March 30, 2008
Attending the Brazos County Democratic Convention was one of the most interesting learning experiences of my life. I probably learned more about politics yesterday than I have in my many years of study, volunteering, and activism and while the day was long, tiring, and frustrating at times, I'm very happy that I was there.
1. Observation: County Conventions are organized chaos.
The Brazos County Democratic leadership certainly planned as well as they could for the convention, but the day was chaotic anyway. We stood in lines to check in, we stood in another line to get a name tag. We couldn't figure out where we were supposed to sit. We couldn't figure out who was supposed to be there for our precinct. I don't even want to talk about the Platform discussion we had for the last 2 hours. There were 399 confused people packed into one elementary school gym for about 8 hours yesterday.
Bring your patience and your good humor with you to the convention because you're going to need it. I must admit that after about 7 hours I lost both my patience and my good humor. My losing my patience resulted in my being called an elitist academic who sits next to the microphone to prevent democracy by one angry Clinton Delegate (ouch!). Some people complained, some people yelled, but most of the people at our convention seemed to be committed to seeing the process through and did so with as much thoughtfulness as they could muster.
2. Observation: Pay attention to the Details.
From the very beginning of the day it was apparent to me that I was going to have to fight to make sure that things happened fairly in my precinct. When we left the caucus on March 4, 2008 we had elected 7 Obama Delegates and 7 Alternates and 5 Clinton Delegates and 5 Alternates because Obama had won our precinct about 60/40. When I showed up yesterday there were 7 Clinton Delegates seated on the floor and only 2 Obama Delegates--and one of them had to leave to go to a wedding. Thankfully, we had 4 or 5 Alternates waiting to take the place of the missing Delegates, but we had to get rid of the extra Clinton Delegates so that our Alternates could be seated. This was crucial because getting our full Delegate slate seated would mean the difference between an Obama Delegate going to State or a Clinton Delegate going to State; therefore, I judged that it was worth fighting for.
I got a lot of advice and help from Alma who seemed to be working with the Obama campaign (thanks!). She told me how to protest the Clinton Delegates and get my Alternates seated and gave me the all-important list of all the precincts and Delegates, which I kept and used to our advantage for the rest of the day. (As an aside, I don't know why I took charge of all of this, but I saw the problem and just wanted to fix it. My fixing this problem made some people very angry and made me some good friends within my Delegation)
All we could do was wait after we made the protest to the Credentials Committee, so I made sure that the Alternates knew what was happening and knew to stick around because they were going to be Delegates just as soon as we stopped the Clinton shenanigans. I'm not exactly sure who was responsible or why there were 7 Clinton Delegates seated from our Precinct, but I can tell you that my precinct is full of seemingly very powerful, old-school party members, a good number of whom ended up being selected as At-Large State Delegates by the secret Selection Committee. (I'm not sayin, I'm just sayin). In any case, after a few hours (yes, hours!) we finally got all of our Delegates and Alternates seated and they kicked out 2 Clinton Delegates (whew!)
If no one had paid attention to the seated Delegate problem, then Clinton would have had an unfair advantage at the Convention. Therefore, you have to pay attention to the details because whether the mistake was intentional or not, it could have cost us our Obama Delegate to the State Convention. They could have nullified the Precinct vote with their shenanigans on the floor, but I was determined that they would not be able to. I made a ton of enemies by pushing this issue (and got yelled at and called a cheater), but I'm happy that I did it. Fair is fair.
3. Observation: Politicking is Hard and Unpleasant.
I didn't really know what I was doing, but thankfully a kind fellow Precinct 13 Obama Delegate knew everything and coached me throughout the day. He knew that when it came to our Precinct Caucus (in which we choose our Delegate and Alternate) that we would need to vote as a block and he encouraged me to put my name forward as the Delegate and told me to talk to people to try to get their support. I have to admit that I really, really wanted to be selected as the Obama Delegate, but I didn't feel very comfortable "campaigning" for myself. In the end I let everyone know that I wanted to be the Delegate, but I didn't make arguments for why they should support me until the Caucus at the end of the day when we all got to make short speeches. I merely kept working for the group and hoped that they would see that I was dedicated and that I would work hard for everybody; I hoped that they would use their own observations about me to make their voting decision. I also tried to make it clear that the most important thing was that we got an Obama Delegate elected, so whomever we agreed upon should be the Delegate. Yet, I sort of acted as the leader all day, which probably helped my chances at getting elected (see below about my clipboard).
