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So began the late-life correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the founding fathers described in the HBO mini-series “John Adams” as “the north and south poles of our revolution.”
Once friends, differences in opinion and political competition had taken a toll.
They, like others in the founders’ generation, had deep philosophical disagreements. But as they went about the business of building a country, an endeavor that if unsuccessful would surely lead to their hanging, they hardly had the luxury to stop talking to each other.
So they agreed where they could, disagreed where they had to and kicked a lot down the road a bit (toward us, in fact).
Despite the differences between them and the odds against them, the founders managed to cobble together their opus – and ours – the Constitution, which despite all probability still guides this diverse group of people forward together.
But, alas, “politics ain’t beanbag” and two election cycles later, Jefferson and Adams had no tolerance for one another.
Fast-forward a couple of centuries and most of us are likely to relate to the fix Adams and Jefferson found themselves in. We, like they, have deep disagreement with – and sometimes little tolerance for – one another. Even our understanding of the founding document we all revere is riddled with fundamentally different viewpoints.
The two founders ultimately died friends, having given history the gift of their final correspondence. They died on the same day, July 4th, 50 years to the day after the nation they built was born. Not knowing that Jefferson had passed on just hours before, Adams last words were “Thomas Jefferson survives,” providing one of history’s most poignant lessons to us across the centuries.
If we continue to choose the path of this legacy – the uneasy yet unbreakable partnership of opposites that is our unique birthright – it will never be easy. Maybe a big part of our problem is that we’ve grown far too accustomed to easy.
“Whether you or I were right,” Adams had written to Jefferson, “posterity must judge. Yet I ask of you, who shall write the history of our revolution?”
The philosophical descendants of Jefferson and Adams are alive and well today in us, in this amazing American experiment “in the course of human events.”
And we are still writing the history of their revolution.
Like the founders before us, we hardly have the luxury to stop talking to each other.
Liz Joyner is the Executive Director of the Village Square. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Through the month of November, leading up to our December 1 fundraiser roast Allan Katz: The Roast, we’re going to give you an endless supply of reasons we think we deserve your financial support. Forgive the bragging, we’ll go back to our neighborly (and oh-so-humble) selves once we’ve reached our goal. So, without further ado, Reason #1:
â€œBy gathering local and state politicians of mutually opposed political persuasions under one roof and asking them to break bread together, The Village Square is supporting an ancient and durable principle of civilization: It’s harder to hate the enemy face to face. In reasserting that principle, The Village Square isn’t just promoting better government. It’s helping to lay the foundation for a better America.â€
—John Marks, Journalist, Novelist, Former 60 Minutes Producer and author of â€œReasons to Believe: One Manâ€™s Journey Among the Evangelicals and the Faith He Left Behindâ€
(As with every great quote we ever have, h/t to Lea.)
Mozy on over to our friends at Purple State of Mind if you want to read this there or otherwise generally visit with them (which we wholeheartedly approve of).
This semester my middle school daughter Rachel is taking guitar. Her newfound interest has come with an unexpected gift to her mother, a piqued interest in all things Beatles.
(Enter a good excuse to walk down memory lane with your daughter, mostly while she is kicking and screaming and telling you that you looked really scary in bellbottoms.)
Yesterday I was waxing away on Beatles memories (to snoring 7th graders) when I remembered the â€œPaul is deadâ€ rumor that was rampant when I was just about their age. The ensuing years of not thinking about this (so very much) left me with no memory of which song said what and which you had to play backwards to hear the fateful news, sent out like an arrow straight to the hearts of all the thirteen-year-olds who oh-so-loved Paul. So I Googled it.
The song I remembered turns out to have been â€œStrawberry Fieldsâ€, which supposedly said â€œI buried Paul.â€
I remember the conversations we had, the records we played backwards, the teeny-bopper bonding over what was clearly obviously ultimately a falsehood. (Unless, of course, the actual hoax is the whole Heather Mills â€“ Paul McCartney marriage/lawsuit fiasco and goodness knows Wings, which did seem stunningly unreal even at the time and certainly in retrospect. Hmm, Iâ€™ll have to get back to you on that.)
The point here, as I am finally forced to reluctantly leave my adolescent angst rewind behind to make, is that the Wikipedia â€œPaul is deadâ€ entry nearly knocked the air out of me, it bore so much resemblance to our current crop of breathless conspiracy theories. Positively brimming with logical fallacies launched in careless dedication to wishful thinking over â€“ well â€“ thinking.
