American politicians always try to evoke the “founders” or “founding fathers” of the U.S. of A. to argue for their policies, or simply to reinforce their patriotism. I think those eighteenth-century gentlemen would actually be struck speechless by today’s issues, not to mention today’s technology, clothing, and general egalitarianism. And if you don’t look too hard, it’s possible to invoke their words or actions to support nearly anything.
That said, politicians’ remarks on the founders can still be useful to judging how they think. Do they show a respect for historical facts? Do they show the ability to think logically and critically, to identify important principles and recognize difficult truths instead of easy falsehoods?
One cogent example of a reference to America’s founders appeared in this 8 Sept 2008 dispatch from the presidential campaign trail, written by Peter Slevin for the Washington Post:
Sen. Barack Obama delivered an impassioned defense of the Constitution and the rights of terrorism suspects tonight, striking back at one of the biggest applause lines in Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s speech to the GOP convention.As a contrast, here’s vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s invocation of the founders in a response to a questionnaire from the hard-right Eagle Forum Alaska during her run for governor in 2006. (After this exchange received national attention, the webpage was deleted, but it survives on an archive site.)
It was in St. Paul last week that Palin drew raucous cheers when she delivered this put-down of Obama: “Al-Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America and he’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights.”
Obama had a few problems with that.
“First of all, you don’t even get to read them their rights until you catch ’em,” Obama said here, drawing laughs from 1,500 supporters in a high school gymnasium. “They should spend more time trying to catch Osama bin Laden and we can worry about the next steps later.”
If the plotters of the Sept. 11 attacks are in the government's sights, Obama went on, they should be targeted and killed.
“My position has always been clear: If you’ve got a terrorist, take him out,” Obama said. “Anybody who was involved in 9/11, take ’em out.”
But Obama, who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago for more than a decade, said captured suspects deserve to file writs of habeas corpus.
Calling it “the foundation of Anglo-American law,” he said the principle “says very simply: If the government grabs you, then you have the right to at least ask, ‘Why was I grabbed?’ And say, ‘Maybe you’ve got the wrong person.’” . . .
“The reason that you have this principle is not to be soft on terrorism. It’s because that’s who we are. That’s what we’re protecting,” Obama said, his voice growing louder and the crowd rising to its feet to cheer. “Don’t mock the Constitution. Don’t make fun of it. Don’t suggest that it’s not American to abide by what the founding fathers set up. It’s worked pretty well for over 200 years.”
11. Are you offended by the phrase “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not?The phrase “under God” was added to the pledge in 1954. Francis Bellamy wrote the rest of the pledge in 1892. The founding fathers never heard it.
SP: Not on your life. If it was good enough for the founding fathers, its good enough for me and I’ll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance.
Photo above by jimbowen0306 on Flickr. This one’s neat, too.