Monday, May 08, 2006

Kerry Quotes Jefferson

Not. JFK has been sent to the dunce's stool -- again -- this time for quoting Thomas Jefferson in praise of dissent -- with a quote nobody has ever found in Jefferson's actual writings.

Eh, I'm willing to give him a pass for this. A great many quotes attributed to the Founders or to Lincoln were never said by them. They're often pithy quotes that obscure people wrote, which over time, by deliberate effort of deception or not, have gravitated into the sphere of the brighter lights in our history.

There are a raft of bogus quotes by the Founders in praise of Christianity as a governing principle, for instance. ("We have staked the future of the American civilization not on the power of government, but on the capacity of Americans to abide by the Ten Commandments of God" -- Madison never said it.) They have been collected and promoted by the Christianists among us, notably David Barton of WallBuilders Inc., and now have been enshrined in the Congressional Record.

Progressive and atheists are not immune to the practice.

The quote Kerry used was consistent with what Jefferson might have thought, and written, circa 1798. The words weren't so wildly out of character for him that they should have been immediately flagged. I bet half the bloggers pouncing on Kerry this weekend couldn't have identified the "dissent is the highest form of patriotism" quote as a dud last weekend.

Absent any evidence that he knew beforehand it was a bogus quote, or that he sought any special benefit from using it in willful error, I see no reason to bother Kerry. You don't get much from a Jefferson quote, anyhow. It was the genius of the man's life that, sooner or later, he compromised every political principle he had. I see no reason to rub Kerry's face in an honest mistake. It does no harm to be charitable about his intentions.

But, but, but ... But what? Because he wouldn't do the same for you? Do you only take the high road as a matter of compromise, or is it your default position. Why pass up a chance to bash the opposition? Do you not reside in the full expectation that your opponent will make real and dishonest errors in time. Isn't it our duty to inform the voters how bad the opposition is? Nobody outside of school cares about this one. And you'll do far better with the voters if they see you as charitable when you can be, the moreso if the other guy is not.

Otherwise, you'll just end up like Maureen Dowd or Paul Krugman or Molly Ivins. No matter how much they certainly know about their respective topics, it's hard to take their anti-Bush screeds seriously, because you know they'd be writing with exactly the same tone no matter what he had done for the past 5 years or so. Ultimately it has nothing to do with any reality except their visceral contempt for certain things he embodies, to them.

In a harbor near here a cargo ship sat for months with a broken siren that howled day and night. Sometimes there would be a fire somewhere in town, so during those times the siren was technically right. But it didn't do any good and nobody paid it any mind.

Though according to this pro-Kerry site, the former candidate may, in fact, have been quoting professional America-basher Howard Zinn instead. If Kerry thinks Zinn is Jefferson, then we have a problem.

It's more complicated than that, of course.

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