Speaking Above The Sixth-Grade Level

15 June 2004

PBS Rips Candidate Thomas Jefferson
by Craig J. Cantoni
June 15, 2004

In the event you missed it, last week’s PBS show ”Washington Week in Review” discussed the presidential campaign between John Kerry, George Bush, Ralph Nader and Thomas Jefferson. Here is a transcript of the segment:

Gwen Ifill (Host): It’s not surprising that John Kerry and George Bush are still running neck and neck, but the big news of the week is the huge drop in the polls for Libertarian candidate Thomas Jefferson. CBS is now projecting that he will get fewer votes than Ralph Nader.

Michael Duffy (Time Magazine): I have never seen a candidate with such radical ideas and such a tin ear for politics. The dumbest thing he did this week was poke his finger in the eye of the American Association of Retired People while on the stump in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In speaking about the trillions of dollars in Medicare bills that will be passed to future generations, he actually said the following: ”I sincerely believe… that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity under the name of funding is but swindling futurity on a large scale.”

David Sanger (NY Times): Yeah, it’s unbelievable that he would equate Medicare to swindling. But then he kept digging his political grave by adding this: ”Then I say, the earth belongs to each of these generations during its course, fully and in its own right. The second generation receives it clear of the debts and incumbrances of the first, the third of the second, and so on. For if the first could charge it [the next generation] with a debt, then the earth would belong to the dead and not to the living generation. Then, no generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own existence.”

Tom Gjelten (National Public Radio): And what is it with his funny way of talking? He’ll never get the votes of the MTV generation by speaking above the sixth-grade level.

Gwen Ifill: Good point, Tom. And what do you think of him slamming Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan for not telling the truth about paper money that is not backed by gold?

Tom Gjelten: Jefferson’s ears aren’t tin. They’re hardened steel. Greenspan is an icon, but Jefferson preached to him about the danger of paper money. Let me quote what he said: ”The trifling economy of paper, as a cheaper medium, or its convenience for transmission, weighs nothing in opposition to the advantages of the precious metals… it is liable to be abused, has been, is, and forever will be abused, in every country in which it is permitted.”

Michael Duffy: I don’t think that was his biggest gaffe, considereing that other than Wall Street, no one understands the banking system. His biggest gaffe was alienating Hispanics with his stand on immigration.

Gwen Ifill: I thought he was in favor of immigration.

Michael Duffy: He is, but his mistake was warning about too much immigration from one country at one time. It’s hard to believe, but he actually made the following statement in San Antonio, Texas: ”[Is] rapid population [growth] by as great importations of foreigners as possible… founded in good policy?... They will bring with them the principles of the governments they leave, imbibed in their early youth; or, if able to throw them off, it will be in exchange for an unbounded licentiousness, passing, as is usual, from one extreme to another. It would be a miracle were they to stop precisely at the point of temperate liberty. These principles, with their language, they will transmit to their children. In proportion to their number, they will share with us the legislation. They will infuse into it their spirit, warp and bias its direction, and render it a heterogeneous, incoherent, distracted mass… If they come of themselves, they are entitled to all the rights of citizenship: but I doubt the expediency of inviting them by extraordinary encouragements.”

David Sanger: That was certainly a huge gaffe, but the biggest gaffe was his stand on the Iraq War, Israel and the Middle East. Rush Limbaugh was taken to the hospital with a heart attack when he heard about it. In speaking before the Anti-Defamation League in Manhattan, Jefferson gave a history of European meddling in the Middle East in the early 20th century and beyond, including the Balfour Declaration, the creation of the Zionist State of Israel in what had been a peaceful region, and Britain’s creation of Iraq out of three distinct cultures and warring tribes. He made the point that because European colonialsim is the root-cause of many of the problems in the Middle East, Europeans should solve the problems. Then he sent shock waves through the audience and the State Department by saying: ”I have ever deemed it fundamental for the United States never to take active part in the quarrels of Europe. Their political interests are entirely distinct from ours. Their mutual jealousies, their balance of power, their complicated alliances, their forms and principles of government, are all foreign to us. They are nations of eternal war. All their energies are expended in the destruction of the labor, property and lives of their people.”

Tom Gjelten: Let’s don’t forget that he also alienated the Religious Right and the Unreligious Left. He alienated the Religious Right by saying, ”Whenever… preachers, instead of a lesson in religion, put [their congregation] off with a discourse on the Copernican system, on chemical affinities, on the construction of government, or the characters or conduct of those administering it, it is a breach of contract, depriving their audience of the kind of service for which they are salaried, and giving them, instead of it, what they did not want, or, if wanted, would rather seek from better sources in that particular art of science.” Then he alienated the Unreligious Left by speaking about morals: ”Peace, prosperity, liberty and morals have an intimate connection.”

David Sanger: He even lambasted Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when he was asked at the University of Michigan what he thought about her affirmative-action decision. He responded that ”Laws are made for men of ordinary understanding and should, therefore, be construed by the ordinary rules of common sense. Their meaning is not to be sought for in metaphysical subtleties which may make anything mean everything or nothing at pleasure.”

Gwen Ifill: I also understand, David, that he has upset the Democratic wing of the Republican Party by attacking Senator John McCain for his campaign finance reforms.

David Sanger: He sure did, Gwen. He did it by expressing his weird view of the First Amendment. It’s hard to believe, but he actually said this about free speech: ”There are rights which it is useless to surrender to the government and which governments have yet always been found to invade. These are the rights of thinking and publishing our thoughts by speaking or writing; the right of free commerce; the right of personal freedom. There are instruments for administering the government so peculiarly trustworthy that we should never leave the legislature at liberty to change them.”

Tom Gjelten: Speaking of weird views, he has Congress and every lobbyist and federal employee up in arms over his warning about the centralization of power in Washington. To quote: ”When all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.”

Gwen Ifill: Thanks for your summaries, gentlemen. I’ll wrap up this segment with quotes from the other candidates about Jefferson. John Kerry said that ”Jefferson is a right-wing extremist who has obviously never read the Constitution.” Bush said that ”Jefferson is no compassionate conservative or patriot … uh, terrorism … uh, weapons of mass destruction … uh, a sovereign Iraq.” And Nader said, ”This man is an enemy of the proletariat and the environment.”

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Mr. Cantoni is an author and columnist. He can be reached at ccan2@aol.com. Credit is given to the following University of Virginia website for some of the Jefferson quotations: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/jefferson/quotations/

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