June 29, 2004
The Founding Fathers Meet George Bush
by Maureen Farrell
"The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history," Howard Zinn once wrote. And, while one of the best ways to prove Zinn’s point is to quote him in the first place (Trust me. Someone is bound to protest), if recent history is any indication, many Americans would not only gladly give up freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution, but, in times of duress, have actively distrusted them. Consider the following:
Even more recently, in the fall of 2002, a poll indicated that nearly half of all Americans think the First Amendment "goes too far," while in the spring of 2003 (more than a year before B-actor turned President Ronald Reagan was lauded on TV for days on end), a VH-1 poll showed that fifty-four percent of US citizens believe it's "inappropriate" for celebrities to make political statements.
And so, as July 4th approaches, the divide between patriotic Americans who ache to preserve what’s left of our republic and nationalistic Americans who unwittingly embrace empire is more explosive than a beachside fireworks display. Confusingly, however, those in the latter group often shamelessly back any draconian measure the Bush administration takes "in the fight for freedom," while scoffing at concerns over preserving our freedoms at home.
Yet at this crucial juncture in American history – when analysts are all but screaming about the dangers lurking from within – our nation’s first capital is teeming with bittersweet reminders. A trip to Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, for example, invokes not only the phantoms of yesteryear, but the spirit of America herself. Because whether you’re casting a gaze towards the chair in which George Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention or eying the spot Ben Franklin occupied during the Second Continental Congress, the energy inside Pennsylvania Assembly room is palpable.
Down the street, at 7th and Market, sits the Graff House – the site where Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. Upstairs, two rooms Jefferson rented are convincingly recreated, while downstairs, copies of initial and finished drafts of the Declaration dot the walls. Next to those is a framed quote from philosopher John Locke, from whom Jefferson borrowed heavily. "Great mistakes in the ruling part, will be borne by the people without mutiny or murmur," Locke wrote. "But if a long train of abuses. . . all tending the same way, make the design visible to the people. . . it is not to be wondered that they should then rouse themselves, and endeavor to put the rule into such hands which may secure to them the end for which government was at first erected."
Now that we’ve been assaulted by a barrage of abuses, all tending the same way, it’s impossible not to wonder what the founding fathers would think about the state of our union. "I believe, as a Jefferson scholar who's worked at this for fifteen years, if Jefferson could see what's going on now, he'd be appalled by what the United States is doing," Thomas Jefferson Radio Hour's Clay Jenkinson said, on the eve of preventative war in Iraq.
And, of course, at the close of the Constitutional Convention, when someone asked Ben Franklin what type of government the framers had drafted, he famously and presciently replied, "A republic, if you can keep it."
Given this, what do you suppose the founders would say if they were suddenly transported back to Philadelphia? What if you could drag Jefferson and Franklin through the ages and plop them down on Meet the Press? What if George Bush were to debate George Washington? Or if James Madison went head to head with Dick Cheney?
