A Bright Spot at Sorensen
Friday, June 02, 2006 :::
The 2006 Political Leaders class will head back to Charlottesville this weekend for its fourth session. And for the first time, I'm genuinely excited to hear one of the speakers -- Gordon Wood.
Wood is the Brown University history professor who wrote "The Radicalism of the American Revolution," a book that I recommend to anyone who has an interest in politics.
Wood's talk tonight is titled, "Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different." It ought to be the most thought-provoking presentation the Sorensen class has had so far. And that brings me to a point about the program as a whole.
To date, the discussions have centered, obviously, on current Virginia affairs. These are valuable, and even essential, if anyone hopes to understand at least some facets of the issues facing the Commonwealth.
But like so many discussion that focus merely on the here and now, they tend to be myopic. My general impression (and I speak only for myself), is that without historical context, every current policy issue seems new, different, and even unprecedented. That is wrong. The old saying that there is nothing new under the sun applies to politics and public policy as much as it does to any other portion of life. But for politics, perhaps even more so.
For example, last month, we listened to a presentation from Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer. The talk, naturally, centered around current issues. Are they important? Unquestionably. But it would have been extremely valuable to place the current situation in context...say, by looking much more closely at the Byrd-era origins of our current system. Homer, to his credit, touched on this topic, but time constraints did not allow him to expand on it in any depth. And that is an opportunity lost.
The same can be said for our discussion of the state's budget, economic development, or this weekend's other topic, education. How have problems been solved in the past? How did existing conditions arise (hint: they did not simply appear with the passage of No Child Left Behind, in the case of education)?
One way to fundamentally strengthen the Sorensen program would be to add an historical angle to each topic. This would not only help place everything we discuss in context, but dispel the notion that the issues we face today unique and unprecedented. They are not. Rather, they are new versions of old and even ancient questions. They have been addressed, for good or ill, by those who have far greater claim to wisdom than many who would make such claims today. And it would serve the "political leaders" of the future to have a firm grasp of that simple, powerful truth.
::: posted by Norman Leahy at 6/02/2006