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THOMAS JEFFERSON ON IDEOLOGICAL PURITY AND PRACTICE AS PRESIDENT

With the political struggle between Team Obama and the GOP, the GOP and the Tea Party, and the Tea Party pragmatists and “purists”, Thomas Jefferson has become once again a household name.  Ronald Reagan quoted him several times, and the Democratic National Committee identifies him as one of the founders of the Democratic Party.  The modern Republican party claims him, as do the Tea Party members.  His most boisterous fans are the libertarian third-party groups, many of whom shun the mechanics of politics and compromise.  He is known as the historical vanguard of small government, states rights, and individual liberty.  However, his ascent to the presidency would put these principles to the test, and his conflicts may provide context for today’s raging political debate of practice, principle and purity.

Thomas Jefferson is considered by many to be the personification of the America spirit.  Writer Robert Tucker said “He thought of America the way we thought of ourselves, and saw its significance as we still do, in terms larger than itself.”  Jefferson was the brilliant and talented founder, the man who unified art and policy in a wonderfully easy to understand language.  But as president, he was faced with the cold hard operational realities.  Known as the “practical idealist”, he looked to advance the “Republican Vision” of America as an expanding nation to satisfy its commercial ambitions.  But he did not have a population or military large enough enough to challenge the European powers in a direct military confrontation without them being occupied by another enemy. 

 And Jefferson did a bit of stretching with the Louisiana Purchase, and he forbade the nation from trading with England and France. The Louisiana Purchase enraged a few  “Constitutional purists”, but was overall very popular with the people. On December 20, 1803, the Senate approved the purchase, and it turned out to be great for the nation.

 His embargo against Europe was not good for the nation, and it was driven on ideological grounds. Jefferson’s  justification was that he   wanted to break America of the “superfluities and poisons” provided by Europe. He also wanted to spur domestic production and the “independent republic”.  Jefferson’s “peaceable coercion” was what we now today call protectionism.  Objections to this issue then sounded similar to the objections I read to Perry’s Eminent domain today. And the embargo failed to increase domestic manufacturing, because the Americans did not believe in the cause and tried to circumvent it. He eventually used The 1809 enforcement Acts further “sharply circumscribing individual liberties” almost caused a small civil war.
Many of Jefferson’s opponents, especailly the smugglers,said “you are a traitor, you are denying us our right to Liberty and Property, and with your enforcement acts potentially our lives.”   Some even called him George III!  For that time, saying that was HEAVY.  And also very unfair in our opinion. 
Jefferson was not a traitor or a “Progressive” (Term was not en vogue yet anyway.  Moral Killers didn’t have TV back then).   He fired back by calling them Federalists, which to him was about as bad as one can be!  He was trying to compensate for his militarydisadvantage by punishing the European powers economically.  It turned out to be a big failure, but he didn’t have brilliant economists like Larry Summers to advise him. (BEING SARCASTIC!)
 
 Again he thought he was doing the right thing. Was he a Progressive?  No he was just wrong.  People make mistakes, but we must put those who might expand government  too much with a single policy decision in with the Progressive Democratic Caucus.
 
Jamie Allman makes a tremendous point with “I wonder under some of the standards that we see applied on this level if Ronald Reagan or even Abraham Lincoln could get elected today.  He adds “we are in danger of having happen to us what happened to the Democrats in 1968”.  Allman is referring to the split where conservative Democrats abandoned the party because of the radical politics of the New Democratic Left.
 
Also, there was a time when the Democrats had depth in the conservative and moderate members.  Now, their entire platform is shaped by Dick Durbin, Barbra Boxer, Diane Watson and the like.  this has made them irrelevant to the American people.
 
Being conservative does not mean that we compare every candidate to what Thomas Jefferson wrote.  Thomas Jefferson was not known as the purist, but the “practical idealist”.  The power of Jefferson’s story was not that he was the perfect patriot, there is no such thing.  The power in the Jefferson story is that even when you believe in something with all your heart, sometimes your actions and choices do not live up to those ideals.  But you work through it, and you do what you think is best, and live with the consequences. 
 
We would say that his second term as presidency was a failure, as was his tenure as governor of Virgina. But Jefferson was the embodiment of our capacity to learn, grow, and fuse ambition, morality, pragmatism, and faith. 
 
And if we apply an unrealistic set of standards to today’s candidates that even Jefferson himself would struggle to adhere to, then we may be missing out on next great “Republican Visionary”.
 
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