Protesting a Defiler of US Principles
Editor’s Note: The right-wing Federalist Society sponsored a speech by ex- Justice Department lawyer John Yoo at the University of Virginia’s prestigious law school, where he was to expound on his theories that claimed unlimited powers for President George W. Bush, including the rights to torture captives and to initiate aggressive war.
Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern was among other Americans who stood in the street to protest Yoo’s appearance on Friday. The following are McGovern’s prepared remarks:
This morning I was reading the 11th grade AP American History textbook used in my granddaughter here in Charlottesville.
The textbook is titled: “The American Political Tradition and the Men who Made It.” The author is Richard Hofstadter; the book has been around since 1948….almost as long as I have been around.
It discusses the basics -- the assumptions behind American ideals and American politics. It is what I was taught.
What the author is most clear about is the influence of Thomas Jefferson on other distinguished statesmen….including those not privileged to be Virginians — like Abraham Lincoln, who was a real Republican.
Here is some of what Hofstadter says about the inspiration that Lincoln drew from Mr. Jefferson, whom Lincoln described as “the most distinguished politician of our history.”
“The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and the axioms of free society,” Lincoln declared in 1859.
In Lincoln’s eyes, the Declaration of Independence was what it had been to Jefferson — not merely a formal theory of Rights, but an instrument of Democracy.
And now we have lived through the dim days of John Yoo and other usurpers of those ideals, those rights; smart faux-lawyers who have other “theories” akin to those of the time of King George III.
There is a tendency to be dispirited — to lose the spirit of Mr. Jefferson, of Mr. Lincoln.
I think we can take inspiration from this observation by Hofstadter:
“Through all of Jefferson’s work there runs like a fresh underground stream the deep conviction that all will turn out well, that life will somehow assert itself.”
Though widely read, I’m not sure Mr. Jefferson included on his reading Julian of Norwich, the 14th Century English mystic, who had the same positive attitude. She famously said: “All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.”
To Jefferson no defeat could be more than a temporary interruption in the smooth flow of things toward the good.
As he approached his own end, Jefferson said: “I shall not die without the hope that light and liberty are on a steady advance.”
I mention again the title of Hofstadter’s book: “The American Political Tradition and the Men who Made It.”
Today, Mr. Jefferson’s university hosts one of the men who would UNMAKE it.
It is up to us -- Virginians and non-Virginians alike -- but common heirs to Mr. Jefferson’s ideals AND his courage, to confront those who re-impose the tyranny of an all-powerful, so-called “unitary executive,” with power even to torture.
It is up to us to KEEP HOPE ALIVE, in the tradition of Mr. Jefferson.
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