About half-way through the day we found out that our Precinct would not get to choose its own Delegate and Alternate, but rather we were combined with Precincts 70a, 70b, 64, 67, 62, and 29. The rule should have been that since we had 12 Delegates and 12 Alternates that we would get to send our own Delegate to State, but somehow Precincts were combined (by some controversial magic formula) and our 12 Delegates were now combined with 10 others. Ug, I had to start the campaigning process all over again, except for this time I couldn't just show these folks that I was working on their behalf because they weren't technically in my group and so I wasn't really working for them like I was working for my group.
This is where numbers became crucial. Once again my trusty knowledgeable advisor helped me to understand what I needed to do: I needed to use my secret list to find out how many people were in each of the other Precincts with us and how many of those broke down for Clinton and how many for Obama. (Others consulted my secret list too once they knew that I had it) Upon examination it appeared as though there were 25 Delegates total: 15 Obama and 10 Clinton, but we realized that those were only ideal numbers, we had no idea if all of the Delegates had showed up for each Precinct and we knew that Delegates could technically change their votes once they got there. Our Precinct had 7 Obama Delegates, all of whom were now committed to vote for me (thanks guys!) so we almost had the majority of the 15 ideal Obama Delegates, but I needed one more. My advisor advised me to go campaigning.
I wasn't very successful at the campaigning, but I did find out that there were two other Delegates who wanted to go to State. Now what to do? I hoped that my Precinct would vote for me, but I had no idea what anyone else would do and I didn't want to divide the Caucus (we had to get our entire Delegation to vote together to over power the Clinton Delegation, otherwise we were afraid that if we divided that they would send a Clinton Delegate to State). I just figured that I would count on the Obama Delegation to make the best choice and I tried to think of something good to say when it came to my time to say why I wanted to be the Delegate during the Caucus.
The Caucus was very, very tricky. The Clinton people were angry from the beginning (perhaps because I had forced them to unseat 2 of their Delegates?). It was loud and hot and we had been there for at least 5 hours by that point. The 6 Precincts met (oh, forgot to mention, there was no Precinct 64, we found out) and I moved that we hold our meeting outside where it was cooler and quieter. This was judged a bad idea (and perhaps another one of my tricks!) by the Clinton Delegation and the idea was rejected. We nominated a Caucus Chair (our Precinct Captain, a Clinton Delegate) and someone asked who wanted to go to State. One Clinton Delegate raised her hand as did two Obama Delegates, me and an elderly man from Precinct 67. We were each given a minute or so to make a speech. Clinton Delegate went first and read from a paper, I couldn't hear her. I went next and said something about my background, experience, and why I supported Obama. The man from Precinct 67 went next and while I couldn't hear him very well, I could hear him say that he had been a life-long Democrat and that this was his only and last chance to go to State and that he really had hoped to go. I almost withdrew my candidacy right there because I felt like he should get to go, but I wanted to go too, so I didn't. Who knows if that was the right thing to do or not?
Now the Clinton Delegation wants to vote immediately, but the Obama Delegation wants to talk it over separately. Our decision is tricky and we have to get it right. We can't just vote. Now that we know that we have two candidates we have to decide as a group how to vote. The Clinton Delegation is angry. We are cheating, they say; there are no separate caucuses, they say. They may be right, what do I know? But, I follow the lead of my helpful advisor/campaign manager who is totally in charge of the caucus (he's a lawyer with 50 years of experience in the Democratic Party, by the way). Now we meet about 3 feet away from the Clinton Delegation and someone asks for a show of hands: who will vote for me and who will vote for the man from Precinct 67? We have 15 Obama Delegates and 10 show their hands for me (wow, that felt nice!), so it's settled.
