Parker is a "thinking conservative". By this I mean she is independent of thought on many issues, from promoting green technology to calling for Governor Sarah Palin to step down from the position of vice-Presidential Candidate in 2008 on the sensible grounds that she was unqualified to lead the country by sheer inexperience and inability, for instance, to name a single newspaper or magazine she read regularly.
For a country that is steeped in arguments from the Far Right about how our country should be governed more like the Founding Fathers envisioned it 230 years ago, it is important to reflect that many of the Founding Fathers like Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson were hostile to each other's vision of how the new nation should be governed.
Hamilton, an aide-de-camp to General Washington during much of the war believed in a more British style of elitist government, with a life-time Senate (or Upper House) and a President with few controls on his power. He later became the Secretary of the Treasury in Washington's government.
For his time Hamilton was the Conservative, a leader of the Federalist Party . His ideas for promoting a national bank, and the early manufacturing interests of the USA made him the ideal "urban man" of his time.
Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, believed in a more populist government of yeoman farmers and had a dread of the banking and manufacturing interests taking hold of the country. He was the Secretary of State in that first Presidential Cabinet. His was the old Democratic Party--a party dedicated to small government and upholding individual rights. Jefferson's ideals of freedom--albeit at the time those only concerning white males of property--clashed with Hamilton's views.
"A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government."
Hamilton saw the need for centralized power to deal with the emerging economic power of the young republic, to consolidate the debts incurred by the thirteen states during the revolution against Britain into a federal government liability, and to deal forcefully witrh the mini-rebellions brought on by the need for the taxation and the efforts of men to avoid contribution to the common good for selfish ends.
"In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place, oblige it to control itself."
That Jefferson was a slave-holder and Hamilton possibly a double agent for the British while negotiating a treaty with France in the 1790's not withstanding, these men represent the core friction in American history---how to balance the democratic or Jeffersonian ideals of America with the meritocratic and proto-capitalist side of the young nation. It is still a friction today, long after George Washington had to try and keep these two men together in some form of concord in his cabinet.
To at least understand the backdrop of this argument is a prerequisite for understanding the debate we are having-today about the role of government and the influence of big business in our lives.
But what if we cannot have a serious debate about it when the issues are clouded by ignorance and fear. I believe this is what is happening today.
To Kathleen Parker's column:
"America's growing historical illiteracy is well-known to educators and policymakers, a glance at the statistics likely would surprise most Americans.
"In 2006, for instance, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute tested the civic literacy of 14,000 freshmen and seniors at 50 colleges and universities. The average senior failed with a score of 54 percent.
"Also in 2006, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as the "Nation's Report Card," found that only about one-sixth of students in grades four, eight and 12 are proficient in American history.
"Students are brilliant, apparently, when it comes to popular culture, something we've long known. In a 1999 survey commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), 98 percent of students from 55 top colleges and universities could identify the rap singer Snoop Doggy Dogg and 99 percent knew who Beavis and Butt-head were.
"It is one thing to debate the merits of American exceptionalism, though at the current rate of our growing national ignorance there soon won't be anyone with whom to argue. It is another not to know the essential facts of our founding.
"Students can't be blamed for not knowing what they haven't been taught. Another ACTA study in 2002 found that most top universities and colleges no longer require any history courses. In the lower grades, those who do study history will bump into the name George Washington far less often than did previous generations. Washington coverage in many textbooks is 10 percent of what it was 50 years ago, according to Mount Vernon executive director Jim Rees.
"Even so, adults don't know much either. A national survey of adults commissioned by the American Revolution Center found that 83 percent failed a basic test on the American Revolution.
"We may not know much, but we seem to understand, as the Founders did, that a free society can function only insofar as its citizens are well educated. The same survey found that 90 percent of Americans think that knowledge of the American Revolution is very important."
So what are we left with? A nation that has activists yelling at one another about issues and past arguments that most of the participants only have the foggiest notion about. A nation ignorant of its own past with millions ready to be led astray by any demagogue who can throw a few half-truths into "the market-place of ideas". A nation which cannot pretend to appreciate what the Founding Fathers themselves were arguing about and how far apart they were on many issues. (And I left out early founders like Patrick Henry and George Mason, both of whom bolted from the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia when they couldn't get the type of states-rights government they wanted.)
Why do Americans allow anyone in print or through radio or television to talk about the Founding Fathers as if they were all of one mind? Why can't we take education in civics seriously anymore? Why is history thrown away like this and how long can ignorant people hope to even pretend to govern themselves?