Imagine two contenders for the presidency, one rather squat and plainspoken, the other lean, lanky and given to elevated discourse. Sound familiar?
At the Continental Congress in
History doesn't repeat itself. But sometimes the eighteenth century seems to have presaged the twenty-first. Contrast the personalities of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson with those of Barak Obama and John McCain.
In his book Inventing America, historian Garry Will explains that the terms "conservative" and "liberal" are misleading labels in most cases, but rarely as skewed as when applied to these two.
"Adams had a theoretical caution but a headlong, informal, risk-taking manner in person," Wills observes. "He was quick to trust or suspect, to take or give offense, to act on a moral 'feel' for any situation."
Along with his cousin Samuel, John was a scrapper. He enjoyed not only the rough-and-tumble of parliamentary battle, but shared a warrior's exaltation for combat. He nominated Washington to be commander-in-chief of the continental armies, practically invented the United States Navy, and himself served as chair of the Board of War and Ordnance during the revolution—a post roughly comparable to today's Secretary of Defense. One feels that like McCain, he would have been comfortable commanding a fighter wing. And like John McCain, the other John was known as headstrong, egotistical, and given to occasional fits of temper.
"Jefferson, by contrast, was rather quick to spill literary blood, but slow to the point of timidity in facing actual violence," says Wills. This wasn't a question of physical courage;
A preference for bipartisanship, a promise for revolutionary change but no killer instinct, optimism about a beaconing future that's vague on the messy details of how to get there … sounds a little like the junior senator from
The choice facing Americans in November is like the choice voters faced in 1796. Adams won that election, but
Most chroniclers agree that