We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
237 years ago, a group of men gathered in Philadelphia to sign what I would argue is the single most important document in the history of the modern world. The Declaration of Independence, which so inspired the Americans of the thirteen colonies to rebel against their overlords, was the first time anyone had thought to write down that all mankind are created equal. What seems perfectly plain and for anyone living in a democracy in 2013 was extreme and rebellious in 1776. These 56 men were forced into action by what they saw as the tyrannical actions of the British Monarch and his Parliament; they hadn’t been convinced of Independence even 10 years earlier, some of the 56 still remained unconvinced even in July 1776. Today they would be branded terrorists, which is difficult to properly comprehend given the liberal principles they stood for. Perhaps the best way to relate them to the modern world is to think about how we view modern terrorists. Now I am certainly not saying that the goals of modern terrorists are of equal merit to that of Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, Adams and so on; far from it, in 2013 I’d like to think that we can tell the difference. But think about those in the modern world who seem extreme and that challenge the world order; those were Revolutionaries of 1770s and 1780s.
Did Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration, know what he was doing? Did Benjamin Franklin and John Adams who amended Jefferson’s initial draft? I like to think so. These were intelligent men who knew the magnitude of what they were doing and were smart enough to realize that there was no basis in the laws of the land for declaring the thirteen colonies independent. But crucially they realized there was basis in the laws of man, and that these trump any other law that was written down. It was the brilliance of Jefferson to capture this central law in words and write it down. I liken this discovery to Newton discovering gravity; it had been there all along, but no one had ever been able to give proper meaning to it.
Up until now I have used ‘man’ quite often; I use it as replacement for ‘mankind’, ‘humans’, etc. But of course ‘man’ is also perfectly accurate and could have actually been more specific – ‘white man’. The Declaration of Independence did not free the slaves, and it did not give women the same social standing as men. Both these facts are unfortunate to say the very least, but it is difficult to reasonably blame the signatories for this. It is unfair to judge decisions and actions so far in the past by modern standards. After all the Patriots were a product of their time, in fact actually they weren’t; they were the progressives and forward thinkers of their time. Jefferson himself, along with other Patriots was uneasy about the slave trade. That being said, his record on slavery was hit and miss a best; he freed some of the slaves he owned, he briefly tried to legislate for the emancipation of slaves twice, but he also traded hundreds of slaves during his lifetime. Jefferson was much like America as whole from 1776 onwards; by no means perfect, but heading in the right direction. Every journey, no matter how long or hard, starts with a single step. The Patriots of 1776 took that first step, and because of this, their predecessors were able to continue the journey; not least Abraham Lincoln who referenced the declaration directly in his famous Gettysburg Address:
A new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
The world has not reached the destination yet, the journey is far from complete. Racism still exists, homosexuals are still not fully equal, some nations still lack a basic democracy and women still remain unequal in many places of the world. But surely we can all be thankful for that first step, and surely the world is a better place overall because of what was declared on the 4th July 1776.
Not everyone likes America; since 1945 it has pursued a controversial foreign policy and alienated many. But surely most can agree its founding and core principles are worth celebrating and supporting. The irony of this blog post is that I, an Englishman living under the very same monarchy and government against which the Patriots rebelled in 1776, can write it and yet I don’t feel the need to rebel, I don’t feel oppressed and I don’t think my Queen is a tyrant. Would my country have got to this place without Jefferson and Adams? Probably. But I very much doubt it would have happened as fast. No matter whether you are an American or a Brit or any other nationality. No matter what gender, colour or sexuality. You should take a moment reflect on those men who gathered in Philadelphia 237 years ago; we can all be grateful that the spirit of Jefferson lives.
p.s. A link to an online copy of the Declaration of Independence
p.p.s. Many people are aware of this but its an interesting piece of Independence Day trivia worth sharing nonetheless. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, two of the three drafters of the Declaration of Independence and close friends for decades, died fifty years to the day after it was signed, on the 4th July 1826. Supposedly John Adams’ last words were “Jefferson lives”, not knowing his friend had died a couple of hours earlier.
“My greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f**king perch.”
Those were words of Alex Ferguson in 1993; he had just led Manchester United to their first league title in 26 years. At the time it probably seemed like a good quote but I doubt many took it seriously; United had just won their eighth league title, but the reds from Merseyside had eighteen. Little did anyone know that Ferguson would devote the next 20 years to turning an unlikely quote into a reality.
A legend of the game has retired today; like Clough, Busby or Paisley, he is unique and we will never see the like of him again. In recent years Manchester United have dedicated a stand after him and built a statue in his honour. If they proposed to rename Old Trafford after Sir Alex you would hear no arguments from me. Perhaps that would be going too far however; if Ferguson’s era has manager has lived by one rule, it is that no-one is bigger than the club, though many would argue (myself included) that he comes mighty close!
