Archive for the ‘THOMAS JEFFERSON’ Tag




I’m not sure what else anyone could expect, Mr. Crook.

The cast of characters on the national political scene, especially those on the right, makes mighty poor material out of which to shape a civil political life.

Winning is everything, sophomoric arguments are common, and insults are basic building blocks of American politics, not to mention election fraud.

This political phenomenon is not new to America.

Perhaps many abroad have no real feeling for the history of America’s national politics.

Abraham Lincoln, now the nation’s most beloved president, was commonly called an “obscene ape” during his campaigning. Grotesque cartoons and vicious commentary played regularly on the theme.

There was an undercurrent in all that hatred of Lincoln’s having been believed to be an abolitionist. He most decidedly was not, but that mere fact didn’t stop the hate and excess of opponents just as facts do not stop the hate and excess of today.

Hatred was so intense, Lincoln went to Washington for his inauguration hiding his identity.

Andrew Jackson, as near a mad president as ever there was, fought duels, horse-whipped one politician, and threatened anyone who said anything he regarded as an insult.

Thomas Jefferson had a full-time paid hack to dig up dirt on his opponents, including the man he worked for as Secretary of State, George Washington. When the hack didn’t feel fairly treated by Jefferson, he sold his services to others, disseminating such dark facts he had discovered as Jefferson’s liaison with a teen-age slave girl, Sally Hemmings.

Look at the way the opposition treated Senator McGovern’s running mate, Senator Eggleton, a thoroughly decent man who had experienced some depression. Look at the way nasty graffiti artists treated Senator Muskie during his campaign, reducing him to public tears. Look at the words of Tom Delay – now a convicted felon – about Bill Clinton’s big trip to Africa, words dripping with hate and racism.

There are countless examples of this political insanity in America just during my lifetime. There was the idiot Republican Senator who accused the Clinton administration of running a concentration camp after the poor Cuban boy, Elian, was taken from his kidnappers and sent to a quiet place of refuge following months of being held to ransom and hearing his loving father regularly insulted by shouting voices.

And this stuff is not without real consequences, sometimes far greater than the recent shooting in Arizona. Richard Nixon made a career early on of defaming his opponents – his early election to Congress featured insults and lies toward the woman against whom he ran. Nixon accused her of being “pink down to her underwear.” His reputation as a gutter fighter was so established that President Johnson, in sending the beginnings of an army to Vietnam, was known to be motivated by political fear of being castigated for “losing Vietnam” the way “China was lost.”

The late Governor George Wallace and serious presidential candidate had a famous quote justifying his extreme actions towards desegregation: he famously said he would never be “outniggered” again after losing in an early political fight owing to his then moderation.

America is simply too young a society to have developed genuinely civilized political customs, and there is a raw quality to it that almost encourages the kind of behavior of a Sarah Palin having a cross-hair sight over a politician’s face on her web site.

The effects of this rawness are reinforced by America’s wealth because wealth enables people to publish and disseminate filth and stupidity in vast quantities. They are also reinforced by the totally dominant ethos of, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

I see little hope for any change, except after the passage of a century or so.

America’s now-certain relative decline in the world should help a bit along the way: nothing is unhealthier for manic behavior than quasi-religious faith in being number one.




You are only partly right, Daniel, calling Jefferson author of the Declaration of Independence.

That is of course what Jefferson liked to think himself – he had an ego the size of a cruise ship – and he had that half-truth carved on his tombstone at Monticello.

But in that as in so many things Jefferson was a rather dark and devious man.

Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration was long and slightly ridiculous. The opening memorable phrases were amended to what we know today by that original genius, Benjamin Franklin.

Perhaps more importantly, the Continental Congress whittled his draft seriously down. Jefferson was in fact angry and embarrassed by the editing.

Jefferson’s draft was ridiculous for his lengthy focus on the King’s guilt for the slave trade – this from the lifetime owner of more than two hundred slaves.

Jefferson undoubtedly had a double purpose in this condemnation of the King.

First, at the time, there was actually a surplus of human flesh on the market, and slave prices were falling, and Jefferson was looking after his large investment in flesh.

Second, as always, Jefferson liked to be seen as a great advocate of human freedom, a kind of minor Enlightenment figure if you will with a legacy of words if not acts, so condemning the King would be part of his manufactured legacy.

Jefferson was such a spendthrift all his life, never able to earn his way as a lawyer, he never thought of setting his slaves free. Indeed, he died a bankrupt still.

So far as freedom goes, Jefferson also assisted Napoleon in trying to suppress the slave revolt in Haiti. A number of other ugly behaviors and policies are on his freedom-balance sheet.