Though the possibilities are endless, chances are the founders would be deemed too "dangerous" for commercial TV anyway and, like Zinn, would be relegated to the outer reaches of C-Span. Even so, borrowing from more notable quotes, the following scenario depicts how such a debate might go:
Imaginary prewar symposium* featuring George Bush, Richard Butler, Dick Cheney, Thomas Jefferson, Jim Jeffords, Christopher Layne, James Madison, Bill Maher, Nelson Mandella, Jim McDermott, Robert Novak, Jay Rockefeller, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Ted Sorenson, George Washington and Bob Woodward (*using quotes from all, uttered both before and after the beginning of the war in Iraq)
FORMER CHIEF UN WEAPONS INSPECTOR RICHARD BUTLER: "This administration has a view of the special character of the United States, the singular and exclusive character that is new. I've talked to them about it and they make this plain. They say, ‘We are the sole super power, we're therefore the exceptional country, we're outside of international law. Others have to obey the law and obey the rules, but we don't.’" (5/14/03, SBS.com)
ROBERT NOVAK: "The last thing that the hawks inside the administration, and their friends outside the administration, want is a coup d'etat that would replace Saddam Hussein. They want a war as a manifestation of U.S. power in the world and as a sign that the United States is capable of changing the balance of power and the political map of the Middle East." (1/18/03, CNN)
PRESIDENT JAMES MADISON: "The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse." (12/2/1829)
BUTLER: "I mean, I'm not making that up. If they were sitting here tonight. . . the people I've talked with would readily agree. They'd say, ‘Yeah, that's right, that's who we are. We are the exceptional country and we don't have to obey the law because we're different.’" (5/14/03)
PRESIDENT THOMAS JEFFERSON: "Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms [of government] those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny." (1778)
NOVAK: "Talking to a senior official, and he said to me, he said, ‘Well, if we don't hit in Iraq, where are we going to hit?’ And they -- it's a desire that the United States, the superpower, is going to manifest its authority to the rest of the world." (1/18/2003)
JEFFERSON: "Our country is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit: by consolidation [of power] first, and then corruption, its necessary consequence." (1821)
SENATOR JIM JEFFORDS: "I am very disturbed by President Bush's determination that the threat from Iraq is so severe and so immediate that we must rush to a military solution." (10/8/02, Jeffords.Senate.gov)
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: "The Iraqi regime is a threat of unique urgency." (10/2/02, WhiteHouse.gov)
JEFFORDS: "There is much speculation about his weapons of mass destruction program, but no evidence that he has developed a nuclear capability. While there is talk of cooperation between Iraq and Al Qaeda. . .I have not seen any hard evidence of close cooperation. . . I have a hard time believing that Saddam Hussein would turn these weapons over to any organization, particularly a terrorist organization, after he has paid so dearly to acquire them." (10/8/02)
BUSH: "With nuclear arms or a full arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, Saddam Hussein could resume his ambitions of conquest in the Middle East . . . Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaida. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help develop their own." (1/28/03, WhiteHouse.gov)
CONGRESSMAN JIM McDERMOTT: "The president of the United States will lie to the American people in order to get us into this war." (originally aired on NBC's Nightly News, repeated by George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week, 9/29/02, RNC.org)
MADISON: "If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy." (As a U.S. Congressman)
JEFFORDS: "Our greatest problem, it seems to me, is that we have very little good intelligence on what is going on inside Iraq." (10/8/02)
BUSH: "I think the intelligence I get is darn good intelligence." (7/15/03, CBS)
"We know that the [Iraqi] regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas. . .(10/7/02, WhiteHouse.gov)
"We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons -- the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have." (10/5/02, WhiteHouse.gov)
"When the inspectors first went into Iraq and were denied, finally denied access, a report came out of the Atomic the IAEA that they were six months away from developing a weapon. I don't know what more evidence we need." (9/7/02, WhiteHouse.gov)
MADISON: "Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad." (To Thomas Jefferson, 5/13/1798)
BUSH: Who cares what you think? (To a reporter, Philadelphia, 7/4/01)
JEFFERSON: "An elective despotism is not the government we fought for." (1784)
BUSH: "I am the commander, see?" I do not need to explain why I say things. — That's the interesting thing about being the President. — Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation." (Bush at War, 11/02)
JEFFERSON: "To inform the minds of the people and to follow their will is the chief duty of those placed at their head." (1816)
BUSH: "A dictatorship would be a lot easier." (Governing Magazine, 7/98)
JEFFORDS: "Mr. President I fear that this Administration is, perhaps unwittingly, heading us into a miserable cycle of waging wars that isolate our nation internationally and stir up greater hatred of America. . .We owe it to the American people not to rush into a war." (10/8/2002)
BUSH: "Some have argued we should wait, and that's an option. In my view, it's the riskiest of all options, because the longer we wait, the stronger and bolder Hussein will become." (10/7/02)
PRESIDENT GEORGE WASHINGTON: "The Nation which indulges toward another an habitual hatred or an habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest." (Farewell address, 9/17/1796)
JEFFORDS: "I have discussed this issue with the President. I have heard nothing that convinces me that an immediate preemptive military strike is necessary . . I cannot in good conscience authorize any use of military force against Iraq." (10/8/02)
JEFFERSON: "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."
