He’s not the founding father with the hit musical. Unlike his longtime political rival, John Adams, he’s never been lionized in an HBO miniseries. Still Thomas Jefferson, whose 275th birthday came and went last week with little fanfare other than a statue being vandalized, might be pleased that the nation is looking his way.
We remember Jefferson as a champion of states’ rights – the foil of Alexander Hamilton’s federalism. But he also valued defiance (“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical”).
That’s music to the ears of Trump-loathing Californians, not to mention a trio of South Carolina Republican lawmakers who recently introduced a bill calling for a secession debate “if the federal government confiscates legally purchased firearms.”
Jefferson also drafted (anonymously) the Kentucky Resolutions, in which he championed the doctrine of “nullification” – a state declaring acts of Congress null and void when it believes the federal government has committed an abuse of power.
You think California’s ever-carping “resistance” might go along with that notion?
As proof that politics makes strange bedfellows, California’s Democratic leaders – the ones suing the Trump administration and defying the president at every turn – find themselves seeing eye to eye on federal estrangement with … Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
You read that right.
In the 2016 presidential election, the uber-conservative Cruz quoted Jefferson with the frequency of a man trying not so much to gain entrance to the White House as admission to the University of Virginia. “The purpose of the Constitution, as Thomas Jefferson put it,” Cruz declared in his campaign kickoff speech, “is to serve as chains to bind the mischief of government.”
That doesn’t qualify Cruz a “nullifer.” But he is pro-mischief in the great Jeffersonian sense. Several years ago, before he ran for Congress, Cruz espoused a “shield of federalism” doctrine — states should form compacts among themselves to get out from under the federal yoke.
Then, red states banded together against Obamacare. In 2018, blue states are feeling oppressed.
As the biggest of those aggrieved states, perhaps California should consider a Pacific Rim “shield” in partnership with Oregon, Washington and Hawaii – all under Democratic control.
It makes sense ideologically. You may have noticed that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown beat Jerry Brown to the punch on opposing President Trump’s call for National Guard troops at the border; later this year, she plans to sign a bill making Oregon the first state to disconnect from the federal tax code.
The shield also makes sense geographically. Only eight states in America are so-called Democratic trifectas (control of both legislative chambers and the governorship) versus 26 that are all-GOP operations, and the West Coast is the only place where the Democratic trifecta spans three states.
Maybe this is Gov. Brown’s play in 2019. Just as Jefferson spent four years in Paris as the young republic’s minister to France, Brown could relocate to Washington, D.C., which he visited again this week, to serve as lead emissary for the West Coast “shield.”
If you want to celebrate Jefferson (as I will with a glass of bourbon), don’t make it a pity party. He’s one of a very select group of Americans whose image is on coin and currency, the side of Mount Rushmore, and a monument in the nation’s capital. Not bad for a rebel at heart.