Except for it isn't. What did that mean that we just did that? Some people say that means we all vote for me, some think we should split the vote. Now, another woman says that she wants to be the Alternate, although she didn't make a speech when the rest of us did. (I think she thought that those speeches were for the Delegate and we would do it again for the Alternate?) In any case, I count the number of Clinton Delegates and I argue that we've got 15 and they've got 7, so we could have 8 people vote for me (yay!) and use the other 7 to force a run-off between their Clinton Delegate and our second Obama Delegate. Our 15 votes in the run-off would ensure that we get both the Delegate and the Alternate. Makes sense, right? Jeez, I might be good at this after all. The advisor/campaign manager lawyer leader argues that we don't need to worry about the Alternate. We just need to get the Delegate and the Delegate needs to show up to State and then the Alternate stays in the stands and gets no votes. So, the group follows his argument and we decide not to press for the Alternate position. This decision is made rather quickly and was lamented by some of the folks after it was all done. I'm still not sure whether or not we made the right choice there.
Now, Clinton and Obama sub-Caucuses get back together and we vote. Everyone gets only one vote and the top vote getter is the Delegate and the second is the Alternate. 14 hands go up for me, 7 for Clinton Delegate, and 1 for man from Precinct 67. I am declared the Delegate, but before I can enjoy my little (hard fought!) victory Man from Precinct 67 comes over and yells at me severely. I rigged it all. I cheated. I am not a good person, he bellows. Right behind him is the woman who wants to be the Alternate. She said something in anger too, but I don't know what it was because I was stunned first by my selection, then by getting yelled at, and then by her follow up. I blinked back tears while 4 or 5 very nice Obama ladies told me that I was ok and that I had done good and I shouldn't listen to them. I think I received about 4 comforting hugs. Whew, it was over. We had a Delegate and an Alternate.
I received many handshakes, hugs, and congratulations. Everyone wants to make sure that I will go and I'm urged to work as hard for them at State as I did at the County Convention. Emails are exchanged. I promised to be there (I have a hotel room booked already, I say, I'm goin!) and I tell them about Political Cotton Candy. I hope that they are reading this now, in fact. I will keep reporting what I see, hear, and think for y'all. I'm honored to work on your behalf and Gobama! One woman touched me more than the rest when she told me how much Obama winning would mean to her; I'll have her in mind while I'm fighting it out at State.
Politicking is not for the weak. You have to know what you want, know how to get it, pursue it single-mindedly, and at all costs. No wonder party politics is so messy and bitter. I can see why people have the mindset that the ends justify the means. Thankfully I didn't knowingly do anything questionable, but I did follow the lead of my advisor and I really don't know if it was appropriate for us to have a sub-caucus and I know that that sub-caucus made all of the difference in our choice because it allowed us to form a winning strategy. If this is how it really is on such a small scale, can you imagine what national politics is like? It must be really ugly.
4. Observation: If you want people to think that you're a leader, then act like a leader.
When I packed up my bag for the County Convention I considered my needs carefully: hoodie in case it was cold, bottle of water, yogurt, laptop in case I could live-blog, phone, phone charger, paper, clipboard, and pen. In retrospect the single best decision that I made all day was to pack that clipboard. I don't know why, but when you carry a clipboard people think that you're official and they let you make decisions and ask you for information and give you lists of precints and Delegates. I think that in a confusing situation like the County Caucus any kind of indicator of status or proficiency allows you to act as the leader. Relatedly, when you actively work for the best interests of your group (filing objections to seating arrangements, keeping people informed, reassuring people that you're working on the problems, coordinating meeting procedures, etc), then people let you work for them. Being a leader means that people trust you to work for them.
Being a leader means that you have the privilege and the obligation to do your best for the members of your group. I hope that my fellow Delegates (both Clinton and Obama) from Precincts 13, 70a, 70b, 67, 62, and 29 will keep reading this blog and will freely comment and tell me what they think we need to do. I'll do my best to make it happen. And, fyi, I'm totally bringing my clipboard to the State Convention.
I'm going to write about my experience at the County Convention soon, but I wanted to re-post this from Founder-Chic about the Precinct Caucus last March 4, 2008 in case anyone might be interested.
