“Roads, power, farmland, healthcare …” said Rick. “If we didn’t have government managing these things, roads would be rutted dirt, poor people wouldn’t have electricity, we wouldn’t have enough food and healthcare — well, you see the problem
“Listen, you can’t keep thinking like a farmer!” Rick pointed at John. “You can using the constitution like some kind of battering ram! It’s just an excuse not to change!”
“Excuse? It’s about human nature,” John retorted. “Human nature hasn’t changed!”
“People are different,” Rick stabbed the table with his finger. “I mean, look around you. We’re not exactly living on the land anymore. It was a different time, then!”
“But people haven’t changed,” said John.
“What do you mean? Look at the science! We know so much more about this world than we did two hundred years ago! We’ve been to the moon! We’ve located black holes! I mean, they just discovered Higgs Boson!” said Rick. “Our forefathers couldn’t have guessed for anything like this to happen. We have cell phones and the internet. I can order local pizza through a switchboard in Canada, get help for my computer in New Delhi, have freakin’ phone sex with a hooker in Siberia! I mean, c’mon! This isn’t 1776!”
Lara glanced up at Rick’s vulgar example before sipping her beer.
“Thomas Jefferson-” John began.
“Listen,” Rick cut him off as he stood from his stool. “I gotta hit the head. You can use Jefferson all you want, but even Jefferson expanded US territory more than any president in American history, and was the first to create a standing Navy. You can’t use his quotes on small government when he expanded the need for it like no other. I’ll be right back.”
John signed as Lara smiled grimly at him. The night was supposed to be out for her birthday. So much for avoiding politics when John and Rick sat across a pair of beers.
Rick headed for the bathroom muttering to himself. “Thomas F’n Jefferson says blah, blah, blah …” Rick slipped into the dim-lit black-tile bathroom and ambled up to the urinal, sighing.
“Hey, buddy, could you pass me some paper?”
Rick looked back to see a hand sticking out from under a stall door. “Yeah, one second.” As he continued standing there, he heard one of the stalls flush, but it continued rushing. Zipping up, he turned to see a pool of water sliding across the tile. Taking the step, his foot slipped.
“Shit!” he yelled, his foot sliding to the inside and he twisted. He spun, his head smacking the tile. He curled up, holding his head.
“You okay, young man?” a large figure loomed over his double vision.
“Oh, man,” Rick said, sitting up as the man’s large hand gripped his arm and helped him up to the counter. The hands moved to Rick’s head and pulled his hair aside, checking him. “Jeezus that hurt.”
“Hm,” the man harrumphed at what Rick could not guess. “It doesn’t appear too bad. Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Rick said, checking himself in the mirror. After checking his head, he looked up at the guy in the mirror and froze. “No way.”
Rick turned and eyed the tall man standing in front of him. He blinked and shook his head. “Who are you?”
“I’m Thomas,” the tall man stuck out his hand.
Rick took it while staring. “You’re joking. Thomas Jefferson? Real funny.”
The man just watched him, wearing the garb of early 19th century America.
“What is this? Am I on candid camera or something?”
“I can assure you, no,” said Thomas. “But if you have a moment, I’d like to speak with you.”
Rick watched him for a long moment, disbelief painted across his face, half-coughing. “Yeah, buddy. Sure.”
Thomas opened the bathroom door and ushered Rick into the hallway. Rick turned away from the main bar and followed the hall toward the rear patio, pushing the glass door open and entering the cool fall night. The patio was empty and the door on the far left stood shut.
“Alright, man, make it quick,” Rick ambled toward the railing and turned back to watch the third US president emerge wearing something less antiquated, wearing a brown jacket over a black button up tucked into a pair of blue jeans. Rick stared, but Thomas just shrugged and walked up to the railing, setting his hands upon smooth iron railtop and lean over, watching the south Boston skyline.
“I love Boston at night,” said Thomas. “Always have.”
Rick sucked on his tongue and then turned to share the sight. The city fell away from their second-story vantage, sloping southward with the port on their left. Thomas said nothing for awhile and Rick grew annoyed.
“Did John pay you to come out here, or something? I mean, he did a great job. You look like him and all, but why are you here?”
Thomas looked over at him and then settled down upon his elbows, clasping his hands. “When you woke up this morning, did you have breakfast?”
Rick frowned. “No. I had coffee.”
“Coffee is good,” Thomas smiled. “I love coffee. I spend too much time at coffee houses.”
Rick eyed him. “Coffee houses? Yeah, funny. I bet you just have a Starbucks on every corner.”
