The Washington Independent is a new political news site from the Center for Independent Media that looks pretty good in general, but I was not sure what to make of their recent item “Live with Ben Franklin.” Author Luis Rumbaut quotes a long passage from Benjamin Franklin’s well-known (to historians) complaints, as a colonial Pennsylvania politician, about his colony’s German population. Rumbaut uses the passages to liken Franklin to a “nativist web site” or a far-right talk show host. Rumbaut seems to be a fighting a good fight against the current outbreak of anti-immigrant politics, but I wonder what his purpose was bringing Franklin into it? Far from shaming anyone, this kind of thing just encourages the Ron Pauls of the country, and their less presentable fellow travelers, whom Rumbaut wants to criticize. The far right loves nothing better than out-of-context or made-up Founder quotations that seem to put Our Forefathers on the same ideological team as modern nativists, racists, antisemites, and natural citizenship enthusiasts. What inspired those Texas vigilantes to call themselves “Minutemen” in the first place, hmmm?
In addition, one need not special plead for Ben Franklin to observe that ethno-political tensions and celebration of English political traditions, in a colonial Pennsylvania that was still struggling to get British royal government (instead of the Penn family proprietorship), was a rather different proposition than the Minutemen and Ron Paulists today displacing their free-floating cultural hostilities and economic insecurities onto immigrants. And that is not even to mention the fact that the Founders were inspired by some of the most advanced political ideas of their time; these modern ultraconservatives, not so much.