March 28, 2008
I just received this email from the Texas Democratic Party:
Boyd L. Richie
I've been trying to think out a post on Rational Choice/Neoliberal approaches to crime and the death penalty. It may not happen, but I do want to mention a neat thought experiment about gun ownership and deterrence, since it is being discussed in a different post below.
If people want guns for deterrence why don't you see a lot of "Beware: House Has a Gun in It" signs on houses? I rarely see those, if ever, but I've seen a ton of "Beware of Dog!" or "ACME Home Security" signs in windows. Shouldn't such a sign make you safer? You have a weapon, and are willing to use it, and viola!, deterrence. I'm going to argue the opposite, but a quick turn through game theory is needed for a second.
I'm not a huge fan of Rational Choice models for crime, but they have some obvious uses. Economist Steven Levitt, who is at the cutting edge of a lot of this, point out a book Buglars on the Job as: "Case studies by a pair of criminologists who prove that everyone, even petty criminals, responds to incentives in a manner that is rational, predictable, and often fascinating." The words 'everyone', 'prove', and 'incentives' are problematic there - the book is a fascinating series of interviews with many, many buglars, and it discusses their approach to robbing. It leaves the issue of why they commit crimes in the first place off the table, which is kind of the point. But let's go with it.
The criminologists don't go this specific route (though it is there in their language), but one could say that the buglars use game theory the moment they break into a house - they minimize the maximum loss (minimax) and maximize the minimum gain (maximin - Nerd Alert: This second concept is where Rawls Theory of Justice comes from). In regular words, they smash and grab. They don't want to get caught, have it escalate or rob if someone is home for fear of it becoming a felony (minimize maximum loss) and want to grab small high-income items that are easily re-sold (maximize minimum gain).
What is the highest value, most liquid item (non-cash) a criminal can steal? Well, a gun of course. Guns are not able to be bought by felons, so that barrier to consumption increases the price (and there is always demand by criminals); guns held by homeowners are probably well-kept (or at least not fired that often) and also registered to someone the criminal won't know on a resale, huge added value for people who want to commit crimes. They are easy to carry, and if the homeowner wants it for a deterrence effect (ie - he imagines himself shooting it out with attackers at 3am [Where is that Hillary scare ad?]) he needs it be accessible, so no safes or hiding the weapon in the attic etc. The buglars in the book estimate there are less than 6 hiding spots (the collective knowledge on where valuables are hidden is pooled rather efficiently among criminals). And it's probably in the top drawer, with the bullets locked up for the kids' sake.
So this is a problem right? From the homeowner's point of view he is scaring away criminals but from the buglar's point of view he have a gold bar in the dresser and it is more than worth it to wait until the house is empty to go and steal it. The more guns in a neighborhood, the more of an incentive to steal from houses in general. From those interviews we get the notion that buglars are on the lookout for people with guns so they can then decide to rob them; it is irrational for them not to be. Having a gun in your house can make you less safe.
Or as some professors summarized it in a 2002 paper it is problematic both in the empirical statistics and also in the theory:
"...theoretical considerations do not provide much guidance in predicting the net effects of widespread gun ownership. Guns in the home may pose a threat to burglars, but also serve as an inducement, since guns are particularly valuable loot. Other things equal, a gun-rich community provides more lucrative burglary opportunities than one where guns are more sparse. The new empirical results reported here provide no support for a net deterrent effect from widespread gun ownership. Rather, our analysis concludes that residential burglary rates tend to increase with community gun prevalence."
Food for thought.
How essential has youtube become for the election cycle? Not blogs, not online newspapers, but video streamed to consumer, made by either corporations or individuals.
It's a decent question. I ask it only because online videos have done a very good job of tracking how I feel about Hillary Clinton during this campaign. The first was Tina Fey's Bitch is the New Black support speech for Hillary on Saturday Night Live. I've been an Obama supporter, and, generational arguments aside, I've never understood the appeal of Hillary. But that video, while not changing my support, at least explained some of it to me in a clever, short, emotional way.
