Just for fun, for a snark, I was thinking the other night about American politicians from the past who would have to be unacceptable to true progressives today--those amongst us who love the Constitution and will defend it at all costs. True patriots, actually--yes they are. Those who say that Obama's FISA stance is a deal-breaker. Most won't contribute or volunteer, some won't even vote for him. So I wondered: What other politicians from our history did things that would have to have been deal-breakers for our good progressives today?
I came up with quite a list, and posted it in a comment here. The list included many of our major founding fathers, plus most of the liberal icons from the 20th century. Since then I've thought up a few more. Many of these gentlemen indeed would be eliminated on the basis of a single issue (to answer a question in one of the replys to my comment)--but those issues are doozies. Once I really thought about it, it wasn't a snark anymore.
Full disclaimer: I am not an actual historian, although I am a history buff. I'm no Constitutional scholar. Ergo, I welcome additions, flames, corrections and constructive comments from those with more expertise than I on these subjects. Here goes:
Slavery--How horrible a compromise was it?
First, we confront the issue of slavery. Obviously, no true progressive could support anyone who supported slavery. Do we have to make allowance for the change in general viewpoints from 1789 to today? I don't think so, and here's why: they knew better back then, too. Certainly the major Founders knew. Plenty of the Founders (Ben Franklin, John Jay and John Adams especially) were adamantly opposed to slavery. Franklin forcefully advocated abolition. John Jay tried to legislate emancipation. These men knew what slavery was, they knew the slaves were human beings. Yet Franklin and Jay, at least (Adams was out of the country for the Constitutional Convention), were willing to compromise their deeply held principles in order to get the Constitution in place. They allowed millions of their fellow Americans to suffer horribly and die under bondage for decades to come--as a compromise. I'd say that's serious.
[I am fully aware that I'm asking the impossible, in a practical sense, of our Founders here. But we're talking about good versus real evil.]
Franklin, Jay, and the other anti-slavery Constitutional Congress members threw their principles to the wind and went along, just to get the pragmatic result of a constitution. Some good progressives may be able to accept that action, as it resulted in the (now amended) Constitution we all defend. Others certainly could not. Obama has said he'll fix the FISA problem once he's in office, just as Franklin and Jay later tried to fix the slavery problem. Many won't accept Obama's excuses. Why would they accept Franklin's and Jay's?
Must we, therefore, lose Ben Franklin and John Jay?
The Southerners don't get off the hook here either. The major Southern Founders, for the most part, hated slavery, yet they too made this compromise and they themselves continued personally to hold slaves. Can we give George Washington a pass? Some may be willing to forgive him, as Washington freed his slaves in his will (the only slaveholding Founder to so so, I believe)--to take effect after Martha died. In the meantime, he kept hundreds of human beings in bondage, for years and years. Many won't be able to give him a pass on that.
Yes, we're talking single issues here, but deeply held, extremely important single issues. Slavery is major.
Of course, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe might have to go as well, because of the slavery issue. Jefferson (also absent from the Constitutional Convention) may be especially vulnerable, after his disgraceful treatment of Sally Hemmings. Madison and Monroe hated slavery and fumbled around for a way to end it, but all the while, kept their own slaves. Note that during their lifetimes, thousands of Virginians did free their slaves. Edward Coles, former secretary to Madison and a friend of Jefferson, relocated to Illinois in 1818 and freed his slaves there, against the advice of Jefferson. Coles became the second governor of Illinois, and successfully fought the pro-slavery forces there. Certainly, Jefferson especially would have faced severe financial hardship had he freed his slaves. The slaves experienced far worse hardships because he didn't.
These were smart guys. They were wise enough to found this nation. They knew the truth, yet they went along with evil.
Other Nefarious Actions
John Adams, who was virulently anti-slavery, wasn't part of the Constitutional compromise. But he signed the Alien and Sedition acts. With that action he attacked the Constitution. He threw people in jail because of what they wrote. Surely no true progressive, no one who loves and supports the Constitition, could possibly support John Adams.
If you feel you can give Jefferson a pass over slavery remember that Jefferson also, during his disasterous embargo, ordered that ships suspected of smuggling be searched without a warrant. Can progressives support a man who so flagrantly abrogated the Constitution?
Andrew Jackson (another slaveholder). Founder of the Democratic party. Remember the Trail of Tears? A single issue, but wasn't it a serious one? Didn't he cause the deaths, and quite callously at that, of thousands of Cherokee? How can anyone who loves the Constitution support such a man?
(This may mean that we'll have to jettison our Jefferson-Jackson dinners.)
Abraham Lincoln, let us not forget, hated slavery and signed the Emancipation Proclamation, although he did it primarily to help the Union. His proclamation left slaves legally in place in some areas of the country. But I don't think we can fault Lincoln too much on the slavery issue--he did, after all, actually issue the Proclaimation. However, he also suspended Habeus Corpus and threw many citizens in jail because of their political beliefs. Knowing that, how can we support him? Habeus Corpus, at least as much as the 4th Amendment, is a bedrock principle of liberty.
Teddy Roosevelt might just pass muster, although perhaps some good historian can set me straight on him.
So let's move on to Franklin Roosevelt, the icon of Democrats. The man flung thousands and thousands of Japanese--most of them American citizens--into concentration camps and kept them there for years. He didn't fling Americans of Italian or German ancestry into concentration camps (he even let Eisenhower run the European war), only the Japanese. It was one of the worst attacks on the Constitution in our history. How can any good Constitution-loving progressive support FDR, after that?
Harry Truman dropped the bomb and was unrepentant about it to the end of his life.
John Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy both supported Joe McCarthy's egregious attack on the Constitution. JFK was an aggressive cold warrior. He didn't personally like McCarthy much--thought McCarthy was too crude--but he supported McCarthy's efforts. RFK actually worked as counsel to McCarthy on his committee. And that was probably the worst assault on the Constitution since FDR's concentration camps, even including Nixon's shenanigans, until today. I'm not sure even The Decider has surpassed it yet, although he's trying. Could any true progressive support JFK or RFK after they supported Joe McCarthy? It makes Obama's FISA compromise pale in comparison.
Lyndon Johnson worked for and was hugely instrumental in passing both civil rights and voting rights legislation. He began the progressive Great Society. He spent enormous amounts of his own political capital to do these things. Then he spoiled it all with Vietnam. What true progressive could support the president who plunged us into the Vietnam war with lies?
James Carter? He lusted after women in his heart, but that's not unconstitutional. Other than that difficulty, someone will have to enlighten me abut Carter. Maybe he's OK.
William Jefferson Clinton? "The era of big government is over." The Defense of Marriage Act. Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Welfare reform. Corporatism. Even if those things aren't unconstitutional, how can progressives support him?
I've clean forgotten what the Nader voters' objections were to Al Gore, but those objections must have been plenty serious.
So. Our good progressives, who oppose Obama's FISA compromise, also could not possibly have supported most of the major architects of our nation. We may not have a nation today, had our modern friends been involved.
But, I repeat, I believe these good progressives indeed are true patriots. It's a dilemma.
I note that Teacherken also disucsses in his current diary some of the issues I discuss here. I'm not as discouraged. Personally, I think we'll survive as a nation. This is just to add a bit more perspective.