Monday, July 13, 2009

Today, Would Jefferson Be a Democrat or a Republican?

Both the Democrats and the Republicans like to think of themselves as the true heirs of Thomas Jefferson. The modern Democrats are historically descended from the Democratic-Republican Party that Jefferson himself organized to thwart the ambitions of Alexander Hamilton (although, ironically, they were known as "Republicans" in Jefferson's time). Democrats around the country annually celebrate Jefferson-Jackson Dinners, avowedly declaring a connection between Jefferson and the modern Democratic Party. But Republicans claim that their platform of small government and low taxes is more in line with true Jeffersonian philosophy than that of the big-government Democrats.

So, let us ask ourselves this: if Jefferson were alive today, would he be a member of the Democratic or Republican Party?

The answer: neither.

Let's begin with examining why Jefferson wouldn't have been a member of Republican Party. Firstly, Jefferson was a strict believer in the "wall of separation of church and state". Indeed, he coined the term himself in his famous letter to the Danbury Baptists. Needless to say, the modern Republican Party does not share this position, as it is largely dominated by a group of people who clearly disdain the separation of church and state. Had Jefferson seen the efforts by the Religious Right to subvert science education, enforce religious standards for judicial nominees, divert taxpayer money to religious institutions, and use the power of government to regulate personal moral behavior, Jefferson would have been horrified. Indeed, he likely would have considered the Religious Right the most dangerous people in America.

Secondly, Jefferson believed in keeping military expenditures minimal and holding to a largely pacifistic foreign policy. The modern Republican Party, by contrast, believes in pouring gargantuan amounts of money into a vast military-industrial complex, including military projects of huge expense and very dubious value. In a time of severe budget pressures and rapidly mounting national debt, this policy has contributed to the bankruptcy of the nation.

Furthermore, Jefferson believed that war should only be resorted to if absolutely necessary; indeed, he strenuously avoided war with Britain in 1807, even when the entire country was clamoring for it. By contrast, the last Republican administration almost gleefully invaded Iraq, a country that had not attacked the United States and had no plans to do so. Jefferson would have supported the campaign in Afghanistan, which was undertaken in response to a direct attack (and in which we can see parallels with his campain against the Barbary Pirates), but he would have fiercely opposed the invasion of Iraq as an unnecessary war of choice, and it would have tainted the Republican Party in his eyes.

Jefferson would have agreed with the planks in the Republican platform calling for lower taxes, smaller government, and balanced budgets. But he would immediately have noted that, during their years in power, the Republicans singularly declined to implement their own stated policies. Indeed, they massively increased the size of government and transformed a sizable budget surplus into an immense budget deficit.

There are more areas where Jefferson would have fundamentally disagreed with the Republican Party, from warrantless wiretaping to blatant cronyism in government appointments (remember this guy?). But the most obvious reasons Jefferson would never have been a Republican are the fact that the party is largely controlled by the Religious Right and its militaristic attitude to defense spending and foreign policy.

So, Jefferson would obviously not be a Republican. Would he, therefore, be a Democrat?

No, he wouldn't. Jefferson would have firmly rejected the Democratic Party's over-reliance on the power of the federal government, whose powers Jefferson clearly believed should be strictly limited. The vast powers of modern federal institutions would have dismayed Jefferson, who would have believed that they sap the self-reliance of the people, and therefore indirectly sap their liberty.

A few quick examples should make the point. Jefferson would have asked why we have a federal Department of Education; shouldn't educational issues be decided on a purely local level? He would question the purpose of a federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, when a truly self-reliant people would be expected to deal with such issues on a community level, without resource to the government at all. And do we really need the federal government, rather than the German-American community, to declare October 6 to be German-American Day?

Jefferson believed profoundly that government at all levels should be limited only to activities that meet two criteria: 1) activities which are necessary, and 2) activities which only the government alone can do. If an activity is not necessary, then the government shouldn't bother with it. And if an activity can be done by ordinary people without recourse to the power of government, then the people should do it on their own. The modern Democratic Party does not feel the same way, as demonstrated by the whirlwind of federal programs they constantly propose and create, and this is the main reason that Jefferson would spurn them.

Jefferson also would have strongly opposed the current policy of President Obama and the Democratic Congress of incurring massive federal budget deficits, leading to a shocking increase in an already-disastrous national debt. Granted, the Republicans took a budget surplus and foolishly blew it, but President Obama's spending in his first year in office is much higher than spending was in any year of the Bush administration. Looking at this, the Shakespearean line "a plague on both your houses" would certainly have crossed Jefferson's mind.

The 21st Century Jeffersonian is not necessarily a Republican and not necessarily a Democrat. He or she participates fully in politics on all levels, but judges each candidate on his or her individual merits. And if 21st Century Jeffersonians believe that none of the candidates in a given election truly represent their values, they should step up to the plate and run for office themselves.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

you say Obama's spending is more in 1 year then any of Bush's 8 Years.
Bush administration for the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) and government takeovers of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the deficit would total $1.2 trillion. The Total for 2009 is 1.4 Trillion you do the math & wonder if people know that the 2009 budget started in Oct 2008

Anonymous said...