How much have things changed from the Texas primary? It seems impossible for Hillary to win now. Her campaign is entirely focused around the idea of procedural hijacking that would make Florida 2000 look like a Student Council meeting. Mobilizing 'pledged' delegates, seating ghost delegates, increasingly "vast right-wing" conspiracy rhetoric on Obama's pastors and patriotism. And she wants to do this until August?
It's ghastly, and difficult for me to put into words. Worse, I can feel the Clinton Derangement Syndrome bubble up in me (I cheered when I read that link right there back when it was posted), which puts me in the awkward spot of asking - "Was Rush Limbaugh right about her all along?" Then I saw this video of "Pequena Hillary Clinton", which is making the rounds and giving me huge comfort:
This video captures how I feel about where the Clinton campaign has gone; a bizarre mix of terror, sadness and humor approachable only through the logic of dreamwork and Hillary Duff singles. It's like the 2008 Elections have now been crossed with a dream sequence from Twin Peaks (the dwarves are similarly cool and disturbing.)
Doesn't that video feel right? Let's take it apart. The sense of the enjoyment of feeling indifference the dwarf conveys is key for the analogy. One gets the feeling Hillary is more than comfortable making up stories about sniper attacks until the August convention in the same exact way that dwarf loves dancing on the desk and throwing papers around regardless of how uncomfortable it makes you (or bad it is for democracy/the desk). Pequena Hillary Clinton likes to ask for your vote with a bit of a smile, as if she delights in knowing how weirded out you are. One wonders if Real Hillary also knows she can't win, but is asking for your vote for similarly personal and malicious reasons. The dress is good too - it is similar but not too similar. One doesn't ask whether the dwarf is dressed as Hillary but why is Hillary dressing like that dwarf?
One looks at the campaign of what Tina Fey sees, and then looks at the "Don't worry donors, we can steal the thing at the convention" of what it has become, and wonders if they were always the same - in the same sense that one watches that video and thinks "my god, was Hillary Clinton actually a transexual dwarf speaking in broken English and dancing to Hillary Duff all along?"
March 27, 2008
I have a theory and I think it's a pretty good one. Advertising is fear driven... fear of wrinkles (Oil of Olay), fear of spending too much (Wal-Mart), fear of a break-in (ADT, Brinks), fear of not getting an erection (Viagra), fear of being hungry (Burger King, Taco Bell). It is the most basic emotion. Next time you watch a commercial, break it down to what fear they are playing on...Makes tv commercials much more interesting.
So obviously politicians plays on this in everyone. Democrats play on one set of fears (poverty, big business, etc.), Republicans on another set of fears (high taxes, terrorism). You get the picture... So, my question to all of you Political Cotton Candy types is: Which "fear" will win this Fall? Which "fear" will be more motivated? And (Jen) Which fear motivates people to VOTE? The attached article is interesting, but doesn't address what I want it to. Help! I'd really love to know which fear motivates you and your families and their political choices.
My family all has similar fears (spiders!). Not coincidentally we all vote the same way.
March 26, 2008
Wonkette is snarky, they say. Wonkette is childish, they say. Wonkette is for bored Washingtonians who should be solving the nation's problems, but instead are wasting their time on the interwebs, they say. Wonkette is a blog for those in the know, written by those who wish that they knew or who wish that they had the power to do something with what they know, they say.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatevs. I don't much care about all that. I like reading Wonkette in my Morning Internets, it makes me feel a little bit like a fancy D.C. insider myself--and what politically inclined academic doesn't secretly want that? However, there has been one thing that has been bothering me about my whole I-read-Wonkette-to-feel-like-an-insider morning routine:
Why the f@*k does Wonkette call John McCain WALNUTS! ??
After all, I can't be much of an insider if I can't understand this oft-repeated inside joke. And, with the November election still 7 months away and a 50% possibility that WALNUTS! will get elected, I figured that this WALNUTS! thing is likely to drive me nuts for quite a while. Thus determined and armed with nothing more than my awesome research skills and Wonkette's search engine I attempted to resolve my insider/outsider liminal D.C. dilemma. I report this information to you so that you can share in my triumph.
