Independence Day Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/4/19: Jefferson, Amash, Snyder [UPDATED]

Happy birthday, USA!

1. Thomas Jefferson’s Day. Since Nike chose this time to announce that it was ashamed of the Revolutionary War flag, and Charlottesville similarly picked this week of all weeks to distance itself from it most famous and accomplished son,  it is appropriate to recall why Thomas Jefferson is the single American who should be most honored on the Fourth of July.

At the Foundation for Economic Education site (excellent site, by the way), the organization’s president, Lawrence W. Reed, offers a cogent rebuttal to those who would metaphorically (or literally) tear down Jefferson’s memorials because he could not find it in himself to stop practicing slave-holding while publicly making the case against it. Reed writes in part,

More than any other man or woman, July 4 belongs to Thomas Jefferson. As the principal author of the charter that proclaimed America’s independence and the reasons that impelled it, his spirit and his words are essentially what we celebrate on this day.

That such praise is not deemed “politically correct” in some quarters and may even evoke hostility in others is not a pleasant commentary on the state of current political dialogue. A kind of intertemporal bigotry is loose in the land. It prompts the virtue-signaling self-righteous to judge people of the past against the conventions of today. Isn’t it strange that evolution is accepted as natural in the biological world but often not in the realm of human thought?

…[H]umans didn’t support slavery one day and then oppose it when they all woke up the next. Some people never saw the light; others were against it from the moment it first entered their minds. Millions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were somewhere in between, and lots of them evolved on the issue over the course of their lives. In other words, they learned and they changed. That’s how humanity progresses.

Thanks to visionaries like Jefferson, Americans were forced eventually to end the contradiction between the words of the Declaration of Independence and the reality around them. Jefferson’s own words were evoked to accomplish that.

Historian Jim Powell, in his FEE article of July 1, 1995, titled “Thomas Jefferson’s Sophisticated, Radical Vision of Liberty,” addressed the slavery issue thusly.

“Though Jefferson had personal failings—in the case of slavery, a monstrous one—they don’t invalidate the philosophy of liberty he championed, any more than Einstein’s personal failings are evidence against his theory of relativity. Moreover, every one of Jefferson’s adversaries, past and present, had personal failings, which means that if ideas are to be dismissed because of an author’s failings, Jefferson and his adversaries would cancel each other out. When historians finish dumping on Jefferson, they still won’t have cleared the way for Karl Marx or whomever they admire. Jefferson’s accomplishments and philosophy of liberty must be recognized for their monumental importance.”

So yes, Thomas Jefferson wasn’t perfect. And neither are his critics. They should hope that across their entire lives, they might accomplish for liberty what Jefferson achieved in a few weeks of literary genius. He marshaled the English language on behalf of ideas, and they sparked liberty’s loudest thunderclap in human history….

2. Yes, Rep. Amash is an Ethics Dunce. One reason the Tea Party movement ran out of gas is that the elected officials who rose to power under its banner were mostly unqualified, doctrinaire, simplistic grandstanders who seemed to think bumper-sticker slogans are a substitute for reasoning. Amash is typical of the breed. He recently gained the praise of the Trump Deranged by declaring that the Mueller Report proves that the President engaged in “high crimes and misdemeanors” (it doesn’t, but any effort to undermine President Trump qualifies as heroic  to “the resistance”).  This predictably attracted a furious backlash in his district and his party, and Amash’s prospects for re-election in 2020 now appear to be about on par with John McCain’s.

His solution? Amash has declared that he is “disenchanted” and “frightened” by party politics, so he is leaving the Republican Party and becoming an Independent.

Party flipping mid-term is per se unethical, as I have pointed out here before.  He has a contract with his voters to serve in the party whose banner under which he presented himself for public service, and the party that helped fund his campaign. One of the few party-switchers in political history who did the deed ethically was former Texas  Senator Phil Gramm. [CORRECTION NOTICE: I had originally written “the late” here, because I was sure Gramm was dead. He’s not. I’m glad.] From my post about West Virginia’s Governor Jim  Justice, who switched from Democrat to Republican in 2017…

Just days after  he had been reelected to a House seat  as a Democrat in 1982, Gramm was thrown off the House Budget Committee in a dispute with party leadership. In response, Gramm resigned as a Representative, changed parties, and ran for his old seat as a Republican in a special election. He won easily, and  was a Republican ever after. That’s the honorable way to do it.

