John Adams, our second President and the father of American independence, died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the announcement of the Declaration of Independence. His last words were "Jefferson lives."
He was wrong. Thomas Jefferson, our third President and Adams's longtime nemesis, had actually died a few hours earlier. It was an amazing coincidence.
History has also been wrong about Thomas Jefferson. In truth, the man didn't live in the real world, but in a philosophical fantasy. His ideas were impractical at best, and often downright dangerous. His eloquent writings assured his fame, but his policies led America to bankruptcy and war.
To understand why Jefferson was unable to comprehend the real world, look at his upbringing. He was raised in a wealthy, old-money, landowning family. He was brought up to believe that because he had wealth he was entitled to it. He never learned fiscal management, and never lived within his means.
As a result, Jefferson fervently believed that the French revolution would lead to the spread of democracy throughout Europe. He felt the young America should involve itself in European wars, specifically that we should help liberate France and the rest of Europe from the evils of the British king.
The bad side of Jefferson's legacy lives on today in the person of George W. Bush.
George W. Bush was brought up in a rich family. His policies show that he believes that rich people are naturally entitled to their wealth, and poor people deserve to be poor. He has no concept of fiscal management, and our rising deficits are the result.
President Bush fervently believes that we should "liberate" the Arab world from the evils of dictators we put in power. He sincerely believes that we can cause a wave of democracy to wash over the Middle East. So far, to further in pursuit of George W. Bush's fantasy, over 1,300 Americans have died.
Jefferson was wrong about France; they ended up with Napoleon. Bush is wrong about Iraq; what Arab Napoleon awaits us we have yet to find out. Whoever emerges, unless America changes its foreign policy quickly and drastically, it will mean long years of war.
Meanwhile, the economic policies George W. Bush and his Republican allies have enacted are costing the U.S. millions of jobs and saddling us with record deficits. If this fiscal incompetence is allowed to continue, we are in trouble. We will not be able to finance the unending war that George W. Bush got us into. We will not have the money to pay for education. We will not have the resources to lower health care costs for consumers. We will get weaker while our opponents get stronger.
Back in Jefferson's day, the fledgling America could win the war because we were fighting on our home soil, and because fighting a foreign war was extremely expensive. Today, the fight is worldwide. And today, transporting troops and supplies across oceans, especially in small amounts by terrorist organizations, is relatively cheap. As a result, the war will come to our shores, we will not be able to hide behind the Atlantic ocean. And it will end in disaster.
Thomas Jefferson's face may be on Mount Rushmore, but his policies cannot continue in the Beltway.
Copyright 2005, Dan Jacoby
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