Reprinted with permission from CreatorsIn New York City, a statue of Thomas Jefferson has graced the City Council chamber for 100 years. This week, the Public Design Commission voted unanimously to remove it. "Jefferson embodies some of the most shameful parts of our country's history," explained Adrienne Adams, a councilwoman from Queens. Assemblyman Charles Barron went even further. Responding to a question about where the statue should go next, he was contemptuous: "I don't think it should go anywhere. I don't think it should exist."
When iconoclasts topple Jefferson, they seem to validate the argument advanced by defenders of Confederate monuments that there is no escape from the slippery slope. "First, they come for Nathan Bedford Forrest and then for Robert E. Lee. Where does it end? Is Jefferson next? Is George Washington?"
No historical figure is without blemish, they protest. And it's unfair to condemn our ancestors using today's standards. If owning slaves is the discrediting fact about Lee, how then can we excuse George Washington? As if on cue, "TFG" chimed in with a statement chiding the city for "evicting" the "late, great Thomas Jefferson, one of our most important founding fathers." Not so important, apparently, that former President Donald Trump felt the need to learn about him though, because the next phrase was "a principal writer of the Constitution of the United States." Sigh. No, Jefferson was in Paris during the Constitutional Convention. He authored another founding document Trump hasn't read. But never mind.
There is an answer — a reason why it's right to remove Robert E. Lee from his pedestal in Richmond, Virginia, yet wrong to exile Thomas Jefferson from a place of honor in American life. It requires grappling with the full complexity of human beings and the mixed legacy of history. We must, as William Shakespeare said, "Take them for all in all," that is, judge them for their entire lives, not just a part.
People who defend monuments to Lee on the grounds that he played an important role in our history are confusing significance with honor. Lee surely played a huge role in our history, but as the leader of an army whose aim was to destroy the union. That made him a textbook traitor. As Ulysses Grant put it in his memoir, recalling his feelings upon accepting Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Lee had fought "valiantly" but for a cause that was "one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse."
Is it fair to judge Lee by our modern standards? Perhaps not, but even by the standards of his own day, he is wanting. Much has been made of Lee's supposedly agonizing decision to resign his U.S. Army commission because he could not "raise my hand against my birthplace, my home, my children." But others, including Gen. Winfield Scott, who offered Lee command of the Union army in 1861, also hailed from Virginia, yet remained loyal, as did Virginian Gen. George Henry Thomas, the "Rock of Chickamauga," and an estimated 100,000 white Southerners who fought for the Union.
Lee's image has been sanitized and even beatified by purveyors of the "Lost Cause" narrative about the Confederacy. They've depicted Lee as an upright, chivalrous defender of tradition, a moral man and a Christian. But, as Adam Serwer reminds us, Lee was a cruel slave master. In the words of Wesley Norris, one of his slaves who attempted to escape and was whipped, "Not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done." As the leader of the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee enslaved all of the Black Union soldiers he captured as well as free Black Pennsylvanians his army encountered.
As the author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson enshrined the ideals that made this nation. Jefferson's words formed our national identity as free people and marked a departure in human affairs. A 19th-century Hungarian nationalist, Lajos Kossuth, called the American Declaration of Independence "the noblest, happiest page in mankind's history."
Was Jefferson a hypocrite? Oh, yes. One of history's most flamboyant. He owned slaves and almost certainly fathered children with his dead wife's half sister, Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman. But he never defended the institution (as Lee did), quite the contrary. He wrote, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."
Do we overlook Jefferson's shameful private behavior? No, but we take him in full. His contribution to human liberty, despite his personal behavior, entitles him to a place of honor. There will always be an asterisk, but to say that statues honoring him "shouldn't exist," as the New York City assemblyman did, is to dismiss the Declaration, the American anthem.
As for George Washington, there would have been no nation to criticize or lionize without him. If Jefferson was the poet laureate of liberty, Washington was the living exemplar of republican virtue. Having led the revolution, he could have proclaimed himself king or dictator. Some urged him to do so. When King George III was told by the American artist Benjamin West that Washington intended to resign and return to private life after winning his country's freedom, the king said, "If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world."
He was. Many a revolutionary leader came after him. Most became despots in turn. None has achieved his greatness.
Yes, Washington held human beings in bondage, and that was terrible. Owning slaves is a blight on his record, but the rest shines bright. No nation that has judgment — and gratitude — can fail to honor him forever.
Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense."To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: mercuryatlasnine at Pixabay
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Reprinted with permission from Alternet
Rep. Lauren Boebert, the QAnon Republican lawmaker and gun rights activist who owns a bar named Shooters in Rifle, Colorado, is being criticized after posting a tweet mocking and attacking Alec Baldwin. The well-known actor who spent several years playing Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live shot and killed award-winning cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, apparently by accident, with a prop gun on set while filming his latest movie.
Boebert dug up a seven-year old tweet Baldwin had sent in support of Michael Brown, the 18-year old Black man fatally shot by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer.