BUSH: "America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." (10/7/02)
ARTHUR SCHLESINGER, JR: "Unilateral preventive war is neither legitimate nor moral. It is illegitimate and immoral. For more than 200 years we have not been that kind of country." (The Los Angles Times, 8/21/02)
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER: "[The uranium from Africa claim in the President’s State of the Union Address] was a fraud. People knew it. They went ahead with it. It had to be put in, I think, for the purpose of-I say this just from my personal point of view-of manipulating public opinion, and that's very dangerous." (MSNBC's Hardball, 7/9/03)
JEFFERSON: "What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites." (1784)
BILL MAHER: "I do think that President Bush relies on hypocrisy. . . it's one thing to run an election based on two-dimensional platitudes, like, ‘They hate us for our freedom.’ It's another thing to send men to die for a platitude like that." (Larry King Live, 6/2/04)
BUSH: "See, free nations are peaceful nations. Free nations don't attack each other. Free nations don't develop weapons of mass destruction." (Milwaukee, 10/2/03)
"And by the way, a free and peaceful Iraq is in our nation's interest. It's in our security interest -- that affected the economy. When you turned on your TV, it said, ‘America is marching to war.’ That's not very conducive for -- that's not a very positive statement. It doesn't build a lot of confidence -- people, you know, marching to war, why would I want to invest in my home? Or why would I want to come to Home Depot if we're fixing to go to war? (12/5/03, CNN)
TED SORENSON: "Future historians studying the decline and fall of America will mark this as the time the tide began to turn - toward a mean-spirited mediocrity in place of a noble beacon." (New School University, 5/21/04).
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: "Go f*ck yourself." (to Sen. Pat Leahy on the Senate floor, 6/22/04 though, according to an aide he could have said "f--- off"")
NELSON MANDELLA: "The attitude of the United States of America is a threat to world peace." (Newsweek, Sept. 10, 2002)
BUSH: "F*ck Saddam, we’re taking him out!" (3/02, one year prior to the start of the war in Iraq, reported in Time)
BOB WOODWARD: "[The President is] casting his mission and that of the country in the grand vision of God's master plan." (Bush at War, 11/02)
BUSH: "This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while." (9/16/01)
MADISON: "The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries." (1803)
BUSH: "We will export death and violence to the four corners of the earth in defense of this great nation." (Bush at War, 11/02)
ROCKEFELLER: "I find that strange. I find that scary. And I find that very dangerous for the future.. . "I think there [are] very serious questions for the president, and enormously serious questions for the next 50 years of this nation in terms of the foreign policy." (7/9/03)
CHENEY: "The good Lord didn't see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratic regimes friendly to the United States." (The Cato Institute, 1998)
CHRISTOPHER LAYNE: "One thing is certain: unless the call for the United States to exercise self-imposed grand-strategic restraint is heeded, the rest of the world will act to impose that constraint on Washington." (10/6/03, The American Conservative)
BUSH: "Bring ‘em on!" (7/2/03)
NOVAK: "Listen, I just feel that this potential -- this war, I just trust it comes off easily. But I have trepidation that it won't be easy, and there's going to be a terrible consequences from it." (1/18/03)
BUSH: "I'm the person who gets to decide, not you." (To a reporter, about whether or not the U.S. would be invading Iraq, 2/31/02).
