Establishing the intellectual bona fides of Thomas Jefferson is like detailing the luminosity of the sun, an exercise in the obvious, but with stars plunging from every realm, Hollywood and elsewhere, the point is worth reiterating. Leave it to President John F. Kennedy at a 1962 reception for Nobel Prize winners: “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House,” JFK said, “with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
Admiration these days generally being reserved for the self, the founding fathers’ modern cred suffers, particularly under the microscope of revisionists whose knowledge of history bears the clarity and depth of a mud puddle. Jefferson and the founders toppled tyranny and launched a nation. But what did they do for the Amazon? What good is a country if the polar ice caps melt? And where was their wall? How do you think all these foreigners got here?
Forgive us for insisting on viewing the founders through the lens of their era rather than ours and being admirers of what we see, even while acknowledging their flaws. Towering among those giants was Jefferson, whose faults were legion, like those of the country he helped mold. He understood innately the old saw sputtered ad nauseam by modern pundits, that democracy is messy business. A free press was the best means of addressing the ills, Jefferson said.
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” Jefferson wrote.
Disdaining newspapers is popular in some corners but old news in all of them. They riled Jefferson, too. He described newspapers as “putrid,” “wretched” and “vulgar.” But he understood their import in a free republic.
This especially applies in communities like ours set a world beyond the Beltway. Who will detail Franklin County school officials’ flubs of a grade-school playground project if newspapers do not? What about unused county government parcels or plans for local roundabouts?
Franklin County is as foreign as Mexico or China to Washington’s major players and the television news personalities who breathlessly chronicle the faux drama there. The decisions that most directly affect the life of this place are made here, not there. Local elected officials, not elected national political celebrities, determine whether local roads are fixed or built, schools are renovated or replaced, parks go up or real estate taxes go down.
Cable news networks will not report those events. Nor will the Daily Mail regurgitate a rewritten version of another organization’s reporting and push it to Facebook or elsewhere. These pages are the place to turn. Those who’ve read this far surely know this already. The same might not apply to loved ones or friends. Urge them to close their ears to the national political cacophony and shift their gaze toward home.
When they do, we will have plenty of stories to tell them.