What Jefferson didn’t know

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On the roster: What Jefferson didn’t know – Trump touts his coronavirus successes – Biden puts big banks in crosshairs – Dems reckon with chance of losing majority in 2022 – Kim Jong Flipper

In the winter of 1787, Thomas Jefferson took a break from Parisian court life and the other earthly delights offered by the cultural capital of the world to write his friend and fellow Virginian, Edward Carrington.

Carrington, a hero of the Revolutionary War, was serving in the third Continental Congress, which was struggling mightily in the tattered remains of the Articles of Confederation to govern thirteen colonies that had won their freedom only four years before.

Jefferson had a request for Carrington, a confidante of George Washington and brother-in-law of John Marshall.

Remember that this was Jefferson when he was still staring down that long nose of his at the Federalists and their desires for a powerful but divided central government with generous protections for minority positions. He was not in favor of pure democracy, but certainly envisioned a nation with a less powerful government but one that was more majoritarian.

It wasn’t enough to get him to leave Paris to come back and fight it out at the Constitutional Convention or anything, but he was worried about the fate of the revolution he had helped ignite. Like many rich people in France those days, he was feeling quite woke about the peasantry and much admired calls from men like Thomas Paine for a kind of democratic collectivism… s’il te plait passe moi la glace.

By the time he would become president five years later he had come to see the wisdom of the American system devised in large part by his friend, James Madison, but as a 44-year-old foreign minister in his third year in France, Jefferson was bummed at the thought.

He wrote to Carrington to express his happiness with the showing of public support for the formation of a successor government to the obviously insufficient articles.

But he was also trying to push Carrington toward press freedom but also Jefferson’s own majoritarian view. The United States would not need the kind of powerful government that the Federalists were envisioning because the people of America would be able to govern themselves so well.

You may be familiar with this letter for its oft-cited passage about Jefferson’s view on the value of newspapers in a democracy. You could have probably bought a tote bag with the quote on it at the Newseum before it closed.

“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep [free access to a free press]; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Jefferson was quick to assuage any doubts in his more conservative cousin to make clear he wasn’t just talking about some rabble: “But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”


Jefferson would have preferred a free press over a government. But of course somebody has to educate all the people and make sure they get all their newspapers. Oh, yeah, and somebody better make sure that mobs don’t go burn the newspapers down when they publish unpopular opinions. And then maybe the government will need to fund or distribute the newspapers so that they’re available without cost, even at a great distance.

This isn’t sounding so limited after all, Mr. Ambassador.

Jefferson in those days was very much in the thrall of the French Enlightenment which, unlike its Scottish counterpoint to the north, took a warm view of human nature. People did the wrong things so often, this view supposed, because cruel and unfair systems had perverted their decent natures.

But unlike their Calvinistic counterparts such as Adam Smith and David Hume, they did not stop to consider why such decent humans had forever designed such tyrannical and oppressive systems. If people were so good, ran the counterargument in the Northern Enlightenment, how come they made such bad governments? Liberties had to be secured from the impulses of man’s fallen nature — and those impulses included the tendency of majorities. Or so ran the view both in Edinburgh and the American Federalist movement.

But Jefferson was in those days thinking big and feeling good about his fellow human beings.

“I am convinced that those societies (as the Indians) which live without government enjoy in their general mass an infinitely greater degree of happiness than those who live under European governments,” he pined. “Among the former, public opinion is in the place of law, and restrains morals as powerfully as laws ever did anywhere.”

Holy crockano.

We do not mean to be so hard on Jefferson, the idealistic young man of the First Continental Congress who perfectly penned the American creed: “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.”

It is a whole way of seeing the world — a blueprint for righteous governance — in just 35 words. A miracle.
Jefferson is sort of like the Orson Welles of the founding. It doesn’t matter how many jug wine or fish stick commercials you do when you do something as good as “Citizen Kane” when you’re 25.

But for Jefferson in 1787, it was more Ernest & Julio Gallo than “Rosebud.”

A free press is only possible thanks to a strong but limited government. It must be a government strong enough to protect free expression from the inevitable use of violence by individuals and groups to silence or manipulate those free voices. But it must be limited enough so as not to become a vehicle for violence itself.

America is again engaged in a major discussion about how the free press works, whether the press is really “free” in a meaningful way and what the future will bring to an industry that is rapidly turning itself inside out.

We suspect history will remember the Teens of the 21st century in some substantial part for the birth of social media, connectivity and the terrible struggles of people around the world to grapple with the consequences of these innovations.