“Starbucks? No. But I drink coffee almost twice a day. Great stuff.”
“Funny,” Rick said.
“You go to your coffee house, too? Starbucks?”
“Every morning,” said Rick. “Can’t start the day without it.”
“Me neither,” Thomas smiled.
“I don’t suppose you finish a day with a beer?”
“Sometimes,” said Thomas. “I loved wine. Brought my own stuff to most parties.”
“Is that so?”
“Quite so,” said Thomas. “People are important. I broke the mold, Rick. I did away with seating charts and long tables. We stopped formal bows for royalty. We shook hands like equal men. We had fun at my official dinners. I focused on people, first.”
“That’s good,” said Rick. “It’s nice that you’re a people person and all, and like coffee, and drink beer. But my friend, John, you know, the one who hired you? He uses you like some kinda battering ram. He likes to think that you would just ignore all our modern advancements on some kinda mindless holy war for freedom or something.”
“Think I’m antiquated, then?”
“Definitely,” said Rick. “You guys didn’t face the kinds of things we have today. Or have the kind of infrastructure. You chose freedom because that was the right answer against a king, but we don’t have a king. What we do have is instant communication around the world. We have electronic banking and global stock markets. We have TV and internet. And more importantly, we have a much greater capability to govern human safely, to insure them in the event of catastrophe, economic depression, all sorts of things you couldn’t do back then.”
Thomas nodded, listening. After a long moment, he turned, resting on one elbow and sighed.
“So, you don’t have economic depressions?”
“Actually,” sighed Rick. “We’re in one right now.”
“And catastrophes. We stop floods and tropical storms.”
“No, but we’re not talking about stopping mother nature. We’ just talking about making up for it when it happens.”
“Are you sure?”
“So then you aren’t stopping greed, malice, envy, lust, lethargy and dishonesty, just trying to make up for it?”
“Mother nature,” said Thomas. “Humans are full of bad qualities. You’re not trying to stop the bad qualities, just make up for them?”
“What are you talking about, man? That’s the point. The state is the only answer to this evil stuff inside of mankind. We need to control the bad parts of society so the rest of us can live in peace.”
“And how do you do that?”
Rick shrugged. “Regulations. We regulate how people do business, we can keep them from abusing other people. We use laws to change people’s behavior. Force them to do the right thing. Stop all this infighting and bickering and racism.”
“So laws always change people’s behavior?”
“We have one of the safest societies in history,” said Rick. “What else would you attribute that?”
“I wouldn’t attribute it to the quantity of laws,” said Thomas.
“No, I wouldn’t,” said Thomas. “We had plenty of laws under King George. Did that make us better people?”
Rick watched him. “So you’re saying we shouldn’t have laws?”
“Nothing of the sort,” said Thomas. “But more laws don’t mean more peace. You speak about acknowledging human nature and the evils of mankind, but with laws, you only address the symptom, not the root. You think laws change people on the inside from their racism and their greed, but all it does is create punishment based on one group’s idea of right and wrong. Laws haven’t made people less racist, Rick. It just forces them to hide it better.”
“That’s better than nothing!” Rick replied.
“Is it? You think the laws that make it more wrong to kill someone because you hate their skin color instead of what they’re wearing somehow brings people together? Devoids people of their hate of difference? It only makes it worse. And racism began as a defense mechanism of tribes who couldn’t trust other tribes. They could tell by their skin color who was different. That’s not evil, Rick. That’s evolution, something I think you believe in.”
“So racism is good? Is that why you slept with Sally Hemmings?”
“I slept with Sally Hemmings because I was a man and she was a woman. I didn’t release her family because I was weak. That make me a terrible person?”
“To own slaves?”
“To be a man of my time,” said Thomas. “But I released them after my death. Not good enough? I can handle you judging me of my mistakes. But my inability to live up perfectly to a belief system of freedom makes the belief system no less valid. You believe the state can change man, but look at the total states of your own day. Socialism said that by unifying people to the state, they could create a utopia. What did they create? Misery. National Socialism? Racism of the likes no one had seen in centuries. Communism? More than 80 million Russians dead.”
“At least someone is trying,” said Rick. “Those are bad things — I’m not arguing that — but at least they’re trying.”
“They’re trying something we already knew was wrong,” said Thomas. “The principles you know as socialism were strongly argued in my day. All the forefathers knew about the ideas that said people deserve equal possession and equal results. We could have chosen that path. Instead, my colleagues and I chose something different. Something radical. We chose freedom.”
