Washington Vs. Jefferson — Winner: Franklin By TKO

Washington / Jefferson / FranklinIn the buildup to the 2012 elections, we can anticipate candidates attempting to appropriate inaccurate depictions of the legacies of the Founding Fathers. But when it comes to real history, pound for pound, and in any fight between Jefferson and Washington, I’d put my money on Ben Franklin.

In one recent article posted to disinfo.com, and the attendant readers’ comments particularly grabbed my imagination:  “Dancing at the Memorial of a Slave Owner“, an examination of the events following the arrest of five persons for dancing near the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Of course the real importance of the article bears upon the current state of civil rights and free speech in the United States, not on Mr. Jefferson’s personal stance on slavery. The impression the piece left with me was a reinforced sense of America as a declining cultural as well as economic and military power, clinging desperately onto past imagined glories in a viciously ironic way that presents a tragi-comic contrast with the soaring notions of liberty articulated by Jefferson himself. In that context I regarded the reminder of Jefferson’s slave owning as an unnecessary distraction from current crises.

But the question of the contrast between the talk and the walk of our Founding Fathers is serious enough to bear repeated visits, especially as competing factions in this super-polarized nation step and stumble over one another to appropriate their legacies in the 2012 party nominations season. And the contrast between America’s two favorite founding fathers, Jefferson and Washington is probably a great place to begin. It provides the seminal branching off point to explain the two most popular sects in American political philosophy, just as the Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael split did after Ireland’s Civil War and the Whig/Tory split did after Britain’s Glorious Revolution: these philosophical divisions are very much alive today, all the more so for having a matter of centuries to incubate and articulate.

With a view towards the limitations offered by the blog posting medium, I’ll limit myself to extremely brief discussions of Jefferson and Washington’s response to what I think are the three most pressing issues confronting America today: economic policy, foreign policy and individual liberty.

Read the rest of this diverting drivel at Dystopia Diaries

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