No, it’s not the tradition of defending, deflecting, and denying the Democrats’ history of supporting segregation. It’s the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, the most prominent fundraiser for state and local Democratic organizations. Jefferson-Jackson Day events are hosted by all levels of the party throughout the nation. It’s as much an institution as the Democratic National Convention theme song that we hear every four years, “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
The reasons why should be obvious. The Democrats of today live and die by virtue signaling. As an increasing number of prominent Democrats — including the rockstar of the moment, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigeig — are fond of telling us, one of the Democratic Party’s founders is just too shameful to mention these days, and therefore must be dropped down the memory hole as quickly as Joe Biden’s inappropriate touching habit disappears from CNN’s collective consciousness.
They say history is written by winners, but in this case 2016’s biggest losers want to rewrite their history by disavowing Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson, if you didn’t know, owned slaves at the same time he was declaring America’s independence from Great Britain, immortalizing the American Revolution’s ideals of individual liberty and self-government, serving as president of the United States, and founding what would become the Democratic Party.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: slavery was and will forever be the most horrific wide scale abuse of human rights to occur in the United States of America. This isn’t to excuse Jefferson’s ownership of slaves. This is about what the Democratic Party represents in 2019 and how devoid of nuance its members have become.
Any conversation about slavery requires acknowledgment of the pain that traveled deep within the veins of our country during that horrific stain on American history, and when examining the complexities of this multi-generational tragedy it’s important to recognize its utterly devastating effects that still today prevent the U.S. from being as great as it could be.
We also have to grapple with the complexity of freedom during that time. Could Jefferson have accomplished what he did at the time had he been a staunch advocate against slavery? It’s doubtful. He was both a seminal figure in advancing freedom and a participant in the very antithesis of freedom. It’s complex and requires us to compartmentalize achievement from moral role model. Some are unwilling to do this, so it’s understandable that some may seek to change the name of this event in favor of honoring figures more morally in line with the Democratic Party of 2019.
The question is, what will come after the change? What do Democrats today stand for? Who in the Democratic Party today or in recent memory has accomplished more to advance freedom and prosperity on a wider scale than Thomas Jefferson?
Some might see the movement to disavow Jefferson as an inconvenient mini-crisis for the party. I see it as an opportunity — an opportunity to select a bold new name for this preeminent fundraising dinner to something that more accurately reflects the Democratic Party’s identity heading into the 2020 election.
What better way to make that clear to Democratic voters than with a brand new “Louis Farrakhan-Al Sharpton Day” dinner?
Anti-Semitism in the modern Democratic Party is less than ideal. But it’s hardly a dealbreaker anymore. Sure, Farrakhan calling Jewish people “termites” and preaching that they’re part of a genetically engineered race of white devils is regrettable. Sharpton’s leadership of a mob that burned Jewish businesses to shouts of “kill the Jew” could have been handled better.
But Thomas Jefferson owned slaves 200 years ago, so it’s a big improvement, right? At least Al Sharpton was standing up to racism when he lied to the country for years about a group of white men, including a police officer and a prosecutor, gang raping a black teenager, Tawana Brawley.
If Sharpton and Farrakhan aren’t your cup of tea, though, there are plenty of other equally apt options.
It’s all well and good to author a declaration that would mean certain execution for treason, as Jefferson did, or lead an outnumbered army of militia to victory at the Battle of New Orleans, as Jackson did, but today’s Democratic Party should celebrate their own brand of bravery. That’s why an “Ocasio-Cortez-Omar Day” dinner would be an ideal replacement for this “Jefferson-Jackson Day” relic.
After all, these brave Democrats go into battle every day on Twitter, where they are ridiculed over such trivial things as blatant anti-Semitism, including when Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar said Republican support of AIPAC was “All about the Benjamins,” and that “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”
We witnessed similar bravery when New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said it was more important to be morally right than factually correct, and when AOC released a Green New Deal document that set a goal for “net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast,” or when AOC said that planting certain types of vegetables in community gardens was “colonial.”
When they defend these foundational 2020 Democratic values, it’s surely a new kind of bravery that the Democratic Party can celebrate. After all, putting one’s life on the line on behalf of one’s country is nothing compared to the bravery it takes for AOC and Omar to slay the pouncing Republicans on social media.
Still not sold?
Well, there is one more option. Why not just call it the “Buttigieg-Beto Day” dinner?
There’s no need to concern ourselves with that messy, complicated, nuanced history thing. Honoring controversial figures like one of the founding fathers or the father of American popular democracy is bound to cause problems. The Democratic Party could avoid that by using photogenic empty suits like Pete Buttigieg and Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke as their standard-bearers.
“Buttigieg-Beto Day” even retains all the alliteration of “Jefferson-Jackson Day,” but with none of the baggage that goes along with honoring people who are known for actual accomplishments that have transformed Western civilization for the benefit of countless millions.
Robby Starbuck (@RobbyStarbuck) is a Cuban American producer and director. Robby was nominated for Best Rock Video and Best Indie Video at the Much Music Video Awards (MMVA’s), Won the YouTube Play award, won the Kerrang! Video of the Year award and Best Video With A Message at the MTV VMA’s. His work has been viewed over five billion times worldwide. Robby has directed or produced the official music videos for multiple feature films, including “Terminator: Genysis,” “Transformers: The Last Knight” and “The Spongebob Movie.”
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