And here is some more support for my post yesterday on the differences between how conservatives and liberals regard the country. I'd written that many liberals only focus on the blemishes of our country's past and can't get past the fact that the Founders allowed slavery to persist. That's it - forget about those dead white guys. And that is exactly the point that Mark Kurlansky makes in another irritating column in the Los Angeles Times.
I've quoted most of Betsy's post, but go ahead and follow the links back to her page for some additional edification.SOMEONE HAS TO SAY IT or we are never going to get out of this rut: I am sick and tired of the founding fathers and all their intents. The real American question of our times is how our country in a little over 200 years sank from the great hope to the most backward democracy in the West. The U.S. offers the worst healthcare program, one of the worst public school systems and the worst benefits for workers. The margin between rich and poor has been growing precipitously while it has been decreasing in Europe. Among the great democracies, we use military might less cautiously, show less respect for international law and are the stumbling block in international environmental cooperation. Few informed people look to the United States anymore for progressive ideas.We ought to do something. Instead, we keep worrying about the vision of a bunch of sexist, slave-owning 18th century white men in wigs and breeches. Even in the 18th century, the founding fathers were not the most enlightened thinkers available. They were the ones whose ideas prevailed.That same healthcare system provides most of the medical discoveries and drugs that the rest of the world depends on. Perhaps Mr. Kurlansky would like to rely soley on Canadian or Swedish pharmaceuticals next time he gets sick. That same backward economy that he derides so much provides enough so that we're the country that others look to when there is a natural or manmade disaster. We don't see those great European economies he admires so much supplying the leadership in fighting diseases in Africa or tsunami relief in Asia. And that great international environmental cooperation he wishes we'd stop blocking is coming up short in every single country on reaching the Kyoto goals that Bill Clinton didn't even submit to the Senate for a vote because they told him in a 95 to 0 vote not to bring it to them. And perhaps he might read a little about the unemployment problems in France and Germany and the simmering immigration and religious conflicts in the Europe he so admires....
To explicate Kurlansky's misuse of history, I must tell you a bit about John Dickinson. Yes, John Dickinson opposed declaring independence in the summer of 1776, but it was the timing he opposed, not the principle. He'd written the Olive Branch petition, the colonists last attempt to resolve the conflict peacably. But he'd also co-authored with Thomas Jefferson the pamphlet, "Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms" in which he wrote that Americans were “resolved to die freemen rather than live slaves." Dickinson didn't sign the Declaration on principle but he also volunteered to serve in the Continental Army. Later he served in the Continental Congress and wrote the Articles of Confederation. And he was one of the drafters of the Constitution. So, he might be a lesser known Founding Father, but he is definitely a Founder and well worth studying. But he's not some sort of proof that the other founders were unenlightened yobs. And, by the way, Mr. Kurlansky, my students do learn about Dickenson and they read excerpts from his arugments against the Townshend Acts in his Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania.
Kurlansky may be sick of the Founders and not give a whoop-dee-doo about the nation they created, but the rest of us can be glad that our nation had the most amazing collection of brilliant and brave men back in the 18th century to create a country based on the revolutionary idea that we are equal and all entitled to rights that no one could take away from us. Other countries had philosophers who wrote about such ideas, but only we had people who actually created such a country. And our country's history is the story of how we've been working since then to live up to the ideals at the foundation of our nation.
As if to prove the accuracy of what I wrote yesterday, Kurlansky can't see beyond the sins of our country's past to see that it was those very founding principles that contained the promise of what our can become. All he can see are the warts. And with such a wizened view of life, he'll never be able to appreciate what makes this country the one that so many people from all over the world want to come here instead of the other way around. What a sour and pinched way of looking at the world.