Biden/Beto; Fact-Checkers' Fate; Quote of the Week

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Good morning, it’s Friday, December 14, 2018. On this date in 1799, George Washington made one of his last entreaties to those under his command: He bade his powerless and grief-stricken physicians to be brave in the face of their failure to cure him or ease his suffering. Then he slipped away into immortality.

Washington’s last official letter was to Alexander Hamilton in support of a military academy. His very last missive was -- true to form -- to his farm’s overseer and it complained about the condition of some barns on the property.

Although the former general and president had left public life by the time he died, many Americans feared the country couldn’t survive his death. They needn’t have worried.

In a brief letter to Congress, President Adams put things in perspective.

“It has pleased Divine Providence to remove from this life our excellent fellow-citizen, George Washington, by the purity of his character and a long series of services to his country rendered illustrious through the world,” Adams wrote. “It remains for an affectionate and grateful people, in whose hearts he can never die, to pay suitable honors to his memory.”

Fellow citizen, Adams called him. It was the ultimate compliment to Washington’s influence.

The second president’s elegy was one of many -- several thousand actually -- printed in newspapers of the day or spoken in the pulpits, meeting houses, and town halls of the new country.

I’ll have my favorite, in a moment -- it’s today’s quote of the week that I pass along each Friday.

First, I’d direct you to our front page, which aggregates an array of columns and stories spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors this morning, including the following:

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The Best Shot for Democrats Is Biden/Beto. A.B. Stoddard explains why the pairing could generate the most excitement for the party in 2020, and might lure away some Trump voters.

An Impending Loss in the Fact-Checking Family? Bill Zeiser writes that if rumors of the Weekly Standard’s demise prove true, the collateral damage will include the publication’s authoritative fact-checking operation.

Five Facts: Alleged Election Fraud in N.C. House Race. In RealClearPolicy, the bipartisan think tank No Labels reviews recent developments in the last undecided midterm election.

Help People Work Longer by Phasing In Retirement. Also in RCPolicy, Joshua Gotbaum and Bruce Wolfe argue for a framework that would allow retirees to ease themselves out of the workforce.

Top 10 History Films of 2018. In RealClearHistory, Brandon Christensen ranks his favorites (and the big-budget “Mary, Queen of Scots) barely makes the list).

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The most enduring eulogy of George Washington was written by Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, a commander in the Continental Army who became governor of Virginia. Lee wrote a 3,500-word testimonial in Philadelphia while staying at the former house of Benjamin Franklin, and delivered it three days after Christmas to Congress, where it was read aloud.

The most famous passage -- the only passage remembered today -- came near the end of Lee’s eulogy and, really, only the first clause of the long sentence has survived in our collective national memory.

“First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen,” Lee wrote, “he was second to none in the humble and endearing scenes of private life; pious, just, human, temperate and sincere; uniform, dignified and commanding, his example was edifying to all around him, as were the effects of that example lasting.”

“First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen” is an ingenuous and succinct summation of the man’s accomplishments: He led the nation to victory on the battlefield; he then served as its first president, an office he helped define and then walked away from -- retaining his countrymen’s affections in the process.

But that is not this week’s Friday quote. It’s simply sui generis. I was looking for a summation of George Washington’s life that we might apply to ourselves today and use as inspiration.

I found one written nearly 14 years after GW’s death. It’s from Thomas Jefferson, which is unlikely in one regard -- by the end of his life Washington detested and mistrusted Jefferson, and the younger man knew it. On the other hand, it is never wise to ignore the acuity of Jefferson’s observations, or to underestimate what John Adams once termed his “happy talent of composition.”

“He errs as other men do, but errs with integrity,” Jefferson wrote about George Washington in an 1814 letter to friend. “He was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern. Perhaps the strongest feature of his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration, was maturely weighed. … He was, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man.” 

Carl M. Cannon 
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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