At the center of that is the same subject that once had Jefferson mooning over the possibility of pure democracy aided and upheld by sweet, clear knowledge poured into educated, informed vessels of humanity.

Hopes every bit as naive as those informed our first contact with a connected world. We have found instead that along with the great capacity to enrich humans from pole to pole and from rich to poor, this new era has come with serious costs to our capacity for self-governance and appetite for liberty.

Will the loud voices in the progressive and nationalist populist movements birthed by these changes quickly learn the lessons Jefferson eventually did? Will Americans continue to grow in their capacity to handle these new tools effectively?

Reckon we’re getting ready to find out.

“Under a vigorous national government, the natural strength and resources of the country, directed to a common interest, would baffle all the combinations of European jealousy to restrain our growth.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 11

Wired: “In early October, a dead Soviet satellite and the abandoned upper stage of a Chinese rocket narrowly avoided a collision in low Earth orbit. … Only a few days prior, the European Space Agency … highlighted abandoned rocket bodies as one of the biggest threats to spacecraft. The best way to mitigate this risk is for launch providers to deorbit their rockets after they’ve delivered their payload. But if you ask Jeffrey Manber, that’s a waste of a perfectly good giant metal tube. Manber is the CEO of Nanoracks, a space logistics company best known for hosting private payloads on the International Space Station, and for the past few years he has been working on a plan to turn the upper stages of spent rockets into miniature space stations. … Manber’s vision is … an extraterrestrial chop shop where … autonomous robots that cut, bend, and weld the bodies of spent rockets until they’re fit to be used as laboratories, fuel depots, or warehouses.”

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AP: “President Donald Trump is touting the fast progress in getting a vaccine available to counter the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 240,000 people in the United States. No vaccine has been formally approved, but Trump said one could be available to the general public as soon as April. Trump spoke in the Rose Garden on Friday, his first comments since Election Day. He did not concede the election to President-elect Joe Biden but said his administration will never go to a lockdown that a Biden administration might recommend. For now, it’s a question the president-elect would prefer to avoid. In the week since he defeated Trump, Biden has devoted most of his public remarks to encouraging Americans to wear a mask and view the coronavirus as a threat that has no regard for political ideology. Trump on Friday called U.S. work on the vaccine the ‘single greatest mobilization in U.S. history’ in pioneering and developing vaccines and therapies in record time — five times faster than the 8 to 12 years it normally takes.”

Federal officials celebrate ‘most secure’ election ever – NYT: “Hours after President Trump repeated a baseless report that a voting machine system ‘deleted 2.7 million Trump votes nationwide,’ he was directly contradicted by a group of federal, state and local election officials, who issued a statement on Thursday declaring flatly that the election ‘was the most secure in American history’ and that ‘there is no evidence’ any voting systems were compromised. The rebuke, in a statement by a coordinating council overseeing the voting systems used around the country, never mentioned Mr. Trump by name. But it amounted to a remarkable corrective to a wave of disinformation that Mr. Trump has been pushing across his Twitter feed. The statement was distributed by the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which is responsible for helping states secure the voting process. Coming directly from one of Mr. Trump’s own cabinet agencies, it further isolated the president in his false claims that widespread fraud cost him the election.”

Trump campaign gives up on Arizona suit – KUTV: “The legal team for President Donald Trump is dropping a lawsuit which sought to review Arizona’s ballots after Trump’s team discovered they could not overcome the margin of victory in the Grand Canyon State, according to CNN. Trump’s lawsuit alleged that voters were confused and fearful that their ballots would not be counted. The reason, the lawsuit alleges, is because of erroneous ‘overvotes’ calculated by tabulation machines. The lawsuit wanted a hand review of ballots rejected by tabulation machines as ‘overvotes.’ Overvotes mean different things in different states, and there are several instances which could qualify ballots as overvotes. Overvotes are not included in final vote tallies. An example of an overvote would be a person voting for two people which the instructions say to only vote for one candidate.”

Law firm backs away as Trump Pennsylvania effort sputters – Bloomberg: “A law firm representing the Trump campaign in its challenges to the Pennsylvania election results gave notice that it’s withdrawing from one of the cases. Lawyers with Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP submitted a filing late Thursday stating they were withdrawing as counsel in a federal suit seeking to block Pennsylvania from certifying its vote. No reason was given. In a statement issued Friday, the firm confirmed the filing but did not say why it was exiting the case. ‘We’ve committed to the court to fulfill our obligations as required to ensure transition to substitute counsel and so as not to cause material adverse effect on the client’s interest,’ Porter Wright said. … Porter Wright is one of two law firms targeted by the Lincoln Project — a group of Republicans who oppose President Donald J. Trump — for their work on lawsuits challenging the election results. The campaign included encouraging people to email the lawyers on the cases.”