Conspiracy v.2009 was launched by birther conservatives and tea-bagging populists sure that our duly elected President is here fully intending to burn the whole American joint down. Before liberals get smug, note that Conspiracy v.2002 was the steadfast belief that Bush was behind 9/11. Earlier whacky incarnations included yarns spun over the Lindbergh kidnapping (for which my grandparents were actually stopped and questioned because my infant uncle was about the right age), widespread speculation unraveling Kennedyâ€™s assassination facts-be-darned and a bizarre story of a sitting president ordering a break-in of a Pentagon employeeâ€™s psychiatristâ€™s office. (Oh, wait.)
I can tell you with every fiber of my former middle school girl-ish self that conspiracies are great for entertainment. Conspiracy theories also foment hatred masterfully, supporting the Dr. No cartoon version of good and evil we seem to prefer to reality.
But conspiracies blow as a basis for governance.
How in the world do political parties create policy based on understanding of a conspiracy theory? It leads them to crazy dead-end wrong-headed solutions to problems that are brutally real. Iâ€™d say this go round it has led conservatives away from making a much-needed real-world argument on health care, preferring instead to bend to conspiracy-fueled town hall fury. To be sure there are people who are right about seemingly crazy things and no one believed them (uh, round earth), but statistically those moments are unicorns, not horses. We can go round and round amusing ourselves to death with our conspiratorial cohorts, fighting Darth Vaderâ€™s forces of darkness that donâ€™t buy our thinking, or we can grow up and get on with the work that grownups do.
If we donâ€™t move smartly toward coping with the world of the big and real problems we have, we risk making big bets on our future that the record says â€œI buried Paulâ€ when it was really â€“ according to John Lennon â€“ (I kid you not) â€œcranberry sauce.â€
For kicks I replayed â€œStrawberry Fieldsâ€ a bunch of times and I swear to you, Paul is dead.
The Tea Party Movement is flexing its electoral muscle in a New York special election that could lay the ground work for the Republican Partyâ€™s nominee for President in 2012. New Yorkâ€™s 23rd Congressional District hasnâ€™t been represented by a Democrat in more than 85 years. Parts of the District havenâ€™t been represented by a Democrat since the Civil War, and yet it may be just that, a civil war within the Republican Party that allows a Democrat to recapture the seat.
Washington insiders and party leaders are calling the race a referendum on President Obama and the enormous spending being under taken by Democrats in Congress, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into each campaign. Moderate Republican Representative John McHugh of New Yorkâ€™s 23rd has resigned his Congressional seat to accept a position in President Obamaâ€™s cabinet as Secretary of the Army. Republicans quickly nominated State Legislator Dede Scozzafava. Democrats have selected a political newcomer in Bill Owens and Attorney from upstate New York. However the Conservative Party, upset with the pick of Scozzafava, has nominated their own candidate Doug Hoffman.
Political infighting in the Republican Party has ensued. Conservatives are upset with the pick of Scozzafava, a politically moderate woman with a liberal record on abortion and gay rights. The Conservative Club for Growth has endorsed Hoffman and poured nearly $250,000 dollars into his campaign. In the recent weeks Republicans Sarah Palin and Governor Tim Pawlenty have come out in support of Hoffman, bucking party leaders like Newt Gingrich and Representative John Boehner, who support Scozzafava.
The Conservative Party and the Club for Growth have definite ties to the Tea Party movement in general and the growing ultra-Conservative movement in particular. Both Palin and Pawlenty are thought to be presidential hopefuls in 2012, and could be using this election to better position themselves within that part of their electorate. Gingrich believes between 20-30% of Republicans would vote for either candidate, but that â€œyou need 50% + 1 to win an election,â€ and they canâ€™t get that support.
That leaves Bill Owens. If the Republican vote is split, it will almost assure the Democrats and Bill Owens the seat. If Scozzafava wins, Republicans will call it a referendum on Obama, but might damage ties with the more conservative part of their party for 2010 and 2012. If the Conservative Candidate Doug Hoffman wins, it could be a huge step forward for the conservative Tea Party movement.
Let the conversation begin.
“Incivility is the new secondhand smoke. Everyone feels impelled to disdain it, but nobody is willing to do away with it entirely.” —Tim Rutten, The LA Times
Beware of news on the Internet. It is a trackless swamp with a few islands. Find the islands and stay there. Anything else is a morass, and you have only yourself to blame if you sink into it. —Purple State of Mind