Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Go Ask a Founder…

A review of Richard Brookhiser’s What Would the Founders Do? (Our Questions Their Answers) (2006)

(Rating:4 of 5)

Often when one turns on the television to any political talk show, regardless of the station, it is not unusual to find someone on program invoking men from centuries past. The person will claim that founders of the United States would support position A (their position) and be against position B (their opponent’s position). Often the person will even argue that their opponent’s position is an outright betrayal of the founders’ vision. These ‘talking heads*’ often make quite a few assumptions with their statements. The biggest and most popular of these assumptions is that all the founders thought the same way. They did not, there were several founders and they all thought differently about different things. Therefore, for every idea you have, you probably could find a founder who would support that particular idea.

I have always wondered when people ask what Jefferson, Washington, or any other founder would want: do they consider biographical time lines? For example, if someone asks what Thomas Jefferson would feel about Obama’s health care plan, I always wonder which Tom Jefferson the person asking means.

· Is this person referring to the Thomas Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776?

· Is the person referring to President Thomas Jefferson in 1805?

· Is the person thinking of Jefferson as if he woke up from his really long nap he started on July 4th, 1826, and the first thing he does now that he has woken up is to pick up a newspaper and read about the new health care law?

· Do dead people learn things after they die?
That last one is important to me. After all, a great leader is not someone who believes in the same thing on Wednesday that he or she believed on Monday regardless what happened on Tuesday. I have often thought, through my own study of the Founding Fathers that, if given all the information, they would quite pleased with the country’s progress.

However, in his book, Brookhiser creates and interesting way of tying modern events to the founding era. He takes questions that modern Americans have and uses it to provide history lessons into how the founders handled similar situations in their time-period. One of the questions posed was: ‘were the founders were as poll driven as the politicians of today?’

“No one in the founding era was interrupted at dinner by some stranger asking his opinion of current events. Yet public opinion could be gauged, by demonstrations, by memorials---letters to politicians from citizen groups---and by newspapers. (Some founders thought measuring public opinion was all a newspaper was good for: ‘Like a thermometer,’ wrote Fisher Ames, ‘it will show what the weather is, but will not make it better’) The founding fathers disagreed, however, about how public opinion should be expressed, and what weight to give it.” p. 198-9

He then goes on to explain that George Washington hated lobbyists** and thought they were constitutional usurpers, while James Madison both liked and used them.

What Would the Founders Do?, is a fun book and great teaching tool. Those who read this book it will enjoy the fun in comparing the world of the founders to our own.

* “Talking heads" is an old phrase for news anchors and others who appear on T.V. news programs. It has nothing to do with the old rock band.

**To use a modern term.

{Video is a preview of the movie "Ghost" (1990), if you could not already tell.}

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