Wonkette has referred to John McCain as WALNUTS! no less than 378 times (3 alone since I conducted my "research" this afternoon). It appears that they began calling Senator McCain WALNUTS! on Tuesday, November 14, 2006 in a post entitled, "The Next Two Years Are Already Unbearable." In this prescient post Wonkette featured the above Youtube by "Salvatore the Intern" in which he argued that McCain was clearly the best candidate for the presidency because of his cute "walnut" shaped cheeks, among other things. Wonkette continued to use the WALNUTS! sobriquet and has often found it synecdochal not just of McCain's cute cheeks, but also of his foreign policy.
And there you have it: the history of WALNUTS! McCain.
I don't know about you, but my Morning Internets will be just a little bit sweeter tomorrow. For tomorrow I will be able not only to read the political blog for those in the know, but now I'll know why we think WALNUTS! is so funny. WALNUTS! ha! ha! WALNUTS! Get it?
A NYT article on the proposal to the court. From the above excerpts I conclude the following. My prediction? The court will hear the case and the law will be struck down with a split decision. My fear? That in the process they categorize guns (see speech categories created in R.A.V v St. Paul) and start a wave a "fuzzy" gun legislation that becomes increasingly complicated and difficult to act on/ within.
A NYT article on the acceptance of the case.
The Supreme Court is reviewing the Second Amendment; a couple of things are interesting to me about the case.
First, that it has similar origins to the Scopes trial. The ACLU had issued a statement to defend anyone charged under Butler's Act and so a small group of men in TN asked John Scopes, the high school football coach who was substituting a science class to teach Evolution. In otherwords, a group with money created a case and brought it forward to test the Constiutionality of a legislative act. This is a great example of citizens taking the law into their own hands in protest of it. In the gun case, however, the CATO Institute gave permission for a CATO fellow to fund and organize a challenge to D.C.'s strict handgun and missile weapon legislation. (And who says academics don't live or act in the "real" world... For this I call on you all to go and hug an academic today.)
Secondly, I am confused as to how a person can only hold "abstract" objections to a law. If I have a gun, and you say that I can't, and that upsets me then I would call the gun that you are "prying out of my cold dead fingers" (Yeah for Charlton Heston shout outs, lol) a pretty "concrete" objection to the law. I ask this question in earnest... I would like readers to this blog who are versed in the law to describe to me what an "abstract" objection is.
Below are the three contentions of D.C.'s Attorney General with the appeals court's decision (as retrieved from the first NYT article above):
"First, it says, the Second Amendment’s text and history, properly understood, show that the amendment grants a right that “may be exercised only in connection with service in a state-regulated militia.”"
"Second, the brief observes that the amendment was drafted as a limitation on the authority of the federal government, not of the states, and that even if the District of Columbia is considered the equivalent of a state, “legislation limited to the District can pose no threat to the interests the Second Amendment was enacted to protect.”"
"Finally, the District of Columbia argues that even if gun ownership is an individual right, the handgun ban is amply justified as a “reasonable regulation” by considerations of public safety and health, as well as by the fact that the law permits ownership of other weapons."
"The appeals court left the door open to “reasonable regulations,” like prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons, or weapons in particular locations, or the ownership of guns by felons. But a flat ban on a type of weapon cannot be considered reasonable, the court said."
From the above excerpts I conclude the following.
My prediction? The court will hear the case and the law will be struck down with a split decision. My fear? That in the process they categorize guns (see speech categories created in R.A.V v St. Paul) and start a wave a "fuzzy" gun legislation that becomes increasingly complicated and difficult to act on/ within.
March 25, 2008
I cannot tell you how many people have asked me recently if I've seen the John Adams tv show. I cannot tell you how many have asked, but I can tell you that the number is considerable and that I have responded to each and every inquiry in the same way.
The conversation goes something like this:
Excited Student/Friend/Colleague (gushingly): Have you been watching the John Adams series? I bet you LOVE it!
Me (feigning disappointment): No, I don't have HBO, sadly. But, I hear that it's great.
ESFC (surprised, and clearly mildly disappointed with me): It IS! I would have thought that you would be watching it...
Me (evasively): hmmmmm....maybe I'll get to see it on DVD or something, someday...
