Forgetting the Founders

There’s a case of Founding Father forgetfulness creeping through the GOP. Sarah Palin recently showed the extent of the infection. But it seems Colorado is not immune, and may be in desperate need of the vaccine.

In a recent interview with Glenn Beck, Palin was asked to name her favorite Founding Father. While visibly scrounging through her mind’s historical file cabinet, she bought some time by declaring, “Well, all of them.” Beck fired back: “Bull crap.” Like a young paralegal, she continued to search her files, eventually producing a name: “Of course, George Washington.” The light bulb above her head was almost blinding, the relief in her face embarrassing.

But while Palin’s latest hiccup may cause our historical hearts to murmur, she is not alone in her post-antiquity amnesia. In fact, Palin resembles some Republicans in Colorado.

In November, CCU hosted a debate between the top four Republican candidates for Colorado’s upcoming U.S. Senate seat (Ken Buck, Jane Norton, Cleve Tidwell, and Tow Wiens). After the questions about health care and national security came a lighthearted question by moderator John Andrews. The query went something like this: “Tell us what President of the United States you would like to travel back in time and have dinner with?”

While one could not expect the Continental Congress to dominate the dinner table, one could at least expect names such as Washington, Adams, or Jefferson to garner an invite. But according to our potential senators, such patriots would go hungry at their dinner party. Instead, Teddy Roosevelt would have to shuffle his schedule, as most picked him for Andrews’s imaginary dinner date.

To be clear, Teddy is not a bad choice. But at a debate where the themes of “fixing Washington” and “getting back to our roots” permeated the discussion, one could not help but note the absence of those who got it right in the first place. And in a national conversation dominated by partisan politics, are we asking too much when we ask our leaders to name a favorite statesman from an era when statesmanship, not rhetoric, brought true hope and change?

So what is the cure? I can’t say for sure. But the medicine must contain a steady concoction of history, civic duty, and respect. Historians such as David McCullough, with his book John Adams, could offer the perfect prescription. But it’s up to our leaders to fill those prescriptions. Otherwise, we may end up with a group of civic servants who no longer esteem those who have created this democracy. Or worse, who just can’t remember.

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