She then added a snide and ugly remark and posted it to Twitter, only too happy to use the pain of Hutchins' grieving family, friends, and industry as a tool to attack Baldwin:
The outrage was palpable, even from a few on the right, like former Trump White House Director of Strategic Communications:
A Democratic U.S. Congressman weighed in:
And many others:
By Ahmed Aboulenein and Carl O'Donnell
(Reuters) - Democratic Party lawmakers holding up proposed drug pricing reforms are among the largest beneficiaries of the pharmaceutical industry's push to stave off price cuts, a Reuters analysis of public lobbying and campaign data shows.
The industry, which traditionally gives more to Republicans, channeled around 60% of donated campaign funds to Democrats this year. It has spent over $177 million on lobbying and campaign donations in 2021.
Political action committees (PACs) run by Pfizer Inc and Amgen Inc and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) were among the biggest donors, according to political spending data from OpenSecrets, formerly the Center for Responsive Politics.
Drugmakers are seeking to block laws that would give the U.S. government authority to negotiate prices for prescription medicines. Current U.S. law bars the government's Medicare health insurance program from negotiating drug prices directly.
Many of the Democrats opposing an ambitious drug reduction bill proposed in the House of Representatives are among some of the biggest recipients of drug manufacturer lobbying funds.
They include Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Representative Scott Peters of California, OpenSecrets data covering industry donations through September of 2021 shows. In all, they have received around $1 million in pharmaceutical and health product industry donations this year.
A spokesperson for Sinema did not respond to a request for comment on the funds she has received but said the Senator supports making drugs as cheap as possible for patients.
Menendez and Peters said the donations did not influence their views. All three said they are opposed to The Lower Drug Costs Now Act, which is sponsored by Democrats in the House of Representatives and also known as H.R.3.
Menendez and Peters have advocated for alternative scaled-back drug pricing reforms that would still allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices but would lead to significantly smaller savings.
Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, who is also one of the top recipients of drugmaker donations, voted in favor of H.R.3.
Sinema, who campaigned in 2018 on cutting drug prices, told the White House she opposes allowing Medicare to negotiate them. She received about $466,000 from the industry in 2021, according to OpenSecrets data.
Peters was the top recipient of pharmaceutical industry funds in the House this year at nearly $99,550, according to OpenSecrets data. A spokesperson said Peters was not influenced by lobbying money and opposed the proposed law to protect pharmaceutical industry jobs and innovation.
Drugmakers say the Democrats' proposed drug price overhaul would undermine their ability to develop new medicines, an argument they have used whenever price cuts are discussed by politicians regardless of political party.
"Patients face a future with less hope under Congress' current drug pricing plan," PhRMA Chief Executive Steve Ubl said in an August statement in reference to the proposed law. PhRMA declined to comment on donating to key Democratic opponents of the bill.
The United States is an outlier as most other developed nations do negotiate drug prices with manufacturers.
Amgen did not immediately respond to requests for comment on its donations and Pfizer declined to comment.
Prospects For Reform
President Joe Biden has vowed to cut medicine costs, in part by allowing the federal government to negotiate drug payments by Medicare, which covers Americans aged 65 and older.
But prospects for major drug pricing reforms have stalled in recent weeks amid opposition from centrist Democrats including Sinema and Peters. Negotiations are ongoing, eight Democratic staffers said.
The lawmakers' resistance comes as 83% of Americans support allowing Medicare to negotiate medicine costs, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. The United States spends more than twice as much per person on drugs as other wealthy economies, about $1,500, for a total of around $350 billion in 2019.
"Members of Congress don't always mirror the views of the public and the pharmaceutical industry is a powerful lobbying force," said Larry Levitt, a health economist at Kaiser.
The healthcare industry is the second largest industry lobbying group in the United States behind the finance sector. It donated more than $600 million to politicians ahead of the 2020 elections.
The pharmaceutical industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars per year to sway federal and state policy. But current Democratic leadership has the industry concerned major reforms could actually be enacted and is working harder to offer alternatives such as reducing insurance co-pays, one industry source said. "It's been sort of a mad scramble."
Corporations in the United States are not permitted to make direct contributions to candidates but can give money through PACs. Most corporate PACs, including Pfizer's and Amgen's, are run by company managers and employees.
Democrats and some drug price experts say the Lower Drug Costs Now Act could save U.S. taxpayers and consumers billions annually with relatively minor impact on innovation.
A House Oversight and Reform Committee report showed that top drugmakers have spent around $50 billion more on share buybacks and dividends than research and development between 2016 and 2020.
Lovisa Gustafsson, a healthcare policy analyst at the Commonwealth Fund, a non-profit healthcare advocacy group, said, "There are other ways that we can incentivize innovation, aside from just paying huge margins for pharmaceutical companies."
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein in Washington and Carl O'Donnell in New York; Editing by Caroline Humer and Bill Berkrot)
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