Saturday, February 13, 2010

WWJD? (What Would Jefferson Do?)

It may well be true that Keith Olbermann and MSNBC are the Progressive/Liberal parallels of Fox News and Glenn Beck, respectively. I happen to not mind, since Olbermann and, to a lesser extent, Maddow, base their news stories and opinions on what I consider to be facts. Although to be fair, I should point out that I watch very little of Glenn Beck or Fox News. I am, myself, unabashedly biased and left-leaning.


The subject in this clip comes up quite often: What did the Founding Fathers mean? When it comes to the Separation of Church and State there is a sizable portion of people who believe that Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Adams & Co. were Bible thumping lunatics (see my bias?) and they dig for quotes that support their position. Since those quotes are so rare and lines to the contrary are so plentiful they have to pull things out of context and, upon occasion, make them up. I happen to believe that the Founding Fathers, as products and disciples of the Enlightenment, sought to create a government as divorced from religion as possible.

But here's the thing: I also think it doesn't matter. I respect our heritage, I understand that this country was created by these brilliant and courageous men and most of what they wrote is perfectly valid and applicable today. But it isn't their country anymore - it's ours. It doesn't matter if, through some miracle of science, we were able to resurrect Madison or Jefferson and ask for clarification on some points. Their opinion is really of no contemporary consequence. We've modified their constitution quite a bit since their time and, while I suppose they would probably all approve of the changes we've made, it is irrelevant. They were not perfect, they were not infallible, they were not magical. I think that they would be among the first to admit that. We have deemed that their opinion on the subject of Women's Rights was incorrect and have amended the constitution appropriately. So even if they did wish to create this country as a theocracy (they didn't) it is up to us to make the best choices for today. Even if the policy of the Separation of Church and State wasn't Jefferson's idea, it is a sound principle and we would be wise to implement it now.

I recognize that this argument is worthless to any kind of public debate. It would be complete political suicide to depart from what they supposed the Founders' vision to be. That is unfortunate because it means that our country will never be able to grow or change in any meaningful way. At the same time, if the United States of America is going to spend the rest of its life in the shadow of anyone, it would be hard to find better role models than our Founding Fathers.

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