smaller, government. Like 1861, Maryland today would probably not secede as the state, similar to the nation, continues to support a greater role for government in our lives.

In Washington County, farming — with a rural heritage and outlook — predominated in 1861. Today, commerce and business ebb and flow within industries, including transportation, retail and information technology. Our outlook today includes possible forays into bio-technology, light manufacturing and assembly. Unlike the national or state scene, where similarities between 1861 and 2011 exist, locally the contrast between those years is stark.

Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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