What Would George Washington Do?

A special July 4 issue of the Boulder Weekly asks what the Founders would think about various modern issues. The article begins with an interview with Jim Hightower, the former Texas Agriculture Commissioner, who is now a populist political commentator (and whose column appears in the Boulder Weekly). After that, the article asks a series of written questions to me and to Paul Danish. Danish is former Boulder City Councilman and Boulder County Commissioner. He also once served as an Independence Institute Senior Fellow. He is best-known for "the Danish plan," a growth-control law adopted by the Boulder City Council.

The format did not require us to answer every question, and so a I skipped a pair about Guantanamo and the Patriot Act; a wise decision on my part, since there is little that I could add to Danish's thoughtful answers.

Below are some additional questions, and my responses, which were not included in the published article.

Does the average American understand the freedom our founding documents provide enough to successfully defend those freedoms from domestic enemies, i.e., the government itself?

No. The National Constitution Center's 1998 survey of teenagers found only 41 percent could identify the three branches of government, only 45% knew what the Bill of Rights was. As Ilya Somin detailed in a 2004 Cato Institute study, a large number of surveys show that between a quarter and a third of adults are extremely ignorant of public affairs; many cannot even name the Vice President. With so many people so scandalously ignorant, it is no wonder that elections so often produce rulers who, like Roman emperors, are better at pandering to transient hysterias and desires than at guarding our traditional liberties.

Which Constitutional Amendment are you most grateful for when you celebrate the Fourth of July?

The Second Amendment has been the topic of much of my scholarly writing, but I love all of the Bill of Rights; each of them makes the other nine stronger and more effective.

How would the Founders respond to modern feminism?

Many of them likely would have understood and approved that the democratizing forces unleashed by the Revolution would lead to political rights for the many American women whose talents were equal to those of Abigail Adams or Mercy Otis Warren.

What would the Founders have to say about the oil industry?

The actual extraction, refining, and distribution of oil would likely be seen as fulfilling the Founders' highest hopes of America's scientific and commercial genius. The oil industry's current role in politics might be seen as an inevitable consequence of the federal government's arrogation of a massive role for itself in choosing favored and disfavored big corporations to persecute or enrich, especially beginning in the early 20th century.

What would the Founders think of the outsourcing of American jobs?

There was a healthy debate in the Founding Era between protectionist forces (led by Alexander Hamilton) and free trade (led by Thomas Jefferson), with the protectionists winning. And even Jefferson, as President, accepted many protective tariffs. So perhaps the Founders would be divided on the trade issue today, as they were divided in their own time.