Please tell me I did not read a great historian whose work I love dropping aggressive ignoramus Rick Perry on Thomas Jefferson’s head. Excessive exposure to hair-care products or animal waste seems like a better explanation of the ideological origins of this guy.
Here is what Edward Countryman has to say in an interview with History News Network:
In the larger context of American political history, what is most noteworthy to you about Governor Perry’s candidacy?
One way to see the whole current impasse is as a rerun of the city and country opposition that runs right back to the respective visions of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson for America’s future. Hamilton’s vision turned on the presumption that the power established by the Constitution was there to use and presumed an active government, and it continued through Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Lyndon Johnson and, now, Barack Obama. Jefferson regarded that power as something to fear . . . . It’s no accident that Ronald Reagan had Jefferson prominently on display in his Oval Office.
And yet, Jefferson did not promote dumb-ass generalized fear of government activities he can’t even name. His unfortunate fling with the idea of state “nullification,” the Kentucky Resolution of 1798, was aimed at blocking a flagrantly unconstitutional federal effort to suppress an opposition party — not a bad shot to pick. 1798 was a time when some fear of government was not unjustified, just like the fears many of us had when George W. Bush was in power and John Yoo was writing his memos developing a “unitary executive” that could do whatever it wanted to anybody anywhere in the world.
My plea to all historians who feel the easy Alexander-Hamilton-as-Modern-Liberal meme coming on: check Mike Wallace’s “Business-Class Hero” first, a brilliant early take-down of the ongoing Hamilton revival. It is an artifact of the financialization of our whole political culture that liberals can so easily conflate the use of government power to protect and enrich investors and banks with the sort of public regulations and government-led social improvements they value. Hamilton never dealt with any of the latter, and his idea of social improvement was kind that trickled down from the wealthy in the wake of economic development, maybe. Perhaps Reagan had the wrong guy on display. Vindicating or fearing of government in general is not the only dimension in these long-term debates in American politics. Another one — it makes me so sad that historians cannot seem to remember — is the question of whether or not to deed over the government to moneyed interests. No one with any feeling for Occupy Wall Street should be celebrating Hamilton, who would have cleaned those parks out with mounted troops long ago.
Really there is no need to ancestor-worship any Founder, or demonize them either. At some point, academic Jefferson-bashing just becomes a snarky form of reverse culture warfare. It seems obvious to me that different aspects of both modern liberalism and conservatism can be traced back to both Hamilton and Jefferson, and other aspects to neither. What modern liberals actually support is deploying government power (Hamilton) in the name of democracy (Jefferson). The social aspects of democracy that tend to concern us most now were of little concern to any of the Founders, so nothing to see there in any case.