Crosstabbed: What 2020 polling flaws can tell us – NYT: “For the second straight presidential election, the polling industry missed the mark. The miss was not as blatant as in 2016, when polls suggested Mr. Trump would lose, nor was the miss as large as it appeared it might be on election night. Once all the votes are counted, the polls will have correctly pointed to the winner of the presidential campaign in 48 states — all but Florida and North Carolina — and correctly signaled that Mr. Biden would win. But this year’s problems are still alarming, both to people inside the industry and to the millions of Americans who follow presidential polls with a passion once reserved for stock prices, sports scores and lottery numbers. The misses are especially vexing because pollsters spent much of the last four years trying to fix the central problem of 2016 — the underestimation of the Republican vote in multiple states — and they failed.”

Politico: “President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team has recruited a who’s-who of Wall Street critics to help launch his administration, the latest indication that the days of light-touch bank regulation under President Donald Trump are coming to an end. Leading the transition’s preparation to run financial regulatory agencies is Gary Gensler, an Obama-era regulator — and former top Goldman Sachs executive — who enraged big banks by imposing sweeping new rules on the industry in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Gensler’s team includes former Democratic congressional aides who played a major role in drafting tougher laws for financial firms after the subprime meltdown and later fought efforts to water them down. One member has rattled bank executives for years as the head of one of Washington’s leading financial reform groups, Better Markets. Another is an advocate for the Postal Service offering financial services that would compete with banks.”

GOP senators, governors reach out to Biden in secret – NBC News: “Ron Klain, the incoming White House chief of staff, said Thursday that President-elect Joe Biden has spoken to Republicans since he won the presidential race. ‘He’s spoken to some Republican senators, some Republican governors. I’m not going to go into the names,’ Klain said in an interview on MSNBC’s ‘The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.’ Asked if GOP senators have called Biden or if the president-elect called them, Klain said it’s been a mix of both. Klain, a longtime adviser to Biden who was announced as the next chief of staff on Wednesday, said that the president-elect has not yet spoken to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and suggested part of the reason is that McConnell has thrown his support behind President Donald Trump’s efforts to contest the election results.”

China caves, acknowledges Biden win; Russia still holding out – AP: “China has become one of the last major countries to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden, who is expected to make few changes to U.S. policy toward Beijing on trade, technology and other conflicts that have soured relations. China, along with Russia, avoided joining the throng that congratulated Biden last weekend after he and running mate Kamala Harris won the White House. ‘We respect the choice of the American people. We congratulate Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris,’ a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman says.”

Biden looks to Mattis’ team for transition help – Politico: “President-elect Joe Biden’s team has had initial discussions with people who worked for former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis about helping with the transition at the Pentagon and possibly serving in the new administration, according to three people familiar with the move. The conversations are in the early stages, particularly as President Donald Trump has so far blocked the start of the official transition process, said the people, all former Trump administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive personnel issues. Biden is aiming to build an effective, bipartisan Defense Department leadership team, said one former Trump Pentagon official. The Biden team will in the coming weeks be reaching out to more former officials who were appointed by Mattis to talk about the transition and potentially serving, the person said.”

Hillary said to be eyed for U.N. gig – WaPo: “One intriguing name being discussed privately is former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, according to the person familiar with the chatter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The thinking behind the move was that it would be a way for Biden to highlight the importance of that position in his administration and that placing her there would raise the prestige of the U.N. itself at a time when global cooperation, and the U.S. role on the world stage, has ebbed.”

Politico: “A dozen races remain uncalled, and Democrats caution they won’t have all the answers for months. But many in the party are warning that the biggest priority for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee must be overhauling its message. They say it needs to craft a proactive campaign that counters GOP attacks on everything from Medicare for All to fracking — if they have any hopes of keeping their majority in 2022. ‘There were ads being run all over the country about socialism and about the Green New Deal and in some parts of the country that didn’t help,’ Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said in an interview. ‘I think it would be irresponsible for a person in our family — in the Democratic Caucus family — who is concerned about it not to mention it. ‘Others were more blunt: ‘From my standpoint, as a moderate Democrat … it’s crystal clear we need a different message than what we’ve been having,’ added Rep. Kurt Schrader (Ore.).”

