A letter to Thomas Jefferson

… as portrayed by Clay Jenkins for The Thomas Jefferson Hour, in response to the special edition Silicon Valley episode, with the President being interviewed by Joint Venture’ Russell Hancock, discussing California, technological progress, public education and governance.

Dear Mr. Jefferson,

I’ve been listening to your show for a while, and I’m glad to report it’s been a fascinating, refreshing experience to have a humanities scholar presenting a historically-informed portrayal of how you would have reacted to present conditions (and humble enough to follow Wittgenstein’s dictum, „Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.“).

All too often, people who claim to represent a historical figure’s tradition tend not to have a clue what they are talking about — witness the “Jeffersonian” Tea Party movement (Bachmann didn’t even know where Concord was!). Or the “strict constitutionalists” — who’d be aghast at your idea that the constitution be rewritten every generation! I was just thinking a few days ago about the need for better civics education, when discussing the lack of awareness of American and Canadian electorates of their own voting systems.

Or the bible-thumping fundamentalists (I do need to listen to your 794th episode on The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth! .. but I digress.

What I’d like to ask is regarding your suggestion that California should be broken up to smaller, less unwieldy pieces. I greatly support the idea — my favorite books include The Nine Nations of North America (that suggests that north California does not belong, economically and culturally, with the southern parts anyway) and I read blogs like Lost States and Strange Maps with interest.

I do have a concern that it might be politically intractable. Not at the state level, but at the federal level! Now, you also suggest that the entire constitution be rewritten anyway, and I agree there, but isn’t there a connection between the two? Under the current system for electing the Senate, Republicans would very likely reject a partitioning of California — it’s bad enough that they have had two Democratic Senators for a while, but giving them even more? (unless the partitioning is gerrymandered and you create coastal Democratic and landlocked Republican states!).

I wonder what the citizens of Los Angeles would think as well, being cut off from their access to water resources in Northern California…

PS any chance you would have been a Linux user? Your support for the free citizenry would match well with the public commons of the free software, open source and free culture movements. You’d find the governance models of, say, the Fedora Project or Debian fascinating (disclaimer: I am a contributor with the former).

Yours sincerely,

Michel A. Salim


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