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Commentary founding-fathers

Published on January 14th, 2013 | by James Schlarmann

20

Who Gives a Shit What The Founders Thought?

Americans are sentimental. The past and those that came before us, we honor at every chance given. We are a society that values tradition. Whether you’re of a religious bent or not, chances are there are traditions and customs you practice because they were passed down to you – a baton passing from generation to generation – and what is done with that baton is what forms our two major political stakeholders. The Liberals and the Conservatives. The left-leaning liberals want to take that baton and run forward as hard and as fast as we can. The conservatives suggest perhaps just pausing, right where we’re at, and preserve things as they are as to prevent societal decline.

I’m not suggesting that conservatives are the brakes of progress. There have been plenty of political conservatives that have made contributions to mankind’s progress. And just because I can’t think of a single one right now, doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.  Liberals have icons like Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln (yes, I meant that, and no, not ironically). Conservatives have icons like Ronald Reagan, Ronald Reagan, and Ronald Reagan. Regardless of which side one finds themself on though, tradition and near genuflection to the past is part and parcel to American politics.

 Each side pays tribute to the gurus of the past in various ways, referring to them in speeches to illicit warm feelings of accomplishments past. There is one group though, that both liberals and conservatives bow and scrape to. The group that all parties involved believe they are direct descendants of, shepherding their ideology. The Founding Fathers.

But honestly, have you have asked yourself, “Who the fuck cares what George Washington would think about cap-and-trade?” If you haven’t, you’re doing it wrong.

Before I go much further with this, let me make something clear. I’m a big fan of the Founders. I think studying them, their thoughts on a free society, and the work they did to create this nation is invaluable. We can learn from their mistakes, and we can also learn from their triumphs. All things considered, they were able to pull off a rather extraordinary task. They beat the world’s most powerful empire – at the time at least –  and established a new, sovereign and “free” society.

Everyone likes to put themselves in the shoes of Thomas Jefferson or John Adams when contemplating a challenge we face today, as if a man who lived over two hundred years ago would have the slightest clue how to solve an issue like whether or not citizens should be allowed to own and stockpile assault rifles, or what role the government should have in policing the Internet. Frankly they lived and died so long ago that it seems a trap to get too caught up in what they would have felt or said in regard to any issue that faces us today. 

We can argue all we want about what the Founders intended when they wrote the Second Amendment into the Constitution. But in the end, does it matter? As Jefferson said himself, “The earth belongs always to the living generation.” Jefferson then clearly understood the bounds of mortality, and that once his time had expired here, it was going to be up to those left behind to do with the country what they pleased.

The genius then of the Constitution is the mechanism of revision built right into it; the amendment process. The existence of that amendment process indicates the Founders at least had an idea that they couldn’t expect everything to stay as it was the day they signed the Constitution. And isn’t that a good thing? There are millions of African-Americans in this country who I’m sure would much prefer the updated Constitution to its original version. The fact is that many of the men we hold in high regard for creating this country also happened to participate in its most sinister vice, the trafficking of human beings. Would we love Thomas Jefferson today if he was just a rich, racist, old white dude from Virginia? Probably not. Of course, he wasn’t those things, and you can’t boil Jefferson down into a distillation of a human. He was imperfect but still made a positive impact on us.

No one who walks on the Earth can predict the future, not with any real certainty. So why do we insist on shackling ourselves to these old men instead of bravely taking their challenge to guide this country into the future? I’m not suggesting we throw the baby out with the bath water, but how about some modernity? How about some acknowledgment that nearly 250 years have passed and that is a long fucking time? It’s as if we’re afraid to hear Tommy, Ben or George rolling over in their graves if we tweak or update something.

I am of the opinion that the Second Amendment was a means to ensure that our citizens would be armed should the Brits decide to come back and quarter themselves in our homes. In fact, many of the amendments in the Bill of Rights I believe are built-in protection against future invasion and occupation, not from our own government. Our government is a response to tyranny, not a tyranny itself. If you think you live in an oppressive country now, try Syria on for size. 

But let’s play a little Devil’s Advocate and pretend that indeed the Founders envisioned a future where everyone would have the necessary firepower to wage their own small-scale war. They’d be wrong. That’s it, just flat-out wrong. What does it say about a populace that is so afraid of the other guy’s gun that rather than sit down at a table and discuss what kinds of guns sensible should own, we just keep buying a bigger gun than our neighbor? It says that something went belly up somewhere along the line and we’re in need of a course correction.