McCarthy: GOP now ‘party of the American worker’ – Fox News: “House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said this week that the 2020 election was a ‘mandate against socialism,’ touting Republican gains in the House of Representatives and arguing the results show the GOP is the ‘party of the American worker.’ McCarthy, of California, during a press conference on Thursday said Republicans’ ‘success is already threatening Democrats.’ ‘Instead of planning to work with us, they’re already plotting ways to silence the minority party’s voice in Congress,’ McCarthy said. ‘We won’t let them silence us.’ ‘We are going to fight them, push back against Democrats’ radical policies, and will continue to put America first,’ McCarthy said. … McCarthy said ‘that is the actual mandate we had from the voters.’”

National Journal: “Democrats are pinning their hopes for a Senate majority on two runoffs in Georgia. But even if they’re successful, it would be a brittle position. Even the most optimistic scenario for Democrats seeking the majority in January will only amount to a 50-50 tie, granting Sen. Chuck Schumer the status of majority leader by virtue of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s ability to break ties. That could replicate a state-of-play that has only happened once before in this century, when Senate leaders Trent Lott and Tom Daschle designed a power-sharing agreement in the evenly divided Senate in the aftermath of the closely contested 2000 elections that sent President George W. Bush to the White House. … When the next Congress convenes on Jan. 3 as required by the Constitution absent legislation otherwise, the Senate majority will still be in limbo. The 50 Republicans who have won their seats would compose a majority in comparison to the 48 senators in the Democratic caucus. The two seats representing Georgia would be temporarily vacant.”

Georgia recount underway – AJC: “Georgia’s manual recount began Friday morning as election workers reviewed the first of nearly 5 million ballots to confirm the outcome of the presidential race. The recount started at 9 a.m. and will last until 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, resulting in a new, official count in the race where Joe Biden led Donald Trump by 14,000 votes as of Friday morning. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has tested negative for the coronavirus. Raffensperger took two types of tests, both of which indicated he isn’t infected with the virus, said Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs on Friday. Raffensperger began self-quarantining Thursday after his wife tested positive. Fuchs said the quarantine won’t affect the work of the secretary of state’s office on the ongoing recount and audit of the presidential election.”

Perdue likens Ossoff to Schumer, Pelosi – Fox News: “Republican Sen. David Perdue of Georgia is spotlighting a well-publicized comment made by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in the first TV of his runoff campaign against his Democratic challenger, Jon Ossoff. And the spot – shared first with Fox News – charges that, if elected, Ossoff would help Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ‘radically change America.’ The runoff elections for both of Georgia’s Republican-held Senate seats will take place on Jan. 5, and they will determine whether the GOP holds on to its majority in the chamber, or if the Democrats will control both houses of Congress in addition to the White House. The spot, which the Perdue campaign said will start running Friday statewide on broadcast, cable and satellite TV, features comments Schumer made a week ago, when he said, ‘Now, we take Georgia. Then, we change America.’ … Campaign manager Ben Fry told Fox News that ‘the only way to save America is to save the Republican majority in the Senate by reelecting David Perdue.’”

Coronavirus rages, threatens hospital capacities – WSJ

Feds set record in October with $134.5 billion in deficit spending – AP

Charles Koch offers a mea culpa as he returns to his libertarian roots – WSJ

“She knows Maine. She is Maine.” – Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage talking to the AP about how Sen. Susan Collins overcame massive spending and long odds to win re-election.

Tune in this Sunday as Mr. Sunday sits down with legal panel Ken Starr and Laurence Tribe. Watch “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.” Check local listings for broadcast times in your area.

#mediabuzz – Host Howard Kurtz has the latest take on the week’s media coverage. Watch #mediabuzz Sundays at 11 a.m. ET.

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Fox News: “North Korea has repurposed its porpoises — for war, a report said Wednesday. The hermit kingdom appears to be training dolphins as part of its naval force, according to satellite images obtained by the non-profit United States Naval Institute. The images show animal pens floating in murky waters, between a shipyard and a coal loading dock, with warships based nearby, the USNI said. It appears that the North Korean program dates back to at least October 2015, according to the photos. Another base further up the river on the edge of town seems to be where the dolphins are being bred, the report said. The US Navy pioneered the use of marine mammals, including dolphins and sea lions, for military purposes — such as spotting mines and locating enemy swimmers. To date, only the Russian Navy, with bases in the Arctic and Black Sea, had followed suit.”

“In baseball’s perfectly American balance of anarchy and order, uniforms are worn. But republican flannels, for God’s sake, not the pads and helmets of a Nixonian Swiss guard.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on Jan. 25, 1985.

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here. 

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.