Yeah, maybe I will. Maybe I'll watch 1776 some day too, but I doubt it. I seem to resist pop culture versions of American history (while love, loving pop culture versions of British history--Elizabeth, for example). In fact, one of the PCC has even gone so far as to lend me her copy of 1776, which I must now confess that I never found the time to watch. So, maybe I'll watch the John Adams tv show some day, but I doubt it. I'm not against it. I'm not above it. I'm not convinced that it is based on poor scholarship. I have no real objection to it. In fact, if it gets people interested in political history, then I think that it might be pretty awesome. I just have no real desire to see it.
As a scholar of Early American political discourse I feel like I probably already know what the John Adams series has to teach. In fact, I write about John Adams. I was revising an essay about his and Thomas Jefferson's twin deaths on the Jubilee Fourth of July today, to be exact. I'm pretty sure that I know the guy. I know his friends too. People have called me Founder-obsessed, and they may be right.
The thing is that to really get to know the Founders you have to be obsessed. You have to read their letters, their papers, their diaries, the newspapers of the time, the books that they loved and hated; you have to read their biographies--and you have to read all of their biographies because each generation will reinterpret each of the Founders' lives. Not only that, but you have to read about their friends, teachers, and especially, their nemeses. You will learn as much or more about Hamilton, for example, by reading a biography about Jefferson than you will by reading the Hamilton biography alone. The Founders, their family members, and their biographers have spent years and years trying to hide all the really nasty bits from you, so to get at them you have to look in a place where they are trying to hide some other Founders' secrets.
In any case, to really get to know the Founders you have to do a lot of homework. A lot, a lot.
So maybe watching the John Adams tv show seems a little like cheating to me. Maybe it seems like sitting in front of the tv while America's political history comes to life before your eyes is a little bit like fake citizenship. Watching is very passive, after all. I mean, I know that everyone doesn't have the time to study (stalk) the Founders the way that I have. I'm very lucky to have a job where I can spend my day obsessing over what I choose to obsess over and call it "working." I get that. But, you know, watching the tv is nothing like reading the primary sources or reading a biography or visiting Colonial Williamsburg or, hell, even listening to a book on tape.
Learning about American political history from a tv show means that you learn one, simplified version of events from one of the Founders' perspectives rather than from the multiple different perspectives that really existed at the time. Every one of the Founders had their own view of what happened to cause the Revolution and just ask their recent biographers, every one of the Founders single-handedly saved the Republic! So, maybe it seems like the audience is getting cheated a little too when they learn about American political history from the tv. Shouldn't Americans have the opportunity to make up their own minds about the Founders hopes and fears for the new American republic? In fact, if the Founders' opinions still matter today, then isn't it our responsibility to find out what we think about them and their ideas? I guess that I think that it is.
Perhaps this is the real reason why so many people have asked me lately if I've been watching the John Adams tv show. Maybe they also feel a little cheated by their passive exposure to American political history and maybe talking it over with me was one way to be a more active learner. If so, I'm sorry for letting you down friends, students, and colleagues. I suppose I should have asked you more about what you thought about the show and what you wanted to learn more about. I could have even suggested some sources for you to consult. Whoops, missed that. If not, and you just wanted me to agree how awesome the John Adams tv show is, then I'm afraid that I can't do that for you.
Here are some places around the interwebs where you can learn about the Founders for yourself:
The American Memory Project at the Library of Congress has lots of primary documents on line for you to freely browse. You can find records from the Continental Congress, letters of the presidents, and all kinds of other interesting things there.
Google Books has lots of digitized primary source materials from the Founding generation. Just make sure to set the search to "full view" and you will be able to download literally millions of books for free--including early versions of Jefferson's Papers.
There are also lots of archival materials digitized on the various Founders' own websites. For example, if the John Adams tv show turned you on, then you might want to read his Diary, which you can find in the Adams Family Collection at the Massachusetts Historical Society. You'll also find the letters between John and Abigail there and John Quincy Adams' Diary, among other things.
In short, there are many, many primary materials out there for you to read if you are really interested in learning about the Founders. But, if you just want to watch a tv show, then that's ok with me too. Just don't expect me to watch it with you.