Rep. Amash isn’t honorable. He isn’t ethical. And after Election Day 2020, he won’t be in Congress.


3. Once again, Harvard chooses politics over education. Former GOP Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was named a senior research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government. However, after students and activists protested his participation because of  the two-term Republican governor’s handling of the Flint water crisis, Snyder announced yesterday that he was withdrawing his acceptance the fellowship, tweeting,

“It would have been exciting to share my experiences, both positive and negative; our current political environment and its lack of civility makes this too disruptiveI wish them the best.”

I cannot imagine any elected state official’s exposition of his experiences, decisions, considerations and mistakes in a crisis more valuable for education purposes than Snyder’s. He failed miserably, and it is through such failures that wisdom is acquired. It is clear, however, from this and other recent developments at the nation’s oldest univeristy, that Harvard students are less interested in education than in enabling ideological division and isolation, and that the university’s administrators lack the courage and integrity to stand in their way.


10 thoughts on “Independence Day Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/4/19: Jefferson, Amash, Snyder [UPDATED]

  1. 1. Was thinking about reparations for slave descendants recently. Shouldn’t the payments be made by the descendants of slave holders? The former slave states? The Brits who ran the slave trade? The West African warlords who captured and sold the slaves to the traders? What about reparations for the descendants of the survivors of the Union troops killed and maimed in the war they fought to free the slaves?

    Great quote from Mr. Reed. Don’t liberals posit that man is endlessly perfectible and always getting better? Isn’t that the arc of history? Are they bending the arc of past history? Why?

    • OB,
      Just remember, “the former slave states” includes all 13 of the original states. “Descendants of slave holders” would include those from the North, too. Most of the U.S. slave ships were also owned by Northerners. Also, abolition of slavery in the North didn’t mean automatic freedom for the enslaved. In many (most?) cases the slave owners had enough lead time to sell their slaves to slave dealers who resold them where slavery was still legal. Slavery was a national sin, not just a Southern one.

      • Some northern states did not free their slaves until well AFTER the Civil War was over. New Jersey is a prime example.

        Almost, if not all of the northern states immediately passed laws forbidding blacks from moving there.

    • You believe right. I was sure he was dead. a) The other Phil GRAHAM, of Washington Post fame, is long dead, but mostly I assumed Gramm was dead because you never here a peep out of him, and he’s only 77. I’ll fix it. Thanks.

    • That’s the problem with liberty: some people will do things that others think are crazy.

      At least we didn’t have to deal with a women’s division dominated by bio-males “identifying”. Maybe a “tofu” division will be in Nation’s future..

  2. 1. It is just as well that the Democrats are now ashamed of Jefferson; I have no doubt he is now ashamed of them, too.

  3. Re: Amash – grandstanding he may be, but he is just about the only politician, especially in the GOP, who actually stands up for what he believes in. The Michigan voters in his district knew exactly what they were getting each time he ran for office, and he delivered exactly what he promised. Unethical to switch parties mid-stream? OK. But it won’t change who he actually is and what he has been doing all along. Though he is almost completely opposite of where I am politically, I would probably vote for him if I lived in his district. He is one of the most honest (and, I believe, ethical) politicians ever elected.

    Re: Snyder – I think he would have been a good person to do something at Harvard, and I don’t really know what a research fellow does, but I think that your closing sentence regarding his failure is something that Gov. Snyder refuses to accept as reality. I watched this guy do whatever he wanted with a GOP house and senate for eight years. Right to work state? “Not on my agenda; too divisive.” Until a lame duck session late one December when the GOP rammed it through without a day’s worth of discussion. The voters submitted enough petitions to raise minimum wage and get it on the ballot? Then Rick and the GOP used a lame duck session to pass a state law to do it first, then gutted said law in the next session. The Michigan legislature became famous for that – if legislation is so important to pass, why can it not see the light and time of day? Rick Snyder is many things, but one of his biggest failures is that he doesn’t believe he failed at anything.

    • I find it very hard, Keith, to view his sudden proclamation that the President should be impeached, in the middle of a media and Democratic Party feeding frenzy over an unethical and unprofessional public statement by the Special Prosecutor, as anything but a Republican deliberately sabotaging his own party’s President for what he thought would be political gain, and giving aid and comfort to a party trying to exercise a Constitution-defying coup. If he did that deliberately, he’s despicable; if he didn’t understand the destructive effects of his actions, then he’s an idiot.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.