This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.
Eleven score and 17 years ago, some of the world’s greatest minds brought forth what became the world’s greatest nation.
Dare we wonder what they would think of us today?
Let’s survey the guys enshrined in our wallets: Benjamin Franklin of the $100 bill, Alexander Hamilton of the $10, Thomas Jefferson of the elusive $2 and George Washington, whose $1 note is worth less but gets around more.
So what’s their take on July 4, 2013?
Franklin’s the guy who’d feel right at home if transported to 21st-century America.
High-tech-drenched world? No sweat. He was an avid discoverer and key pioneer of electricity. He’d be downloading scientific books to his iPad, giving himself a crash course in digital technology and marveling at the seven-hour flights from Philadelphia to London.
And somehow, he’d reflect, we kept a republic.
Hamilton would be down with things, too.
He liked the idea of a powerful federal government and a chief executive exercising implied constitutional powers. The United States delivered.
Hamilton lived in an America of small cities and towns surrounded by innumerable farms, but he envisioned the country as an industrial, capitalist economic powerhouse. Again, his dream came true. He would have skipped banks too big to fail and subprime mortgage-backed securities, though.
Poor Jefferson would the most disappointed when he stepped out of the time machine. The America he wanted was pretty much the opposite of what Hamilton had in mind: A modest federal government with strictly limited powers, sovereign states, small cities and towns, a country of virtuous farmers. Didn’t quite work out that way.
It might take George Washington awhile, too, to recognize the United States of 2013. Aside from all the video and digital dazzle — that spooky Ben Franklin stuff — he’d be put off by the BMWs, VIP cards, $10 million homes, designer gowns (not for Martha!), the Rolex Presidential (not this president!) and other signs of royalist decadence.
He’d be shocked by the American Empire — the globe-straddling U.S. dominance secured by what he called “entangling alliances” and a military presence in more than 100 countries. Not to mention vulgar pop culture. When Washington spoke of “ordered liberty,” he didn’t have the Kardashians and gangsta rap in mind.
All four of these founders, of course, would appreciate the enduring American independence they helped win. Yet they’d be baffled by the buzz — 237 years after the Declaration — that surrounds the doings of the British royals: Prince William, Kate Middleton and her baby bump, hunky Prince Harry, the sainted Diana, etc.
The apron strings, they might politely point out, haven’t entirely been snipped.