PHOENIX, May 11, 2015 – Let’s consider a thought experiment: If Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence today, how would it be received? It would most certainly be subject to a myriad of committees and consultants in Washington, a place where thoughts, experimental or otherwise, rarely emanate.
Yes, it’s a stretch, but stay with me for a few minutes. Imagine Jefferson presenting the Declaration of Independence to a room full of political and media types, represented fictitiously here by Phil Bartman, political consultant, Ethan Marshall, pollster, and Jessica Dawkins, also a political consultant. The sales job wouldn’t be easy.
Thomas Jefferson: I humbly submit this declaration of our independence for consideration by this body.
Phil Bartman: We appreciate your work on this, but I’ve seen a draft copy of this and I’ve got some concerns.
Ethan Marshall: Me too.
Jessica Dawkins: Yeah, well, don’t get me started.
Jefferson: So, maybe it’s not perfect, but what are your beefs?
Bartman: Well, T-Jeff, let’s start with the first sentence.
Jefferson: The first sentence?
Bartman: It’s a bit long-winded. And that first bit about, what did you say here? Oh, yes, “When in the course of human events…” That doesn’t really work.
Jefferson: It’s the first part of the very first sentence! What could be wrong with it?
Bartman: It’s the human part. We’re pretty sure PETA will take issue with it. And that doesn’t even take into account the Earth First folks. I heard about some lady that fell in love with a tree recently. Wants to marry it, or something. We can’t neglect those people…or trees like that.
Marshall: That won’t poll well.
Jefferson: It’s just the first few words.
Bartman: And then you go on and talk about dissolving political bands. I’m sure Bono could get along quite nicely without the rest of U2, but probably not the other way around. Anyway, what on earth does that have to do with declaring independence anyway?
Jefferson: What? That’s not at all what I meant by dissolving political bands. I meant breaking off from being joined politically with or as part of another country. It’s got nothing to do with U2. Even Hamilton understands that. That’s just dumb.
Marshall: You won’t think it’s dumb if it shows up as a meme on social media.
Bartman: And what’s all this business about the Laws of Nature and, even worse, Nature’s God?
Jefferson: Natural rights are those rights that exist irrespective of government. They are the foundation upon which a just government is created. The intent is to design a government that must accommodate those natural rights.
What’s the problem?
Bartman: The problem is nobody’s going to buy that. Everybody knows that rights come from government. The government is always going on about what people can or can’t do. It’s what government does. Laws of nature – ha!
Jefferson: I didn’t invent it. It isn’t a new concept. Locke wrote about it long before me.
Marshall: We don’t care how old it is, millennials will never go for it. Although, wait a minute, what if we sell free college tuition as a natural right?
Jefferson: You’re totally missing the point!
Bartman: Then you mention Nature’s God. What the hell are you talking about? Is it like God-God or something else? You don’t mean Al Gore, do you?
Jefferson: Al who?
Bartman: That part will have to be reworked. Now, we’ve got this whole section that really bothers us. You say, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Jefferson: What’s wrong with that?
Dawkins: For starters, the “all men” part. Such a misogynist. Hey, Tom, don’t you know women are people too? And did you forget that Rolling Stone rape case occurred at your school, the University of Virginia?
Bartman: Um, Jessica, that was a fake. Rolling Stone even had to admit it was phony and apologize.
Dawkins: Doesn’t matter, it’s the thought that counts. Rape culture is real, even when it’s made up. And this “all men” business just plays into the whole rape culture.
The LGBT community will never go along with this either. Have you even talked to Bruce Jenner’s agent? I mean, c’mon.
Jefferson: All men means all people. Everybody. I think you’re all making this a bit more complicated than it needs to be.
Bartman: With all due respect, we think you’re the one that made this too complicated. It’s just important to consider everyone’s feelings. More nuance, T-Jeff, more nuance.
I mean, pursuit of happiness, really? Who can be happy with global warming, or, God-forbid, the Koch brothers.
Jefferson: It’s supposed to be a bold statement of independence explaining what we believe a just and right government should include as well as explain our grievances. I told Adams he should have written this. But, no, he insisted I do it. You’re a much better writer, he said. Now, I’ve got to put up with this. I think I got snookered.
Bartman: Since you brought it up, we’d like to discuss those grievances that you mention. Um, you sure went on and on about them.
Marshall: Was all that really necessary? I mean, you use the word “usurpations” more than once. Who even knows what that means?
Jefferson: I do. It means seizing or exercising authority wrongfully. That’s what has been done.
Marshall: Well, maybe, but if we use “usurpations” in a poll question, 90 percent of those polled will think it’s a drink that comes with a Happy Meal. You’ll need to pick something else.
Bartman: And then you say “…let facts be submitted to a candid world.” Well, they aren’t really facts so much as opinions, I think.
Jefferson: No, they are facts. Did you even read them?
Dawkins: I sort of skimmed through them. You did go on a bit. It got kind of boring.
Marshall: None of them will ever fit in 140 characters. And even if they did, who would retweet them anyway? You’ve got to be thinking social media.
We also noticed there was not even one mention of the Kardashians. We don’t have much of a chance to grab the attention of the people. We don’t really care about Khloe, but you’ve got to get Kim in there somewhere.
Bartman: Maybe we could enlist Kim Kardashian to do a public service commercial to push this?
Marshall: You mean after Tom cleans it up some first?
Bartman: Of course.
Jefferson: This is going nowhere. I’m leaving.
Bartman: T-Jeff, where are you going? We’re not done.
Jefferson: I’m going back to Monticello. There aren’t any consultants or pollsters back there.
Bartman: But, wait…wait, we haven’t even discussed the “Dancing with the Stars” possibilities yet. Real potential. T-Jeff? Tom?