Full disclosure, I am a 24 year-old Manchester United fan. Sir Alex Ferguson is the only manager of my club that I’ve ever known. When I started Eight-20-Eight, I knew I may blog about sport but I did not want it to descend into a fans running commentary, living and dying with every result week in and week out. I intended to keep my passions as much to myself as possible, but as often happens in life, unexpected events will turn the best laid plans on their heads. In this case I feel I would be doing a disservice to the man if I did not offer some small thanks. There will plenty of United fans out there doing the same and probably as many rival fans offering shall we say alternative opinions.
Football is divisive by nature, it rarely produces those that are unanimously liked and Sir Alex no exception to that. He is loved and hated in equal measure but never ignored. Ferguson is a behemoth of the game; a towering personality whose devotion to winning has left enemies and admirers, but whichever category they fall under, 99.9% won’t be able to help but respect the man.
The most successful manager in British football’s history. 38 trophies since 1986; if he were a football club in his own right, he would be more successful than Arsenal, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Everton. Only Liverpool (and obviously United) have more trophies than Fergie. Is he perfect? Not by a long shot. He has flaws which have caused multiple touchline bans, led to the banning of reporters from press conferences and courted controversy and anger from fellow managers, opposition players and rival fans. But that isn’t why they hate him; they hate him because he’s made it work so well for him. Piers Morgan (who is not someone I have any time for) summed it up well in an article written back in 2008, when after spending multiple paragraphs listing his grievances with Fergie, concluded: “The main reason I loathe Sir Alex Ferguson is because he’s a winner.”
In part one of my tributes to the West Wing I explore the President himself. How likely is it that Josiah E. Bartlet could be elected President of the United States?
Taking into account his background, politics and character I will use historical precedents to try answer that question. The question itself was inspired by one of my university professors, who after thirty years of studying the American Presidency, concluded it to be very unlikely that Bartlet could make it to the Oval Office. Light spoilers throughout!
Josiah Edward Bartlet is a native of New Hampshire and is a descendant of Josiah Bartlett (with two t’s), who was a real-life signatory of the Declaration of Independence. He is a Roman Catholic and is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, and also has an MA and PhD from the London School of Economics. As if this education was not enough by itself, Bartlet won a Nobel Prize (pre-presidency) in Economics. His political background is that of three-term U.S. Congressman and a two-term Governor of New Hampshire.
On the face of it Bartlet’s background is a mixed bag in presidency terms. New Hampshire is the birthplace of just one US President, Franklin Pierce, who’s presidency (1853-1857) is widely regarded as a failure. But coming from New Hampshire is not all bad news; its a swing-state (Obama won 52% of its vote in 2012), so though it is only worth four electoral votes, its voters carry more weight overall in the election of a president. New Hampshire also hosts the first presidential primary, and so it is a springboard to any candidates presidential campaign and crucial to building money and momentum. From the West Wing we know Bartlet won the New Hampshire primary, that exposure will have helped him immeasurably in the race to the Democratic nomination.
Like his home state, Bartlet’s religion is highly unusual but not unique in presidential history; John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) was the first and only Roman Catholic president. Unsurprisingly then, as a Catholic institution, Notre Dame has never produced a U.S. president, though the JFK did attend the London School of Economics for a time. Taking levels of education most presidents have graduated college (10 have not), however Woodrow Wilson is the only president to have a PhD. Four U.S. Presidents (Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, Carter and Obama) have won a Nobel Prize, but unlike Bartlet, they all achieved it after entering the Oval Office, and Bartlet is also unique in that he did not win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Finally, Bartlet’s political career up to that point is very common for a President. 22 Presidents have been U.S. Congressman (most recently George H.W. Bush) and 17 have been Governors (most recently George W. Bush) prior to being elected President.
Josiah Bartlet is considered widely by his staff and other contemporaries to be the most liberal president since Kennedy (we can debate how liberal JFK was another time, for now I’ll let it slide). Strictly speaking this is not a point a presidential candidate would promote in modern politics. For better or for worse, ‘liberal’ has become a dirty word in American politics, like leprosy or some other serious affliction. The last president I would consider liberal was Lyndon Johnson (who I promise will be the subject of at least one future blog-post) and the three Democratic Presidents since (Carter, Clinton and Obama) have distanced themselves from the tag of ‘liberal’, whist campaigning and in office. Since the election of Ronald Reagan, the Republican party have been hugely effective at blackening the L-word and if Bartlet ran today he would most likely avoid it to have a chance at winning undecided voters. We also know from Bartlet’s Nobel Prize that he is sympathetic to Keynesian macroeconomic theory and believes in government intervention in the economy. This coupled with ‘liberal’ metaphorically tattooed across Bartlet’s forehead would take more than a few clever speeches from Sam and Toby to escape whilst still remaining a serious candidate. I can see Republican attack-ads now!
