So long as it was an abstraction for future generations, Thomas Jefferson had an inkling of what was in effect the "politically correct" thing to say. Jefferson understood the stain of slavery on his historical legacy, and so said things like this:
"[T]here is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach [slavery]... we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other ..."The view that slaves were not "ready" for citizenship was common at the time and persisted through the Civil War, when even Lincoln entertained deporting slaves to an African free state as a solution. The moral taint of slavery, for Jefferson and his contemporaries, was tempered by the racist view that to free African American slaves and accord them the full rights of citizenship would unleash the "wolf" which the white slave owner cannot "safely let [him] go" or imperil his own "self-preservation."
In a word, this is RACISM. It is based on FEAR. Fear of the black man (our President, today), fear of the "other" (a Muslim, an illegal immigrant), fear that the white man's history is being usurped by that "other" and must therefore be whitewashed with idealized revisionism. Glenn Beck earns his millions peddling fear, revisionist history, and racism. This guy's no dope. When he said President Obama was a racist against white people, a seemingly absurd notion in this day and age, Beck was tapping into that fear expressed by Thomas Jefferson almost two centuries ago, that the black man (substitute the slave for Obama) imperiled the white man's "self-preservation."
Expressed deficit and tax concerns within the Tea Party insurgency are mostly sugar-coating, because these people were nowhere to be found when the economy tanked under George W. Bush and deficits exploded, nor did they raise a protest when President Obama extended tax cuts for the rich, ripping another $700 billion hole in the deficit. It was only when a black man became president of the United States that, suddenly, the Tea Party insurgency sprouted.
Having said this, Thomas Jefferson, imperfect vessel and RACIST though he was, still remains my favorite Founding Father. Thomas Jefferson was a man of his time. His place in history is assured as the author of the Declaration of Independence. But if slavery had to be ended by bloody Civil War, it took another hundred years for the Civil Rights Act to be passed, granting African Americans the full rights of citizenship.
Thomas Jefferson and the slave-owning Founding Fathers are not absolved of their greatest sin.
Yet, we must endure libertarian fools like Rand Paul, who would deny the state the right to prohibit racism in interstate commerce when at one time in our history human beings were trafficked commodities — three-fifths of a person — in interstate commerce. And we must endure blowback from ignorant fools infesting the racist Tea Party insurgency, with their silly colonial outfits, their guns and their hideous signs, flashing pocket copies of the U.S. Constitution which they never bothered to study in high school and hardly understand today.
So KUDOS to Chris Matthews for reminding us all that history, our history, is not to be romanticized and idealized beyond the harsh reality of it, or trifled with to serve a larger political propaganda purpose. That's what the Nazis did. Really.