Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Speak, Monuments... Or At Least, Listen

Here we are between Father’s Day and July Fourth. Imagine our founding fathers breaking through their marble and bronze and coming to life….elongated George Washington no longer an obelisk, Lincoln and Jefferson down from their thrones and Franklin Roosevelt out of his bronzed wheel chair.

Of course FDR isn’t a founder but we need him for the poker game and also to explain to Jefferson why the government that governs least is NOT always the government that governs best.

If we plopped the first three in Times Square or the L.A. freeway interchange we might have to exhume Benjamin Franklin. How else to explain double-decker buses, triple deck sandwiches and Multiplex theatres? I'd leave to him a quick course in all our wireless wizardry.

Wouldn’t you, George, father of our country, (who fathered no children) be surprised to hear your name used pejoratively, as in Washington insider or Washington is out of touch with the real America? And what would you, T.J., think about your initials bringing to mind not our author of July Fourth but, Trader Joes? Somehow I expect Thomas Jefferson to get over it fast enough. But would you get over your now famous liaison with Sally Hemmings and attend the family reunion with descendents perhaps in the thousands?

And honestly Abe, you humble guy, could you imagine 16,000 books written about you? Would you please set them straight. Now let me tell you about your son, Robert, who got rich and infamous as the V.P. of Pullman Railroad Co. and his role as strikebreaker extraordinaire.

I wonder if the vast number of people would be the first clue that your utopian vision had gone dystopian. Our current population of 350 million-plus would surely be beyond computation for those who saw an agrarian country of five million they checked out circa 1800.

Even with your encyclopedic brain, Jefferson, you had a small fraction of knowledge compared to the average six-year old sitting in front of Google or Wikipedia. Sorry, Tom. But you, of all people, would welcome the refreshment of change.

I’ll have to break the news to Lincoln that in spite of your good works inequities persist in this land and our house is still divided against itself seven score and seven years later.

I suspect, F.D.R., you would not look kindly on Reagan who dismantled your alphabet of agencies, smashed unions and set into motion the national tide against government as a provider of services for the less privileged. Patrician that you were, you would also shudder at the diminished I.Q. which Reagan established for our highest office. On the other hand did you not contribute to our national shame with your illegal internment of Japanese and unconscionable indifference to Jewish refugees?

Given these several missteps and revisionist history they might all wish to take refuge back in their metal casting. Their images are secure in stamps and currency. Their names live on in highways, bridges and universities.

Looking back at our most visionary leaders it is clear that this country has always been in a fickle embrace between our better and bitter angels. From one angle we have made a Faustian pact trading our humanity for a muscular foreign policy, ignoring George's warning against foreign entanglements, marked by arrogance, and greed. From another perspective we are the beacon of freedom and opportunity. These four of our best and brightest speak to us from their graves of our duel heritage, the stain and the shine.

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