Beginning with the debate between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton over the future of the nation and continuing through the Civil War, the New Deal, the Reagan Revolution, and Obama and the Tea Party, many pols have asked, "What would the founders do?" instead of "What is the common good today?" Recently both the right and the left have used the founders to sort through such issues as voting rights, campaign finance, free speech, gun control, taxes, and war and peace. They have used an outdated context to make sense of contemporary concerns.
This oversimplification obscures our real issues. From Jefferson to this very day, we have looked to the 18th century to solve our problems, even though the fathers themselves were a querulous and divided group who rarely agreed. Coming to terms with the past, David Sehat suggests, would be the start of a productive debate. And in this account, which is by turns informative, colorful, and witty, he shows us why.
©2015 David Sehat (P)2015 Tantor
"Highly recommended for political junkies, historians, and rhetoricians." (Library Journal)
Yes, there were deals cut, and gaps, intentional or not, in this document, as events emerged in later history. Jefferson himself was at moments idealistic and at others rather irresponsible and at odds with his own windy statements. (Witness the glowing otherworldly declaration of God-given equality in the Declaration, and his own conduct with slaves.) None of the founders was a perfect philosopher or prognosticator. We can start with something as glaring as the mealy-mouthed papering-over of slavery issues, in service of uniting various the disparate states into a nation (which had to be done, perhaps, as it seemed at the time, to ascend the next rung to nationhood and deal with other competitive sovereigns), and what an awful gaping wound that proved (and has proved with a long shadow into today) to be. I say all this as an ardent admirer of the U.S. Constitution. This book is a fine, listenable, extended reflection on various aspects of the matter. It has a point of view, but never so annoyingly as to preclude stimulating some worthwhile thinking.
Not unlike the book, The Quartet, this text effectively demonstrates how utterly ridiculous the constant references to our Founding Fathers as a defense or justification for current political positions truly is. Tea Partiers talk of "No compromise" and "stay true to the text of the Constitution" when the text was specifically born of Compromise and intentionally left the Founding Document replete with ambiguities intended as a framework upon which a functioning Federal government to be built and allow for general principles to guide elected leaders rather than constrain them.
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