JEFFERSON: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just. . ." (1785)
Imaginary wartime symposium featuring John Adams, Samuel Adams, John Ashcroft, George Bush, Richard Butler, Dick Cheney, Sam Dash, Susan Fields, Benjamin Franklin, Seymour Hersh, Thomas Jefferson, Jim Jeffords, Chalmers Johnson, John Brady Kiesling, Paul Krugman, Charles Lane, Christopher Layne, James Madison, Bill Maher, Chris Matthews, Bill Moyers, Martha Nussbaum, Norah O’Donnell, Thomas Paine, Ron Paul, Ted Sorenson and George Washington
CONGRESSMAN RON PAUL: "If the president claims extraordinary wartime powers, and we fight undeclared wars with no beginning and no end, when if ever will those extraordinary powers lapse? Since terrorism will never be eliminated completely, should all future presidents be able to act without regard to Congress or the Constitution simply by asserting, ‘We’re at war’?" (6/15/04, House.gov)
MADISON: "The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted." (Tribune, London)
BILL MOYERS: "Not since December, 1941, has Congress declared war. . . We’ve turned the war powers of the United States over to, well we are never really sure who, or what they’re doing, or what it costs, or who is paying for it. . . And now we are faced with a question brand new in our history. Can we have the permanent warfare state and democracy too?" (1987, PBS)
MADISON: "Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded." (4/20/1795)
SAMUEL ADAMS: "If ever time should come,when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin." (1780)
MADISON: "We are free today substantially, but the day will come when our Republic will be an impossibility. It will be an impossibility because wealth will be concentrated in the hands of a few. A Republic cannot stand upon bayonets, and when the day comes, when the wealth of the nation will be in the hands of a few, then we must reply upon the wisdom of the best elements in the country to readjust the laws of the nation to the changed conditions." (Quoted, New York Post)
JEFFERSON: "When the people are afraid of the government, that's tyranny. But when the government is afraid of the people, that's liberty."
MOYERS: "This remains for me the heart of the matter. The men who wrote our Constitution, our basic book of rules, were concerned that power be held accountable. No party of government and no person in government, not even the President, was to pick or choose among the laws to be obeyed." (PBS, 1987)
BUSH: "A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it." (Business Week, 7/30/01)
MOYERS: "But how does one branch of government blow the whistle on another? Or how do the people cry foul when their liberties are imperiled, if public officials can break the rules, lie to us about it, and then wave the wand of national security to silence us?" (PBS, 1987)
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
PAUL: "Why can’t the American people, much less Congress, see how the Justice department interprets presidential powers and federal torture laws? Why the secrecy?" (6/15/03)
MOYERS: "The government's obsession with secrecy is all the more disturbing because we are fighting a war without limits . . . That gives a handful of people enormous power to keep us in the dark. And it justifies other abuses." (6/29/02, PBS)
MAHER: "Remember when [Bush] went before the 9/11 commission and he said, 'I have to do it with my vice president?' Can you imagine any other president doing that? Couldn't you imagine LBJ saying, ‘I need Humphrey?’. . . Can you imagine Nixon? Spiro Agnew is going to come with me on this. You know, I..." (6/2/04)
PAUL: "The Pentagon lawyers who drafted the memo [on the legality of interrogation and torture methods] were not shy about blatantly asserting that the Commander-In-Chief can break the law when necessary." (6/15/03)
THOMAS PAINE: "It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from the government."
SEYMOUR HERSH: "You haven't begun to see evil until you've seen some of these [Abu Ghraib] pictures that haven't come out." (The Chicago Tribune, 6/25/2004)
CHENEY: "My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators." (Meet the Press, 3/16/03)
BUTLER: "I ask you to recognize what happens when the most powerful country, the same as the most powerful people within a domestic society, consider themselves to be above the law?" (5/14/03)
SORENSON: "We are no longer the world's leaders on matters of international law and peace. . . A nation without credibility and moral authority cannot lead, because no one will follow." (5/21/04)
PAUL: "War does not justify the suspension of torture laws any more than it justifies the suspension of murder laws, the suspension of due process, or the suspension of the Second amendment." (6/15/04)
SAM DASH: "I was dumbfounded by the way the Bush Administration pushed aside the Constitution to launch their war on terrorism." (To John Dean, FindLaw.com)
MADISON: "A President is impeachable if he attempts to subvert the Constitution". (At the Constitutional Convention)
CHALMERS JOHNSON: "Four sorrows, it seems to me, are certain to be visited on the United States. Their cumulative effect guarantees that the U.S. will cease to resemble the country outlined in the Constitution of 1787. (11/03, PresentDanger.org)
First, there will be a state of perpetual war."
BUSH: "Our war on terror. . . will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated." (9/20/01, WhiteHouse.gov)
MADISON: "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare." (4/20/1795)
JOHNSON: "Second is a loss of democracy and Constitutional rights. . ."