The same can be said of marriage equality or women’s suffrage. Again, the genius of the Constitution is that it gives us a chance as a society for an “Oh, Duh!” moment. Those are times where you realize you’ve been missing something or doing something wrong for a long time, but you’re completely capable of doing it correctly now. Our country’s history is full of those such times. It’s what being in a representative democracy is all about. The power of this nation isn’t necessarily in the lone voice, it’s in the lone voice that finds like-minded citizens and then amplifies its volume to ensure the message is heard and action is taken.

Someone very angrily asked me the other day who the fuck I was to tell them what kind of guns they can own. I told them, “I am an American citizen. That’s who I am to tell you what kind of guns you can own. You’re allowed to disagree with me, and if you get enough people on your side that outnumber my side, you win! But guess what? The same goes for me. If I get enough people to agree with me, I win.”

They didn’t have a response.

“You can’t take it with you” is an adage that attempts to explain the idea of mortality. It puts it into a context of “worldly” things. You can’t take anything with you when you die, especially not a set in stone policy that allows for unlimited armament of the citizens. It’s our duty to evaluate and re-evaluate our laws incessantly, because life changes incessantly. Slavery is no longer legal in this country because enough people had finally decided that perhaps owning another human being was not an American value after all. Why can we not have a frank and honest discussion with each other in the same way about guns?

The problem of course is our reactionary ways. The “discussion” over slavery in this country turned into a long and bloody war, so the nightmare that could ensue over gun rights is something certainly to be considered. But we owe it to ourselves to have that conversation about guns anyway. And about marriage equality, and what we consider a “dangerous” drug as opposed to a vice that should be taxed and regulated heavily. We have to do that because life is not stationary, it does not stop moving, ever. A deifying of the Founders, to the point that we are have real trepidation over changing even a single word in a two-hundred year old document is not a healthy way to continue moving society forward.

The bottom line as I see things is fairly simple. What is the point of being alive now if we’re not even going to attempt to make life better according to how we know it to be? We can look to the Founders for inspiration, and for lessons, but at the end of our lives, we will be held accountable for what we did, not what they did. If we cannot at the very least improve things, much less solve them, then we have failed. We have failed not just ourselves, but our children, and ironically we’ve failed the Founders.

After all, it’s not up to the Founders to figure out how to stop climate change, it’s up to us. It’s not up to the Founders to figure out how to make education our nation’s number one achievement again, it’s up to us to do that too. It’s not up to the Founders to declare that just because you’re attracted to your own gender that doesn’t make you ineligible for committed love, it’s up to us to make that declaration. And it’s not up to the Founders to keep our citizens out of the sights of a gunman, it’s up to us. Those long dead can do nothing to make life better; that’s up to Jefferson’s “living generation.”

We are the living generation. Let’s own the Earth.

 

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About the Author

James is the founding contributor and editor-in-chief of The Political Garbage Chute, a left-leaning satire and commentary site, which can be found on Facebook as well. You definitely should not give that much a shit about his opinions.



  • Mose

    A great point that has been lost in the rhetoric. I would add that we have the obligation to correct not only the mistakes (or simply outdated issues) of the Founders, but also of previous political eras. Prohibition was inflicted on the country due in large part to a potent combination of religious wing-nuts, cynical business interests, mercenary operatives, and political strong-arm tactics (sound familiar?). But the citizenry finally came to realize that it was more harmful than beneficial to our society, and repealed it. The Founders’ big idea of a progressive democratic republic is endangered most by apathy and paralysis – either we sit around and do nothing, or we feel we are up against a political machine that is seemingly too big to fail. I wonder what Adams and Jefferson would have to say about that.

  • http://gravatar.com/annakurtz01 annakurtz01

    Perhaps your suggestion that Conservatives are the “brakes” of progress is correct…It would seem so to this old phart!!

  • http://gravatar.com/chuckbob666 chuckbob666

    And if you don’t think you live in an oppressive country, where the DEA can crash through your door in the wee hours of the morning, drag you and your family out onto the lawn at gunpoint, trash your home, take everything you own and never even charge you; where we just passed a law stating that government can identify any American citizen they choose as a terrorist, abduct and incarcerate you, and give you no due process; establish what amount of your earnings they are entitled to, take them and spend them on whatever they choose without any input from you; I could go on: Then we must have very different interpretations of the term “oppressive”. The argument “this country is not oppressive because we’re not as bad as Syria” is not an argument. Syria didn’t fight and die for their freedom, we did, and we have a responsibility to safeguard that. The argument “the citizens of this country cannot defend themselves against a military that so outpasses them in technology and manpower” is also a straw man, because it neglects the underlying fact that this military is comprised of the citizens. If a faction were to try and establish martial law in this country the most likely scenario is that there would be other factions that would resist, miltary units would turn against each other as they took sides, and we’d have civil war. Do we need to limit the availability of military-grade armaments available to John Q. Public? Of course, the notion that a rural hunter needs a weapon capable of firing 60 rounds per minute is ludicrous. But be careful not to get so caught up in the rhetoric that you presume your government is your friend, or has your best interest at heart. The government is a very broken machine, that needs dramatic reform from the ground up, and their track record shows very clearly that the only interests they really represent are themselves and their ultra-wealthy patrons. I view government as a necessary evil, but understand that it is fallible, because of the human nature of its existence. It is our obligation to keep close eye on our officials, and “keep them honest”, so they can serve the purpose they exist for, and, frankly, we’ve done a pretty lousy job so far.