The Declaration, if you actually read it (few do), after the wonderful opening words, descends into an almost petulant long list of charges and grievances, taking on a tone of something still true of America, always blaming others for their own poor choices.

All early – before the revolution – visitors to the colonies remarked how healthy and free the American colonies were. The colonies were widely regarded as one of the freest places on earth.

But being asked to help pay with taxes for something which largely benefited them – the French and Indian War – and being made part of a dreaded Catholic place, Quebec, under the Quebec Act caused an almost insane reaction.

The colonists had the benefit of the war and saw no reason to help pay for what they already had, and anti-papacy became a raging storm resembling in its intensity something from Northern Ireland in 1969.



The real issue in selecting judges for America’s Supreme Court is not the candidates’ ‘left’ or ‘right’ orientation.

The heart of the matter is in whether they are ‘strict constructionists’ concerning interpretations of the Constitution or whether they believe judges’ interpretation, with advancing times and changing circumstances, is just as much a part of the Constitution as the words on parchment themselves.

This bears certain similarities to the Catholic Church balancing the Gospels with tradition, tradition being something which is changeable and varies from place to place.

While this division in views does tend to come down to conservative views versus liberal views, it is not necessarily so. You certainly may believe that interpretation is important and yet be conservative in some of your views.

My own view is that ‘strict construction’ is akin to the Christians who believe every word of the Bible is the literal word of God.

The writers of the Constitution, with apologies to the likes of Tom Delay who used to carry a copy with him at all times like a Testament or donor card, actually overlooked many possibilities and made some genuine mistakes.

The U.S, wasn’t much of a democracy in their day – and many would argue it still isn’t much of a democracy – but essential characteristics of the society have changed a great deal in a couple of centuries. In early Virginia, for example, about 1% of the population could vote, roughly the same percentage as is represented by the Communist Party today compared to the Chinese population.

Of course, even were their handiwork perfect, it would no longer seem so two and a quarter centuries later. The changes that come over time with technology and the economy are profound (which takes us back to the previous column on genetics too).

Just one aspect of technology’s influence on law we see today is the literal melting away of copyright standards with digital material and the Internet.

Still further complicating the judge-selection business is the way some individuals change when they have the appointment, Warren being a classic example.


‘Empty slogans such as “strict construction” have no meaning whatsoever and are merely code words for following a far right wing agenda, just as “states rights” was once a code word for segregation.’

Sorry, that is rather wide of the mark.

“Strict construction” is certainly no empty slogan: it is precisely one end of a continuum of judicial philosophies in the United States.

Of course, there are few, if any, judges who hold to the extreme ends of that continuum, but you must have a descriptive term for each extreme to mentally place someone along it.

I think it is playing fast and loose with the courts to use the terms “liberal” and “conservative.” Courts are, in theory free of politics. Of course, they are not truly so, but the cause is not helped by openly describing judges in that fashion.

The natural results of strict construction do tend to be conservative, but then America is, and always was (except for a brief time, under and after FDR), a very conservative country.

Thomas Jefferson didn’t even believe the Court had the right to decide anything affecting the individual states, and he was ready at one point for secession over precisely that matter.

That was the absolute zero, if you will, of strict construction, and America has a large population that still regards Jefferson as America’s greatest sage.



I believe there is a basic economic problem with all of the stimulus plans, including Obama’s.

What put the United States into this mess are years of easy credit and a zero or less-than-zero savings rate.

Politicians made these results possible to keep an artificial degree of prosperity going in the United States and to “buy” popularity.

In a sense, the policies involved – mortgages with no money down, even mortgages for more than the price of a house in some cases, plus low rates at the Fed plus drastic tax cuts – are the fiscal equivalent of the American notion of having it all and having it now.

Well, any solution pumping countless billions into the economy and pushing banks and others to make credit available is just more of the same.

Rather than taking the hit necessary to wring out the economy, a huge platter of more of the same is being served up.

I’m not sure this is the right thing to do, but the right thing is too painful for any politician to make policy.

In a sense, I think this points to an even larger issue, and that is the question over the very ability of a people like Americans to govern themselves sensibly, rather than a constant lurching this way and that, both in domestic and foreign affairs.

The more you know about the history of the United States, and I mean hard, critical history, not the grade-10 civics version, the more starkly this proposition stands out.

The distinguished American historian, Page Smith, referred numerous times to America’s “schizophrenia,” and I believe this is part of what he was trying to capture with that word.


Sorry, it is not “very simple.”

The view taken by the above writer is the one repeated time and time again by the American Right Wing.

Taxes already have been cut to irresponsible levels.

