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Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Continental Lane and Contemporary Political Arrogance

Although I have lived in central New Jersey virtually entire life and made many visits to Washington's Crossing State Park, I never actually walked along the Continental Lane, the road on which Washington's troops marched after the Christmas night crossing in 1776.  Here is a view of one segment in the park:

David Hackett Fischer, in his book Washington's Crossing, describes the road as "climb[ing] upward through a dark wood, similar to a sweep of woodland that stands there today." Some 2400 officers and troops crossed to this point; the troops split into two forces under Nathanael Greene and John Sullivan, with the former more inland and Sullivan closer to the river as they approached Trenton.

The troops were ill, poorly clothed, hungry.  We know there were soldiers with no shoes whose bleeding feet left paths in the snow.  We know that many who enlisted in the Continental Army were from the bottom of the economic ladder.  We know that many of Washington's soldiers were incapacitated  and could not make the crossing; many others had died before the battle from illness.  And yet, those that remained, made that march on that bitter, sleeting night.

To understand how this country survived the defeats of 1776 and how the war was saved, walk the Continental Lane, particularly on a cold day.  Listen to the sounds of your footsteps and be alone with your thoughts.

Today we have political leaders who treat $1,000,000 with less respect and concern than the rest of us treat a penny.  They fly with entourages around the world; a recently reported stay of the vice-president for one night in London came in at around $500,000.  The lectures and the rhetoric are belied by a political class obsessed with itself, with its power and preservation of same.  We barely finished the 2012 elections when literally the next day we were into the 2014 season and already planning not only 2016 but 2020 and beyond.  Meanwhile, real people in this country are living and dying, struggling to survive and get on.  The rhetoric is not enough.  Do we really remember where we came from?

Every representative and senator should be made to walk the Continental Lane as a requirement to service.  They should be made to feel the same ground beneath their feet that absorbed the blood of real people who made this country happen.  There is no better reality check than that, to restore a sense of proportion and remove the insulation and arrogance that seems now to mark an increasingly out of touch political class.
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