Via Jerome Hudson, I can’t tell if she’s making this point earnestly or rhetorically. If she’s speaking rhetorically, to emphasize that it’s ridiculous to try to purge all traces of racism from American history, she probably should have used Washington as an example of a slaveholding Founder rather than Jefferson, right? No one thinks the father of the country’s going to be made a political example of. No one seriously thinks a titan like Jefferson is either, although he’s the Founder whose racial sins are most widely known and therefore a better candidate for posthumous reprimand than Washington. His hypocrisy in holding slaves despite penning the words “all men are created equal” is immortal and his alleged sexual exploitation of Sally Hemings has become a matter of public consciousness even if no one knows whether it’s actually true. So yeah, the fact that Banfield’s pointing at Jefferson here suggests that she’s asking earnestly. Either that or she didn’t know Washington owned slaves too, in which case hoo boy.
I’m assuming even most lefties would snort at this idea but I’m curious to hear why. Don Lemon makes the point that Jefferson, whatever his faults, didn’t divide the country, unlike the men who fought under the Confederate flag. Right, but that’s not why the flag is (probably) coming down soon in South Carolina. It’s being rejected because it’s a symbol of slavery and its racist vestiges, not because it’s a symbol of treason to the U.S. And flag defenders would, and do, make the point that it represents more than slavery — as David French put it, it symbolizes military valor against long odds and resilience in the aftermath of catastrophic defeat. You can detest the old south for its legacy of institutionalized racism while appreciating its other contributions to American culture. Those contributions, say the defenders of the flag, are what the banner now represents to them, whatever it may have once meant as a symbol of slavery. But the same logic arguably applies to Jefferson: With the possible exception of Franklin, he was the most renowned renaissance man among the collection of genius who led the revolution. He wrote the Declaration of Independence, championed religious freedom, founded UVA, and oh, right, became the country’s third president. But he was, in fact, a slaveholder and the stain of slavery is ineffable. How you feel about honoring him, I guess, depends on whether you think someone or something can pile up enough virtue in other areas of life to make participating in slavery a tolerable, if deadly serious, sin rather than a disqualification from public remembrance. In Jefferson’s case, there’s a lot of virtue on one side of the scale to balance the great vice on the other. In the case of the Confederacy, there’s a lot of blood spilled in defense of the great vice on one side versus southern pride on the other. That’s why only the hardest of hardcore leftists would seriously entertain Banfield’s argument here. Either that, or most Democrats can recognize a looming political fiasco when they see one.