Nowhere in the Constitution does it say separation of church and state. Jefferson used those words loosely to calm the concerns of the Danbury Baptists. Clinton admitted it was his mistake that caused the housing crisis that Bush inherited and tried to warn us but the Dems ridiculed him.

Anonymous said...

Both of your comments are talking points used by their respective parties or ideologies. The fact of the matter is Democrats want to spend republican's money and republicans order a steak and lobster dinner and then say they forgot their wallet. Two different styles with the same result. Neither of which has anything to do with Jefferson. That another way he is different than either party.

Anonymous said...

he is most closely aligned with libertarians

Anonymous said...

Really opened my eyes and made some very good points, nice work

Martha Heppler Lahey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Strong point. It's always money that republicans want. We want money too! Not ah steak an lobster. Health care, Dental insurance, a great paying job with all the benefits, voices to be heard, our vote really count shoot I can go on, an on. Power to the people & People to the Power! !!

Anonymous said...

Jefferson said "Free men do not ask permission to bear arms." He also believed in small government and individual liberties...clearly not views of the democratic party today.

LittleImpaler said...

Yes, it does say in the Constitution. There is separation between Church and State.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," < That right there means Separation between Church and State.

Religion is a choice in America, not a must. Religion cannot be government. Nor can government force religion onto the people.

LittleImpaler said...

Yes, it does say in the Constitution. There is separation between Church and State.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," < That right there means Separation between Church and State.

Religion is a choice in America, not a must. Religion cannot be government. Nor can government force religion onto the people.

Charles John said...

Jefferson was telling the Baptists that the state would not interfere in thier religious practice. That was the purpose of the separation of church and state. It was a letter to Baptists. Which today is taken out if it's original context.

There two things much overlooked.
1- that our Constitution states that there will be no STATE SPONSORED RELIGION.
HOWEVER...
2 - Christian religious belief was the general religion of our nation as it is written in the blocks of our buildings and courthouses all over colonial America. And in many of our colonial writings. To ignore it is to be erroneous to rewrite history.

Also, regarding military usage he was more likely more closely libertarian (as in today's libertarian thought) in thought. In that he believed that we should not get involved in the affairs of other countries. (However, look up his thoughts on the Muslims. A good read Btw.)

The writer here skews us with his own thoughts and idea and makes Jefferson into a person of God own liking, rather than reporting on the person that Jefferson actually was.

I would rather enjoin the reader to search out books on Jefferson yourself and learn about the man and you will know, rather than read the rewriters of history.

Charles John said...

"person of God own liking"
Should read...
Person of his own liking

Charles John said...

"person of God own liking"
Should read...
Person of his own liking

Charles John said...

Jefferson was telling the Baptists that the state would not interfere in thier religious practice. That was the purpose of the separation of church and state. It was a letter to Baptists. Which today is taken out if it's original context.

There two things much overlooked.
1- that our Constitution states that there will be no STATE SPONSORED RELIGION.
HOWEVER...
2 - Christian religious belief was the general religion of our nation as it is written in the blocks of our buildings and courthouses all over colonial America. And in many of our colonial writings. To ignore it is to be erroneous to rewrite history.

Also, regarding military usage he was more likely more closely libertarian (as in today's libertarian thought) in thought. In that he believed that we should not get involved in the affairs of other countries. (However, look up his thoughts on the Muslims. A good read Btw.)

The writer here skews us with his own thoughts and idea and makes Jefferson into a person of God own liking, rather than reporting on the person that Jefferson actually was.

I would rather enjoin the reader to search out books on Jefferson yourself and learn about the man and you will know, rather than read the rewriters of history.

Unknown said...

The author did not state nor imply those EXACT words were in the document. He correctly cites the Danbury letter correctly and no, it wasnt a political calming of fears. TJ truly meant for that wall. He also went on to say that it is our right to choose our own religion - or none at all! But this was in personal life, not where govt touches.

Baron Bucki said...

Do i glean you think dems are not after your money?? Sure are and will pocket, or pour it down the govt sewer of worthless and never-ending programs.

Baron Bucki said...

Overlooked is the influence of the Enlightenment on TJ and the founding fathers. Great book was written how many of them could have been closet atheists or at least far less religious than most neocons wish
Also, it wasnt just a strong, singular religion being forced on them -- it was their fear of that religion being cloaked in the iron glove of govt!

Baron Bucki said...

Overlooked is the influence of the Enlightenment on TJ and the founding fathers. Great book was written how many of them could have been closet atheists or at least far less religious than most neocons wish
Also, it wasnt just a strong, singular religion being forced on them -- it was their fear of that religion being cloaked in the iron glove of govt!

Baron Bucki said...

Do i glean you think dems are not after your money?? Sure are and will pocket, or pour it down the govt sewer of worthless and never-ending programs.

Unknown said...

Yes, CONGRESS shall make no law, every state of the original 13 had state sponsored official church denominations, both befire and till long after ratification.
Sorry

Russell Deming said...

Yes, CONGRESS shall make no law, every state of the original 13 had state sponsored official church denominations, both befire and till long after ratification.
Sorry