If W Had Written the Declaration of Independence

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Mr. Stein is an associate professor of history at York University in Toronto, the author of City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia (University of Chicago Press, 2000), and the editor-in-chief of The Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History in America (Scribner's Sons, 2003).

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. --Declaration of Independence, 1776

When Thomas Jefferson asked George Bush to comment on his draft of the Declaration of Independence, the course of history changed. Bush didn't much like the style of the first sentence--the multiple clauses, the conditional verbs, the placement of the subject toward the end of the sentence. But what really earned his ire was the notion that the colonies should respect the opinions of mankind. "That sounds like a global test to me," Bush complained, "and we should never allow other countries to influence our decisions about national security."

Jefferson tried to explain that the United States might need the assistance of countries like France to succeed in a war of independence, but Bush was having none of it. "We should respect the opinions of those who agree with us, like the rulers of Poland," Bush declared, "so I think you should change that part to say that we have a decent respect to the opinions of the coalition of the willing.'" Then Bush began to have second thoughts, very much aware that the coalition of the willing was growing smaller every month. He thought about suggesting that the sentence refer instead to the opinions of God or the opinions of Dick Cheney, but then remembered that neither had opinions. They had truth.

What we should really care about, Bush then reasoned, are the opinions of U.S. citizens. But after Jefferson reminded him that he had campaigned against relying on public opinion to set national policy and that he really didn't care about the opinions of Democrats and various other groups in American society, Bush settled on "a decent respect to the opinions of Republican Christian U.S. citizens who are married heterosexually and who earn more than $200,000 a year."

Bush was also troubled by the notion expressed toward the end of Jefferson's long sentence that the nation's leaders had to tell the truth when declaring the reasons they were taking the country to war. Jefferson tried to assure him, explaining that he hadn't indicated that the nation's leaders had to declare "all" of the causes and that he hadn't insisted that the declaration of causes had to be truthful, but Bush still wasn't satisfied. After more back and forth, Bush came up with this alternative: "they should declare some of the causes which might possibly impell them to the separation or which might possibly trick the country and the world into supporting the separation."

Not surprisingly, the two men also disagreed about "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." Jefferson thought this a reasonable compromise between scientific and religious perspectives, but Bush was angry with science for rejecting his policies on stem cell research. And he was sure the oil industry wouldn't appreciate the references to nature, which might lead them to conclude that he had become a tree-hugging environmentalist. Bush also liked more simple turns of phrase, so Jefferson's wording was shortened to "the Laws of God."

Bush was disturbed as well by the reference to the people of the United States as "separate and equal." The phrase sounded familiar to Bush, but he couldn't quite remember where he had encountered it. Maybe it was from the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision? What Bush knew with certainty, however, was that among the powers of the earth the people of the United States were "separate and superior," not "separate and equal."

Jefferson tried to explain that other countries sometimes had stronger economies, more job growth, better health care systems, higher educational achievement, cleaner environments, and more fair and democratic elections, but Bush was having none of it.

Bush wasn't even sure about calling the document a "Declaration of Independence." Yes, he favored independence in national security, human rights, environmental, and health matters (rejecting outside interference by the United Nations, the World Court, the Kyoto Treaty signatories, and Canada). But Bush knew that his policies made the United States dependent on British flu vaccine manufacturers; Latin American, Caribbean, African, and Asian cheap labor; world markets, and Middle Eastern oil, not to mention Poland's armed forces.

So in the end, on the advice of George Bush, the Declaration of Selective Independence was rewritten:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and superior station to which the Laws of God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of Republican Christian U.S. citizens who are married heterosexually and who earn more than $200,000 a year requires that they should declare some of the causes which might possibly impell them to the separation or which might possibly trick the country and the world into supporting the separation.



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David Lion Salmanson - 11/1/2004

Well put Oscar.


Oscar Chamberlain - 11/1/2004

I don't like Bush but this is a bit of a cheap shot. The signers of the Declaration had their own problems hypocrocies (even by the standards of their time)involving class and race. So do the rest of us.

However, it is good to be reminded of how the Declaration prods us all (and I do mean all). Its sweeping language, its universality, and the very vagueness of some of its assertions make us consider how far short of perfection that we fall, and it helps us to gauge which we we are moving.