“But freedom allows bad people to abuse good people,” said Rick.
“And socialism didn’t hurt anyone?”
“And communism? National Socialism? Fascism? They achieved peace?”
Rick swallowed. “The programs we’re putting into place here in the US aren’t like the programs in Russia or Germany. They were designed only help people.”
“So were the programs in Russia and Germany,” said Thomas. “So were the programs in revolutionary France that led to the reign of terror. So are the programs in North Korea and China that treat people like chess pieces instead of intelligent being.”
Rick laughed. “There are a lot of stupid people out there, man. You want them voting for a president? A bunch of racist hicks who don’t know Darwin from Dumbo?”
“I wanted people to choose for themselves,” said Thomas. “I wanted those racist hicks, as you call them, to hurt themselves by losing the business of intelligent black consumers. I’m not concerned with the feelings of people who are insulted by others who don’t like them. I’m only concerned when individuals are no longer free to live as they best see fit.”
“But those free individuals, as you call them, hurt people,” said Rick.
“Yes, some of them do,” nodded Thomas. “Some of them do. And how many people do you suppose they can hurt?”
Rick shrugged. “A lot.”
“Well, I don’t know about millions, necessarily,” said Rick. “But corporations have hurt millions of people.”
“Not kill,” said Rick. “But hurt. Definitely hurt.”
“Steal money. People lose homes, cars. Can’t pay mortgages. Can’t feed their kids. Chemicals in the water supply.”
“And how many millions do you think have died because of these evil corporations in the US?”
“A couple million, maybe?”
“Socialism has killed more than 100 million people worldwide since the beginning of the 1900′s alone,” said Thomas. “That doesn’t include the French revolution. That doesn’t include the wars started by Lenin, Hitler and Mussolini. That doesn’t include your cold war, Korea or Vietnam.”
Rick watched him.
“And when corporations hurt people, they fail right?”
“No!” the fire entered Rick again. “Nothing happens to them! They just keep on moving.”
“How? When people stop buying from them? When you had the Deepwater Horizon spill, did BP go under?”
“No,” said Rick.
“Do you know why?”
“So being corrupt means you don’t go out of business?”
“Not if you’re stealing money from people.”
“Breaking into people’s homes and robbing them?”
“No,” said Rick. “Raising oil prices.”
“So they steal from people who voluntarily buy from them?”
“I didn’t buy from them after the spill.”
“Nope, starting using Shell.”
“Then how did they stay in business?”
“I dunno. Lots of stupid dumbasses kept buying form them. Kept them afloat.”
“You want to know who kept them afloat? The US government,” said Thomas. “The state, itself, continued subsidizing a foreign company who abused people and the environment near the American shorline from going under. The very system you trust to protect you didn’t protect you — it protected BP.”
“If the state inspectors hadn’t been sleeping with BP executives — and they were both ways — they would have gone under. No more bad BP. And if the US government hadn’t regulated oil drilling to being only in deepwater and away from the shallower depths, it would have been much easier to cap the spill, but the very protective regulations you believe are here to help have only hurt. Do you know why?”
Rick shook his head.
“Unintended consequences,” said Thomas. “For every action the state conducts to help people, there are always more unintended consequences than the original action. That’s because the government cannot perform a single action with multiple positive effects that meet the needs of all individuals involved within a community, because a community is not a single entity, but a collection of single entities known as human beings, each of whom have thoughts, hopes, intentions, affections, hopes, dreams, fears, doubts and concerns.
“If a corporation did its very best to hurt lots of people, it might hurt a few thousand, might kill only a couple,” said Thomas. “The free press? One whiff of a corporation killing people and it’s done for. Gone. Over. If I had to choose between getting rid of the government and getting rid of a free press, I’d get rid of the government, because holding the power of public opinion is more powerful than the threat of law. Governments?”
Thomas leaned in. “They kill millions, and no one bats an eye. You can compare abuses all you like, but within freedom, perpetual abuses are short-lived and limited to the individuals who voluntarily continue association with them. Within the all-controlling state, abuse is universal and has no recourse short of revolution. You speak of wanting to protect people, and yet all you do is guarantee that they will be abused. You limit their ability to gain recompense by removing accountability to a faceless state.”
“And freedom has accountability? What about poor people who can’t afford a defense?”
“What about rich people backed by a powerful government?” said Thomas. “I’d rather a rich man be equally limited by the market powers and a poor person equally capable of rising from his dredges without being punished with taxes.”