    • Evan Stevens

      The DEA is all you say and so much more. It is based, and dependent on a thriving drug trade. The whole organization is so narrowly focused that it cannot “win” its’ war, nor will it. Like a leach, the DEA will never kill its’ host.

    • emma

      you’re not very bright are you? “With out any input from you” you are aware of your right to vote, and your responsibility to make sure that the people elected to represent you are aware of the desires of their constituency, and are pushing legislation that is in your best interests. you must be unaware of the democratic process. I would also say that your definition of “oppressive” is asinine. you know that most conspiracy theories you read on the interwebz are false, correct? that our government is definitely not perfect, but it’s major flaws are actually more caused by apathetic citizens an less by some sort of pseudo totalitarian government system. If these concepts are unfamiliar to you I fully expect you have your escape plan for when FEMA comes to round you up..:-/

      • http://gravatar.com/chuckbob666 chuckbob666

        Firstly, what purpose do you serve by being insulting? As a matter of fact, yes, I am very bright. Secondly, if you suppose your “vote” really has the impact you suggest I would propose that you are very naive. Your “elected” representative was probably placed there by some PAC, and even if not the number of politicans who are “above the influence” are a meager handful indeed. Write Bernie Sanders and ask him how lonely he’s felt on Capitol Hill. Thirdly, my “definition” of opression is not asinine, it’s actually the definition of oppression: “unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power “. Both of the first two incidents I described fit that definition very aptly, and the third is certainly arguable. These are not “internet conspiracy theories”. There have been scores of very clearly written news accounts of the DEA’s activities at least back into the 70’s, when I first read them. The indefinite detainment clause was woven quietly into last year’s defense spending bill. There’s this stuff called “information”, and if you read, look and listen to the world around you you can obtain this substance yourself. You can pick other sources than the internet, and I’d recommend you do so. In addition, take a little time and read the NEWS reports on the illicit activities of local and federal government for the last, oh, 30 years or so should do and get informed about the sheer volume of corruption inherent in the current system. I’m not some snot-nose that just passed poli-sci, lady, I started contrasting mainstream and underground press to find out as much truth about the news as I could in my 20’s, and have unfortunately seen far too many examples up close and personal in local govt. If you want to hide your head in the sand and pretend the government, police, the legal system are your friend, be my guest, but fortunately there are still enough reasonable Americans who are capable of thinking for themselves, and the evidence does not, imho, support that conclusion. I’m no wolf, but sheep are stupid. As far as addressing your final “dig” goes, if you missed the general tenor of my post (which I would fully anticipate) I’m actually quite liberal and a lifelong Democrat, so mistaking me for some survivalist Tea-party nut-job is about as dense as I can imagine. Perhaps before you start shooting off your big mouth you should open a newspaper and get some actual knowledge about the subject, you knee-jerk reactionary harpy.

  • http://gravatar.com/rickelis rickelis

    Our Founding Fathers had a big advantage. Being products of the Age of Enlightenment, they were enlightened, by definition. This means they understood how life works and had a good handle on the Universal Cycle of Life. Such a condition allows for the ability to see where you were, where you are now, and where you will be in the future. It gives you the power to solve problems and answer questions, pretty much any question. And, concerning our government of the people, by the people and for the people – We the People – in this new Age We will be taking responsibility for our government. Good things are ahead, because we’ve bottomed out and there’s no place to go but up.

  • Tara

    I , for one, will never have the US government come into my home and call me a terrorist.. why? Because I don’t engage in terrorist activity so there is no need to classify me as such. I will also never have DEA raid my home.. why? Because I do not use or sell drugs and am not associated with anyone that does or would. It’s usually those that “fear” such things fear them for good reason. I think American citizens need to get schooled in Third World nations and life in them.. lest they forget that the taxes they bitch about make the infrastructure and social safety net that prevent us from becoming a Third World Nation. Obviously we are so for from the industrial revolution and days of child labor, long hours and lousy pay of the dawn of the industrial age pre-regulation, that they don’t realize how crappy it was. Taxes, regulations, social safety nets; they all helped to create a middle class. I love when they talk about how there is no medical care guaranteed in the constitution, yet blatantly ignore the fact that if someone so much as got a bad cold they were likely to die from it because medicine and the practice of it hardly existed.
    They also forget that one of the founding fathers, Jefferson, was first to propose a PUBLIC school system whereby ALL citizens would have equal access to an education without regard to the ability to pay for it. And that nations that do NOT have that are , well third world nations!
    The world that the crazy tea party nut jobs want is a pretty scary one indeed. I think they need a time machine so that they can live like the founding fathers did . They wouldn’t last a week, hell probably a day!

