Friday, March 14, 2008

Thomas Jefferson: Sex Scandal

This morning I was thinking, Steve and my last discussions about the former governor of New York and his wife were only appropriate in the context of hack editorial journalism. Other stars have risen and been discredited with sex scandals. And I was humbled by the fact that the man whose ideals, more than any other, shaped our nation and my thought was also rocked by a sex scandal with hack Journalists attacking him viciously and from every angle.

When Adams was making ruthless fun of Jefferson for all of his peccadilloes and idiosyncrasies, he was doing much the same as hacks do today. I am no exception. I am a hack sometimes too. My weird sense of humor and healthy mischief cause that.

Adams would smash Jeffersonian foreign policy, smash his idealism at every turn with a realistic candor that was often much more cruel and they would use hack journalists to hack each other in surrogate.

Jefferson's sex scandal started on a cold day. He was inside of Monticello and the frost outside was too much. The fire inside was heating up. And after the death of his wife, Jefferson did the unthinkable for an 18th century gentleman and fell in love with his slave. This of course has been hotly contested, but from his own idiosyncratic life, his view of equality, his own personal contradictions it is nothing surprising.

The real shock to me is that a country that could not accept Africans as people, let alone as Americans, let Jefferson continue to shape policy and retain all he had worked for. It is amazing they did not try to exile him from the country, only to his own and beloved Monticello. They were not nearly as vindictive toward the man then as we have been to Spitzer, who may have charges filed against him. Granted no one can say Jefferson used the public dole for his private affairs, but his private affairs were as open to scrutiny as much then as all of ours are now.

As this article shows, you have to get a free subscription to read it, Jefferson's love affairs were the talk of the town.

And from MSNBC, those exemplars of journalistic honesty and non-bloviating discourse:

Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s slave, gave birth to a son, Easton Hemings, who was listed "white" in the 1830 Census.

Editorial printed in the Boston Gazette:

Thou Sally, thou my house shall keep,

My widower’s tears shall dry!

My virgin daughters — see!

They weep -Their mother’s place supply.

Oh Sally hearken to my vows!

Yield up thy sooty charms —My best beloved!

My more than spouse,Oh! Take me to thy arms.

If we really want to be honest, we have to understand that complex and powerful men and women often do things for their own longing and out of their own desire to love and be loved that we may not understand or approve of. As long as they do not use public funds to do so, I say fine! Grab life with both hands!

There are many faces to any complex, creative, intelligent man or woman and Jefferson was no exception:

If we want to produce anything great in the future we need contradicted people who think deeply about life and love. Idealistic people who can think like Jefferson about life. Without them our idealism and the meaning of those ideals dries up at the root.

One can only hope the former governor was thinking this way and was not being a shallow egocentric jerk. And while the latter is probably true, the temptations of power and desire that we all share, whether we are honest enough with ourselves to admit it or not, make it difficult for any man not to indulge in sensuality of some kind. I personally prefer a much more humble kind of sin: like good coffee and pinot noir, maybe a pineapple and chocolate, art and science. To love deeply is no crime. But to use public funds on hookers is a crime.

If privately someone else prefers hookers and cheesecake, who am I to write stinging satire, to judge them? It is the victimless crimes that should be forgiven, but if you plan to enter public life, make sure you use public funds and the public trust wisely. You do not need to be perfect to be good, but please try to be good and develop a depth of life and love that will keep your vision clear for the job you need to do.

If you encounter critics because you are not perfect, tell them one word: Tolerance. And you will find they are not perfect either.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This helped a lot.