The semi-permanent guest host rebukes me for all the begging I do on the Thomas Jefferson Hour. I think you know I am mostly joking—but do send books, gas cards, wine, Yeti coolers, and titles to your ranch. All in good fun.
But here is what I really want from you. Help this program go viral. Tell everyone you know. Go to your Facebook site and share the latest episode with all of your network, and write something personal urging people to listen to five podcasts and decide for themselves if they wish to continue. And then urge them to share their enthusiasm with their own social networks. If we had ten million listeners rather than several hundred thousand, we could make a big difference in our national conversation.
A book I wrote fifteen or more years ago, Becoming Jefferson’s People, has been out of print for 18 months or so. Here at the Jefferson Hour we have decided to reissue the book, with a few things corrected, an important new introduction and, at the end, a new extended interview. I’ve changed the title to Jefferson’s America: A Citizen’s Guide to Civility and Enlightenment. The cover is gorgeous. It should be available at the end of this calendar year. I’ll update you as I know more. I ask you to buy copies of the book and give them to your friends as gifts for a more enlightened world. I’m not doing this to make money. I am doing this because I believe the United States is teetering on the edge of the cliff that separates the Roman Republic from the Roman Empire, with its violence, madness, and disintegration. Followed by a thousand years of darkness. If you listen to the Jefferson Hour because it is civil, calm (well, usually) and we speak in complete sentences, and because it is clear that we believe in the idea of an American republic, imagine if we could get that level of sane analysis and discourse into the ears of tens of millions of people.
My goal is to get the book into the hands of every legislator in the country. If you figure approximately 150 legislators per state, 50 states, plus Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, etc. we are talking about roughly 5,000 books. Packaged with a personal note from you urging them to spend an evening reading the book, this could make a difference. Imagine if a state senator from Idaho quoted a passage on the floor of the chamber, or if a national political candidate was seen carrying a copy of Jefferson’s America?
I’d also like to get some regional and major media for this book. If you can help, let us know. I’m not looking for fame here, but access. A couple of appearances with Chris Cuomo or Lawrence O’Donnell, or Tucker Carlson for that matter, and a wry conversation with Bill Mahar would make all the difference. Imagine if I could say, to Don Lemmon or Sean Hannity, “Well, I just urge people to listen to the Thomas Jefferson Hour and decide for themselves what Jefferson would think about what’s going on in this country?”
My core conviction is that the American people are less divided than they seem. That the American people are hungry for something more authentic in the national arena. That people are more reasonable and open-minded than they seem. That the name calling and the brickbats and the shouting down may be entertaining, but most Americans want their country to become more like what the Founding Fathers dreamed it could be. That Americans are naturally idealistic and naturally optimistic. I believe that we can talk about anything if we do so with real respect, humor, including good humor, and good sense. I believe that we can be playful about serious ideas. And I believe that language is a moral instrument that must be used carefully (but not pretentioiusly) if we are going to recover.
I met an incredible group of people on coastal Georgia last week. They listen to the program with a kind of care and attention to detail that would have made me blush if it had not resonated so completely with my life’s purpose and my deepest passion about American renewal. It was like meeting my highest fantasy of perfect listeners. They knew about my Lewis and Clark tours and pledged to come next summer, except for one weenie who said she would not sleep in a tent. They knew about my plans to drive a truck camper around in search of America in the manner of John Steinbeck’s younger brother Chip Steinbeck, and they wanted to talk gear. They knew that my dream is to get my new book to get into the hands of legislators and opinion makers throughout the United States. They were finishing my sentences, and they could quote accurately from previous Jefferson Watch essays. One of them was a self-described superfan but all twelve of them were smart, funny, highly articulate, idealistic, civil, and public spirited. It was like being at one of Maria Cosway’s salons in Paris, where Jefferson said all the rough edges and rudenessess of life had been rubbed off into perfect intelligent social harmony. Coastal shrimp and Sauvignon Blanc and a spirited conversation in which no one dominated—we had to sit on the superfan—with wit and laughter and moments of a poignant sense that something magical was unfolding. We had one of the great evenigns of my life. They all want to live in a more enlightened world, and none of us could understand why things have gone so badly off the rails. They were not content to wring their hands. Thoreau wrote, “Men will lie on their backs, talking about the fall of man, and never make an effort to get up.” Not my new friends from the barrier islands. They are closer to the Greek philosopher Archimedes who said, “Give me a place to put the lever and I will move the world.” I’ve invited them all to visit North Dakota and they all made lying promises to do so soon.
My dream is that we can somehow start a Jeffersonian movement that will help to heal America—civility, rationality, real equality of opportunity, harmony, education, devotion to science, and a deep generosity of spirit. After a period of great political tension (1793-1809), Jefferson’s successor James Monroe presided over what historians have called the Era of Good Feelings. Suddenly everyone calmed down and realized that whatever was wrong with America was miniscule compared to all that was right and good about this experiment in self-government and self-actualization. I believe that what Jefferson stood for—not perhaps who he was—is precisely what America most needs. I wish I had a bigger megaphone, because if we could get the attention of the 75 million Americans who are not blind spouters of someone else’s talking points, I believe we could still turn this slow-motion national collapse around. I believe we can germinate a new era of Good Feelings.
I only write these words today because my meeting with the lovely whimsical jeffersonians of south Georgia taught me that it would be insane to set limits to the leavening power of the Enlightenment. If they represent one pocket of remarkable Americans who want better and are prepared to put their money where their mouths are, imagine how many other Jeffersonian cells we might be able to plant in the sewage lagoon of Hamiltonian greed and lust for power.
Just send the ranch.