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Sunday, November 29, 2015
THE JEFFERSON RULE: WHY WE THINK the FOUNDING FATHERS HAVE ALL the ANSWERS (audiobook) by David Sehat
Published by Tantor Audio in May of 2015
Read by Tom Perkins
Duration: 8 hours, 16 minutes
If you are a person that likes to debate on the internet than you have undoubtedly experienced Godwin's Law. Godwin's Law states that if you debate long enough on the internet, someone will inevitably make a comparison to Nazism, Hitler, the Holocaust ("You don't like Donald Trump's hair? What are you the hairdo Nazi?!?").
A similar rule exists when discussing American politics - eventually someone will refer back to the Founding Fathers. It is especially easy to quote Thomas Jefferson - he was so prolific and well-written that it is easy to break out a quote to support your point of view. In the case of Jefferson, it is often too easy because he was extremely inconsistent in his political views. To start easy, he did write "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." And, he also owned a whole lot of people and certainly did not allow them liberty or the pursuit of happiness. He was also advocated strictly following the letter of the Constitution...until it suited him not to when he became President, like with the Louisiana Purchase.
So, Jefferson is quoted all of the time because, likely as not, he has written or uttered a very lofty-sounding quote that supports your point of view, no matter what it is. In short, the man was so inconsistent that he was, at one point or another, on your side and and at a different point he was also against it.
Sehat uses this as a jumping off point to look at two general phenomena. The first is the traditional big activist government vs. small strict constructionist government argument. In the Washington Administration this was personified with Alexander/Washington on one side and Jefferson on the other.
But, the argument continues throughout American history and Sehat looks at some of the high points in his study, including the debate on slavery, the two crises with secession, The New Deal, the Civil Rights movement, The Reagan Revolution, The War on Terror, Obamacare and the Tea Party movement.
In his second point, he notes that politicians have always referred back to the Founders and referred to them as if they were a united front, despite the ugly split in the Washington Administration itself. Also, the image of the Founders is changed as needed by current politicians.
I found the whole book to be fascinating and a well-told tour of American history. There were times when I thought Sehat was surprisingly harsh on the liberal side of things than I found him to be equally harsh on the conservative side. To be fair, I think Sehat is harsh on politicians in general and finds them all, no matter their political stripe, guilty of the same sin when it comes to referring to the Founding Fathers.
I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.
This book can be found on Amazon here:
The Jefferson Rule: Why We Think the Founding Fathers Have All the Answers