CHARLES LANE: "The Bush administration is developing a parallel legal system in which terrorism suspects--U.S. citizens and noncitizens alike--may be investigated, jailed, interrogated, tried and punished without legal protections guaranteed by the ordinary system. . ." (The Washington Post, 12/1/02)
DASH: "Our government leaders. . . have made many mistakes in the past when they have lost sight of the sacred American values rooted in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. We are at the brink of even graver mistakes and assaults on these values." (The Intruders: Unreasonable Searches and Seizures from King John to John Ashcroft, 4/1/04)
PAUL KRUGMAN: "[A] democracy's decisions, right or wrong, are supposed to take place with the informed consent of its citizens. That didn't happen this time. And we are a democracy — aren't we?" (The New York Times, 4/29/03)
MADISON: "The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home."
JOHNSON: "Third is the replacement of truth by propaganda, disinformation and the glorification of war, power, and the military legions."
CHRIS MATTHEWS: "The president. . . won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. . . The president there-look at this guy! We’re watching him. He looks like he flew the plane. . He looks for real. He didn’t fight in a war, but he looks like he does." (MSNBC’s Hardball, 5/1/03)
BUSH: "I've been to war. I've raised twins. If I had a choice, I'd rather go to war." (1/27/02, CNN.com, a lie considering that Bush never went to war)
MATTHEWS: "Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war." (5/1/03/)
MADISON: "War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement." (4/20/1795)
SUSAN FIELDS: "George W. was a hottie in his flight suit. He was the victorious commander, and most of all he looked at home with himself. He glowed with the pride born of authenticity, declaring the war over . . . " (The Washington Times, 5/13/03)
WASHINGTON: "Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism." (Farewell address, 1796)
MATTHEWS: "We’re proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like Dukakis or Mondale, all those guys, McGovern." (5/1/03)
BUSH: "Sometimes when I sleep at night I think of Hop on Pop. (Penn State University, 4/2/02).
MATTHEWS: "There was a sales pitch for this war. . . It was going to be easy; it was going to be a cakewalk; the people would welcome us with open hands. . . Who sold that bill of goods?" (MSNBC’s Hardball, 5/25/04)
JOHNSON: "Lastly, there is bankruptcy, as the United States pours its economic resources into ever more grandiose military projects and shortchanges the education, health, and safety of its citizens."
NORAH O’DONNELL: "Congress is concerned about burdening taxpayers with an additional $87 billion. That’s far more than the U.S. spends annually on education and nearly triple the budget for homeland security."(Today, 9/9/03)
MADISON: "In war, the public treasuries are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them." (4/20/1795)
LAYNE: "The Bush administration will not be remembered for conquering Baghdad but rather for a policy that shattered the pillars of the international security framework that the United States established after World War II." (10/6/03)
JOHN BRADY KIESLING: "Our current course will bring instability and danger, not security." (The New York Times, 2/27/03)
JEFFORDS: "President Bush is rashly piling up debt our nation can't afford . . .One of the more disturbing effects of the economic downturn is the lack of state and federal funding for our educational system. . ." (National Press Club, 6/5/03)
JEFFERSON: "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." (1782)
BUSH: "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning? (Florence, SC, 1/11/00).
JEFFERSON: "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." (1776)
BUSH: "There ought to be limits to freedom." (In reaction to a Bush parody Web site, 5/99)
MOYERS: "The apparatus of secret power remains intact in a huge White House staff operating in the sanctuary of presidential privilege. . . This is a system easily corrupted as the public grows indifferent again and the press is seduced or distracted. So one day, sadly, we are likely to discover, once again, that while freedom does have enemies in the world, it can also be undermined here at home, in the dark, by those posing as its friends." (PBS, 1987)
ATTORNEY GENERAL JOHN ASHCROFT: "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve." (12/7/01)
DASH: "This guy Ashcroft is a very dangerous attorney general." (to John Dean).
JEFFERSON: "The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive."(To Abigail Adams, 2/22/1787)
JOHN ADAMS: "Thomas Jefferson survives." (7/4/1826, reportedly his last words, according to John Quincy Adams's memoirs, PBS)*
*Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826 -- the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Fellow founding father John Adams died hours later, on the same day.
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure.
© Copyright 2004, Maureen Farrell