(Updated from 2010, when Obama-the-idea was still new.)
The GOP establishment has always kept one foot in the water bucket during a thunderstorm; never fixing that hole in the roof, because, when it’s raining, it too wet to go outside, and when it’s sunny, hell, there ain’t no leak. For a century this view of politics has held sway in state capitals and in Washington alike, but today, it doesn’t take into account that Democrats still have every state into little more than administrative accounting unit, or that the only real defense against this takeover will be a bridging of that divide between the Red and Blue GOP.
Only instead of a united front, we are throwing a three-tiered front; Blue Establishment Republicans, Red Conservatives, and in the last year, (but brewing for a decade or more) an amalgam of American detritus, often referred to by me as the Common Man and Woman, offering a return to an older definition, or hue, of Red.
We know infinitely more about each today than we did in 2009. And it all seems to reside in the absence of a single handshake.
The Class Struggle, the Usual Suspect
Long before I ever got into my book debate with Moses Sands (1998) about the Constitution and common man, he and I spoke many times about the role of class in American society and politics. We agreed it was worse then (1990s- Clinton era) than it had been in the 1890s, at the time of the robber barons, or the 1950s with the rise of the new capitalists after the Depression and WWII. The difference was a simple matter of demographics, a Blue diaspora, and hard math, with far more Americans becoming better educated in a higher percentage of shirt and tie professions…and many, many more in government-related work, where it’s simply harder to be continue to be a conservative and draw a state paycheck. Or. even a Republican, as election results prove in both Virginia and Maryland, when federal employment has turned both states blue. (Certain laws apply here about loyalty to the hand that feeds you which are immutable, and go back to the time of the pharaohs.
This can be laid at the feet of the Left for well over 100 years. This divide is not an accident, or mere consequence. It was always an objective, by introducing Republicans to the seductiveness of the dark side of power, a power based on class and status.
All they had to do was dispose of “the handshake” that was always a part of the reciprocal nature of our founding, culturally embedded into our national identity and legally embedded into our founding documents. Thomad Jefferson wrote one, and Alexander Hamilton was a principal in writing the other.
The Jefferson-Hamilton Handshake, and a Brief History
In all honesty I don’t know where either of these men fit into defining the blue side of the modern Republican Party. I’m not a scholar of either man, but feel I have a good sense of both from their writing, their lives, but most of all their impact on humanity, both in America and universally.
What I know best is that Jefferson did was betray his class, just like the southern colonial leaders who put their John Hancock on the Declaration in 1776. They were all considered men who had betrayed their class, which does not sound like a very blue-GOP thing to do, by today’s standards. While Charles Beard, a Wilson-era Progressive historian attempted to show that these men started the Revolution because of economic gain, he in fact was full of baloney. Think about it. Imagine John Kerry deciding that he would risk all he currently owned, go into hiding for seven years, lose all his friends from Yale and down at the Chilton Club, on the chance that if this new ragtag group he’d signed up with could actually defeat the greatest army in the world, he would get to keep his property share in Massachusetts, no more, no less than what he already owned. Who would risk that? Where are the percentages…if you’re a beta male? Beard was a progressive fool because he could never understand or even consider the great personal courage it required to look your own class(mates) in the eye and deny them…over a thing as “trivial” as the dignity and rights of a bunch of low born (smelly) rednecks (of the day)….a thing by the way no left-winger can do or has done since Whitaker Chambers. Beard was a cynic about the nobility of human ideals, as are most leftists, but still, his constitutional views have been trolling around like little spirochetes in the venereal version of constitutional history for two generations, at least. We were all injected.
While intellectually I favor Hamilton more in discussions about the Constitution (which was his baby, not Jefferson’s, anyway) I will always measure Tom Jefferson for the unquantifiable courage required to place the ideals of liberty and human dignity over his comfortable station in life. And to my friends at NR, Jefferson also did (still does) a thing that no conservative or constitutional writer has ever been able to do, and that is make men around the world weep over this little-understood and new-found notion of freedom. I’ve seen it, and know it to be so. With one simple phrase…”we hold these truths to be self-evident”…he answered a question those newly-freed men and women of East Europe and Russia had been searching for over a century. It was they who pointed this out to me, not the other way around, that the operative word of the entire preamble to the Declaration was “self-evident”, meaning that even Ivan Ivanovitch could “pursue life, liberty, happiness without permission of state.” I have since renamed that the “Homer Simpson Clause to the Declaration of Independence”, for it defines the primary purpose of the “more perfect union” laid out in the Constitution.
They say every great product has an idea guy and a nuts-and-bolts bean counter. Steve Jobs and whoever it was that ran him off at Apple. Pitney and Bowles. Montgomery and Ward.
In America, the factory of freedom, clearly the guy(s) who supplied that blueprint would stand tallest. But worldwide, where liberty and freedom were but gleams in the eye, un-choreographed dreams known more by illusion and feelings than real senses, Thomas Jefferson best articulated those dreams, and American proved they could be turned into a reality.
That is the handshake.
While I doubt they ever physically shook on anything, they would agree that their products, the Declaration and the Constitution is for Everyman, the common man and woman, and not select use, or understandings of the uncommon man, (where trouble always hides).. Again, if you are of the blue GOP persuasion, or the younger conservative generation, tell me where I’m wrong here, for this is the handshake we have to re-grip in order to defeat the Left.
The Handshake, Redux
By way of orientation, if at any time you want to stop and look at your feet, and the shoulders you’re standing on, as a benchmark for how your world developed the past three generations, and how you see the rest of America around you, feel free to do so, because if you went to college, any college since 1950, you are part of that progressive tradition brought over from Europe in the early 1900s…unless, UNLESS, due to better upbringing outside of public schools, or good luck, much of it provided by men like Bill Buckley, you held onto enough common sense and critical thinking so as to ask questions, rather than take on faith, and be willing to wait for the answers to be revealed before taking action or making irreversible decisions. (During Vietnam this was called the “crossroads” my generation confronted, where to a great extent, the best went one way, while the so-called brightest went the other. That beat goes on.)
I’m not a Catholic, but if I can find an old cathedral I will worship there every Sunday, just so I can watch one of the most ancient of handshakes, the Eucharist, take place, a process that is over a thousand years old. But it is no different than the handshake that goes all the way back to Augustine and Aquinas, and through them all the way up to both Jefferson and Hamilton…and now to we few, which first begat, and now protects those ancient ideals of human dignity and liberty.
When I first wrote this in 2010 I would not impute any of the Blue GOP persuasion as actually being in bed with the Left. I doubt most like the Left at all. But they are joined at the hip with a sense of status (and all that entails), class (and all thet entails), and a common sense of defining ones self by who they are not.
We conservatives consider it our duty to offer that handshake because someone somewhere offered it to one of those shoulders we stand on, thus putting us where we are. It’s that simple. The Republican Party stands for gratitude, or it stands for nothing…and as we grapple with tax policy, health care, the environment, we can never lose sight of that simple foundation, someone else’s shoulders, and the simple, even easy (for most) duty to always extend that hand.
And if that doesn’t convince you, and things get out of hand anyway, consider my 2 x 4 version of the Jefferson-Hamilton handshake.
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