Just one example was the elimination of inheritance tax under Bush’s incompetent government.

There is nothing productive about inherited wealth in limitless amounts. It actually has a net effect of creating aristocratic tendencies in a society, something that could not be clearer in the U.S. today, where many important offices, such as Senate seats, are almost becoming inherited.

Going back to Jefferson, this issue was recognized as an important one for a democratic society.

A good and decent society requires government as a partner in many areas of human effort. The libertarian notion that government should do very little – also a Jeffersonian one, one of several lame ones – is misguided.

You cannot make a meaningful, decent society out of a bunch of people sharing a space, paying a minimum of taxes for unproductive garbage like the military, and having no government involvement in most matters.

It’s 18th-century thinking, to say the least. Government builds airports, government regulates financial institutions (or should), government gets highways going, government sets standards in education, and it has a role in countless aspects of society.

Indeed, as technology and the complexity of society in every aspect such as finances increase, new roles are being created for government. Needful roles. The future will almost certainly bring more government, not less as the American Right Wing pines over.

It is precisely the withdrawal of government from its proper responsibilities that has caused the current mess.

It was also, by the way, the failure of government which caused the disaster of 9/11: failure in implementing the simplest regulations – such locked cockpit doors and more stringent inspection on boarding – after years of sky-jackings.

That particular failure of the American government has now created a tidal wave: two wars, horrible new restrictions, and a vast waste of effort. The total cost is incalculable.

And, of course, in the mainline media the untold part of the story of the current financial crisis is the titanic cost of those idiotic wars.



The gun issue in America is complex and bizarre.

First, it is clear, if you read the Bill of Rights, that the “right to bear arms” was tied to the concept of a “well ordered militia.”

The concept of the militia was imported from Britain, where going back at least to Elizabeth Gloriana’s time.

Militias were, compared to large standing armies, a money-saving measure, something Elizabeth relished.

The Colonists also were tight with a dime (after all, the rebelled in part to avoid paying a just tax).

Added to that impulse was the fear of standing armies.

Well, militias ceased being – except for the private ones of weird survivalists and Aryan Nation types back in the hills – a long time ago. America keeps a massive armed forces, spending more than half a trillion dollars a year on it.

So the “right” has lost its original justification entirely.

Now many Right Wing defenders of gun ownership in America always frame the issue around the idea of being able to oppose a tyranny.

In view of the armed forces of the United States – Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, and National Guards – which could put down any rebellion by citizens in America in days, this truly is a naïve and fatuous argument.

The mental image of a bunch of belly-over-the-belt, thinning-haired guys in hunting camouflage taking to the streets to oppose tyranny is ridiculous.

That the argument is constantly put forward in America shows the juvenile level of thinking on the matter.

I might add, as a cynical observation, that if they weren’t going to rebel against the lies and abuse and war crimes of Bush, they clearly never would.

The real, underlying reason Americans remain so married to their guns today also has historical origins.

But in this case, the historical origin is slavery.

Those who’ve read about the South in the 18th and early 19th century will know there was a constant fear of slave revolt, paranoid in its dimensions (perhaps the result of guilty consciences?), despite there only ever being one fairly small revolt ever.

Jefferson – the great blubberer about liberty and lifelong holder of more than 200 slaves – supported Napoleon in trying to put down the successful slave revolt in Haiti, a very bloody business. That same Southern fear of slaves and revolts was at work in his support of tyranny over liberty.

Today, Americans remain afraid of black crime to a degree British people perhaps can hardly comprehend.

Guns are felt to be one answer. As are gated communities. And as are blundering, fuel-wasting vehicles like SUVs – deliberately designed to suggest military armored cars and to instill confidence in suburbanites for their safety on the highway as they drive from one safe area to another, through dark and feared territories.

Of course, none of this makes any sense. Black criminals almost always prey on black victims. And the number of times a white middle-class person has actually been saved by a gun is infinitesimal.

But the paranoid psychology continues. There is almost a sense of some Americans seeing themselves as desperate Israel settlers carrying around automatic weapons to stop any nasty Palestinians.

When I was a boy, despite the Constitutional issue, guns had to be licensed in any city and it was illegal to carry them hidden, except for special permitted circumstances. This has all gone further downhill, as now many jurisdictions allow people to carry guns hidden under their clothes or in their purse or in the glove box of their car.

So when traveling, watch who you bump into or get into an argument with. It could be your last.

Guns stolen from legal owners, a common event, likely account for more crimes than legal guns can ever hope to prevent.

There’s no sorting this all out rationally. It will simply take another hundred years for America to become a fully civilized society.