    • http://gravatar.com/chuckbob666 chuckbob666

      And, again, spend some real time reading news accounts. The number of people who have been injustly persecuted by the DEA is staggering. They weren’t selling drugs or associating or anything else. That’s why they were never charged. But their lives were still ruined and their posessions never returned. Likewise, if the government never charges you for terrorism that would indicate they don’t have much of a case, wouldn’t it? So why would they write a law into a defense spending bill that completely abrogates your 6th amendment right to a trial? And why wouldn’t you be up in arms about that anyway? Why are so many people in this country so willfully stupid? “Oh, it could never happen to me!” Jesus. I don’t object to taxation, it’s also a necessary evil. I object to taxation without representation, and paying more in corporate handouts than we did in Medicaid and food stamps combined last year damned sure isn’t representing me. Everybody who doesn’t just implicitly trust our government isn’t a tea party nut job, a lot of us are just realists. Again, why would anybody want to be a sheep? Get informed.

      • http://gravatar.com/chuckbob666 chuckbob666

        Oh, and one more point: you mentioned long hours and lousy pay. Are you aware that, adjusted for inflation, the current minimum wage in this country is worth less than it was in 1968? And that, thanks to “right to work” laws, workers have less protection under the law than they have since at least the 1970’s? And that the median average wage has increased slightly over 4 times, the average cost of living has risen by well over 6 times, and the average CEO’s salary has increased by over 1000 times, since 1970? Still suffering from the misconception that your government is looking out for you?

  • carol booher

    i feel that if you could bring back the founding fathers and show them the mess that george Bush left this country in they would recoil in horror and they would not be educated enough by todays standards to deal with the problems we have so what is the big deal about the founding fathers they are dead they are gone and they fought for the country not against it like the conservatives do every time they obstruct the President

  • http://none Frank R

    Guess u missed that time the DEA went to the wrong house, and killed a woman in her 80s, or shot some Mayor’s dogs (both black people…)You are exactly what the government wants in a citizen / sheep. Probably LEO in some capacity.

  • Evan Stevens

    The 2nd Amendment does not deny “the right of the people” to bear arms. The 10th Amendment guarantees the right of the people to anything not specifically limited by the Constitution, where that does not infringe.
    It is ludicrous to say that anybody living in the 16th century outside of a city had no other need of a weapon than to defend against an oppressive regime. It would be ludicrous today. Bears will kill/eat you if they feel the whim, sometimes attacking in a team of 2 or 3. Cow and 2 year old cubs or adult siblings. There are several other large mammal species that would have no trouble killing you too. The problem resides exclusively in population centers.
    The absolute best way to prevent mass murders right now is to alleviate the public unrest caused by shrinking public medical services, unemployment and poverty level jobs.
    It’s the unrest, stupid!
    Besides, if Sheriffs started going door-to-door, registering and confiscating guns from 200 million gun owners, I think the results would make Ruby Ridge and Waco look like two little crumbs that fell off the banquet table.

    • http://gravatar.com/chuckbob666 chuckbob666

      Well said.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fionamacknz Fiona Mackenzie

    Believe what you like. I am convinced this nation could not have survived 224 years without a fundamental document. Just one example: when things get too inequitable and out of hand, the matter goes to the Supreme Court which (not this one, but most) decides it independent of the other branches of government, in a manner they consider consistent with the Constitution. Without a document, this process which replaces revolutionary war would be impossible.

  • Erik Madison

    That is quite possibly the greatest article ever written on the subject. Very well done!

    • James

      I tip my cap to thee, sir. Thank you for the kind words.

  • TommyNIK

    Nicely done.

  • Pipercat

    This is also the underlying thesis to my argument regarding the founders. (I like that term for them, too) The Constitution begins with three words larger than the rest, We The People. Moreover, the preamble is the most important part of the document because that’s the part that provides its legitimacy. This means the Constitution is a legacy, not a prophecy as the “strict interpretation” crowd suggests.

  • Charles Vincent

    “What is the point of being alive now if we’re not even going to attempt to make life better according to how we know it to be?”
    Simple answer you live how you see fit and I wont bust your balls, and in return I get to do the same.

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