Bartlet’s other political area that I’d like to mention is abortion. Bartlet is pro-choice, very important to any Democratic nominee and integral to his liberalism. However, there is something for conservative America as well; Josiah Bartlet is anti-abortion personally, he travelled around the U.S. preaching why he believed women should consider not having them. This puts him on the abortion fence (a place not often occupied by American politicians) which is interesting in the sense it appeals to all but will gain the support of few. His Catholicism has given a very moralistic outlook on life which may appeal to undecided voters who usually lean toward the Republican Party.
Overall Josiah Bartlet’s background is more of a hindrance than it is helpful. His education and religion are highly unusual. Although New Hampshire is relatively important in nominating and electing a U.S. President, it is only worth four electoral-votes and as Bartlet is a Democrat he would expect to win most of the North-east region in a presidential election. On the plus side, his Nobel Prize and political experience of Washington and the state house would certainly aid his credentials in the eyes of voters.
His politics also make it very unlikely he could be elected to the Presidency. We know from the 1980s with Mondale and Dukakis that those portrayed as liberals are lambs to the slaughter in presidential elections. This may be changing in modern America but it certainly hasn’t changed yet.
In many ways Bartlet’s character is similar to that of Barack Obama. He is obviously very intelligent and doesn’t try to play down his intelligence (which is a trait numerous presidents have held over the years). But unlike Obama, Bartlet mixes his intellect with folksy charm that the American voters find so appealing, he is one of them. He has the ability to connect with anyone from children to the elderly and talk to them on their level and can also rely upon his humour.
Perhaps Josiah Bartlet’s major characteristic is that he possesses that X-factor which sets the mere mortal apart from those who are usually elected president; he has charisma and leadership to burn. Being a natural orator in the same league as Kennedy and Obama partly accounts for this, and would certainly make him a fierce campaigner. The power of a speech in campaigning and office can sometimes be overlooked, but it does have its uses, especially in the former (see Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic Convention). Though it is sometimes hard to imagine, not all presidents have the gift of the tongue. It is certainly preferable in a president but both George Bush sr. and jr. proved that it isn’t everything.
In short, Bartlet has the perfect character and temperament to be president but that has more to do with him being fictional than anything else. He was written as a man that encompasses all the qualities Americans look for in their commander-in-chief but that is a contradiction in itself: smart but folksy, superman but everyman, cool calm and collected but yet passionate, a realist and also a romanticist, caring and moralistic yet also strong and tough in the face of America’s enemies. I can safely say that none of the 44 U.S. Presidents have ever had a more perfect blend of all these qualities than President Bartlet.
Can Bartlet be elected?
I would love to believe that there’s a Josiah Bartlet out there right now waiting to be elected in 2016, but sadly I feel even if this were true he would be very unlikely to make it all the way to the Oval Office. Bartlet has nothing which by itself prohibits him from the presidency but his politics would be hard for the country to swallow; the ‘liberal’ tag along with his well-documented views on the role of government would have the GOP fundraisers laughing all the way to the bank. If Bartlet ever reached the Oval Office I have no doubt he’d be equipped to deal with the job at hand and would in that situation be far more likely to get re-elected, but getting to the White House is the problem. Perhaps it is better then that Josiah Bartlet remains a fictional character; better to see him succeed in front of our eyes, showing us what the president and the presidency can be than be battered from East coast to West on the campaign trail and watching the map turn red on election night.
I love The West Wing. Since I first saw it a few years ago it would be fair to say I’ve had more than a mild addiction to story of the Bartlet Administration. As someone who is greatly interested in US political history (so much so that I specialized in it for my Master’s degree) the show is a perfect blend of fascinating characters, living out a brilliantly scripted story, in an iconic setting – The White House. Just for fun, I present to the internet a three-part blogging tribute to Aaron Sorkin’s great creation.
In these tributes I will take an element of the West Wing story and attempt to fit it into the real American political landscape. Its more than slightly ambitious and will be open to huge amounts of alternative interpretations, but I’ll give it my best!
Naturally, there will be spoilers. If you haven’t seen the West Wing but want to then watch it first. Also, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!… I’m joking but seriously, do yourself a favour and see it!
Well here goes my return to blogging after dabbling with it a few years ago. I’ll post whenever something truly profound enters my mind… and more often when completely inprofound (this is only my first post and already I’m making up words) thoughts do.
I’m interested in Politics, History, Sports, TV, Films, Video Games and Pizza so expect anything and everything from those areas!
To begin with I plan to have a little fun with my favourite TV show – The West Wing.