“Affirmative action, school programs, quota-based hiring-”
“Are racist and exacerbate social divisions,” said Thomas. “They make the poor feel victimized and trod upon like no individual ever could. By creating these divisions, it creates an us vs. them mentality.”
“You didn’t have that back in the 1700′s?”
“We did,” said Thomas. “Only, it wasn’t about skin color. It was about the concept of nobility.”
Rick watched as Thomas straightened to face him.
“Rick, we had men convince others that God had chosen them as “better.” That a king had chosen them. That they were better than others because of economic superiority. And it wasn’t their money that kept us down. It was the belief that they were honestly different. That, and their security by the state. Non-noble rich men easily fell from their heights when they made poor decisions. That is no different than corporations. They are the new nobility, and your government is your king. It is your savior who solves your problems, rescues you and protects you, and just like King George, raises taxes on you while promising to help you. Do you know what made the difference?”
“What?’ Rick asked.
“People believed in their own nobility,” said Thomas. “And it wasn’t the state that gave them this belief. It was that only noble people could be free, and only by freedom could people become noble. It’s not contradictory when people embrace both at the same moment. Back in my day? When we didn’t have CNN or the internet or cell phones, people believed that their success depended on the intelligent work of their own two hands. They believed that when disaster came, they didn’t need insurance, they only needed their lives. They could rebuild, and they would do so while helping others voluntarily.
“The belief that connection to or by the government made you noble was debunked and distributed to the people. It wasn’t consolidated. Instead of one noble government controlling all the little pieces, we had several million noble human beings, each one capable of his or her own destiny, managing what came, and developing naturally as time progressed. England got rid of slavery peacefully. You think the US couldn’t have? It would have come in its own time. Freedom means people will eventually do what’s best for other human beings. It always has.”
“But freedom allows people to hurt others! We have the technology to do better than others did before!”
“Just because it takes you two seconds to communicate, and it took me three weeks, makes the communications no better or worse. Just because you could pull out tax money through a computer makes it no less better than we did at the point of a gun. You keep expecting a perfect system to be run by imperfect people. You’ve developed the quantity but you seem to have severely lost your quality, lost in the flashing lights of your computer screens and the inundation of information, but you’ve lost the depth by which to understand it. You speak of human nature and stopping it with threat of punishment, but what about appeasing lethargy? Encouraging sloth? Committing theft by moral ascendancy. You’ve worshipped the poor and placed their needs above their intentions, or the mistakes of their parents by voting in people who promise them the riches of other people’s earnings.
“You think we didn’t realize this when we created the nation? Go back and read more than the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Read our letters, our memos, our books, our notes. We wanted the people to own guns because one day, other people would believe the government had the right to take those guns away from them for their personal protection, meanwhile achieving the exact opposite. People now have no recourse against an abusive government, or against those who would use government to steal from them.
“We saw all of this, and we chose people first, not government. Freedom is messy, Rick. People die. But like a forest, when a few trees fall, others rise to take their place. When you tie those trees together, they all fall, and there may be no one to replace them. You can tie us all together, Rick, and say it’s in our best interest. But one day, when those who won’t do what’s right outnumber those they demand do for them, we will become topheavy. The slightest wind …” Thomas tipped his hand. “Will knock us over. The government is putting our eight in the trees, flipping our roots over. When the people keep the power, the roots remain strong and deep. We can lose branches while the trunks remain strong.”
He cupped Rick’s arms. “I can’t convince you in a single night that one free man’s life is worth a nation of slaves. But ask yourself this: if we are to fully consider the nature of man as the source of our selection of politick, than should we select only those that promote the physical constancy of healthcare and homes with inflated prices and overblown education system, or should we also consider that difficult times breed capable citizens? Ambition and ability require challenge? The nature of a man’s management skills of what he owns versus what is owned by no one? Think about man and realize that freedom allows both the worst,” he squeezed Rick’s arms, “and the best of man! I don’t know about you, but I think that’s worth whatever paltry cost freedom requires.”
Rick turned, startled, looking at John and Lisa standing in the open door behind him. “What’s going on? You’ve been out here for ten minutes!”
Rick turned back to see Thomas gone. He swallowed and took a breath.
John frowned. “Are you alright?”
Rick held his forehead. “Yeah. Yeah. I’m fine.” He looked around, sighing. “I’m fine. I think.”
“C’mon, I gotta take Lisa home,” said John.
Rick turned back. “Yeah, let’s roll.”