Rubio and Rotation
In a recent interview with GQ magazine, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was asked about the age of the earth. Well, if you're going to start commenting on $16 trillion in federal debt, you'd better be prepared for probing questions from the press. After all, how do we know that this is the worst deficit in history if we don't know when all that history started? So we can be grateful to the scribes at GQ for their zeal in ferreting out the truth.
We can't have anyone even being considered for president who might believe in Creation. That's out of line for serious conversation. People who believe in that sort of thing are unscientific. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman hee-hawed his contempt for the upstart Cuban-American. Why, he doesn't just want to repeal the New Deal, hooted Nobel laureate Krugman -- he wants to repeal the Enlightenment!
There was one president who did not want to repeal the Enlightenment, for sure. Former Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin informs us in his classic book, The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson, that the lanky Virginian believed in a Creator who actually, well, created. Now, Dr. Boorstin never won the Nobel Prize, but he probably read more of the books in the Library of Congress than many of those who did.
Thus, Boorstin tells us, when President Jefferson was coaching Meriwether Lewis for what would become his great life's work of leading, with William Clark, the Corps of Discovery, he urged his young protégé to be on the lookout for rare species. One prize Mr. Jefferson especially hoped to bag was some woolly mammoths on the Great Plains. Far ahead of his contemporaries in his knowledge of natural philosophy (as science was generally known in his time), Jefferson's confidence in Creation and logic was such that he did not believe that species become extinct. Can you imagine the thrill of bringing back a pair of woolly mammoths and putting them in the National Zoo? If only we had a National Zoo.
Immigrant Albert Gallatin, Jefferson's canny treasury secretary, provided a word of caution. If Lewis and Clark go all the way to the Pacific and don't find your beloved Woolly Mammoths, Mr. Jefferson, Congress might get a bit restive and think you've wasted precious money.
In those Enlightenment days, money was precious, and Congress actually cared about not wasting it. We don't know if the Swiss-born Gallatin provided the name, but he surely found a great example of the idea: boondoggle. Now, there's a scientific discovery worth noting! So President Jefferson wisely gave Lewis and Clark a cover story. Tell the press you were searching for a Northwest Passage to the Orient.
Well, they didn't find that, either. Still, Lewis's and Clark's "undaunted courage" (Jefferson's phrase) in trekking over rivers, mountains, and plains, and their largely successful efforts to befriend the aboriginal peoples they encountered en route, is one of America's greatest success stories. Historian Stephen Ambrose's book of that name indelibly preserves Americans' sense of awe and wonder at Lewis's and Clark's achievement. Ambrose even records America's first modern election: when deciding which course to take, Lewis and Clark polled their party -- allowing Sacajawea, young woman of the Shoshone Tribe, and York, William Clark's black manservant, to participate. Lewis and Clark even allowed Charbonneau, Sacajawea's French-Canadian husband, to vote. They were good democrats.
And all this happened because Thomas Jefferson believed in Creation. Perhaps that's why he thought our unalienable rights -- including the right to life -- were endowed by our Creator. Paul Krugman and the ferrets at GQ know where that kind of natural philosophy can lead. They are wise to try to nip it in the bud. If Marco Rubio believes in Creation, he may believe in a Creator, too, and that might mean he thinks those who are Created in the image of their Creator ought to be protected in law.
Today, we have a president who doesn't sweat the details. He announced to an expectant world when he was first nominated that the oceans would cease to rise. Surely the survivors of Hurricane Sandy will be relieved to know that it could have been worse if Mr. Obama had not been elected.
The president, who has a Nobel Prize of his own, but not in science, unburdened himself about science in one of his books. This serial autobiographer modestly wrote:
[I] came to appreciate how the earth rotated around the sun and the seasons came and went without any particular exertions on my part.
Historian Michael Knox Beran discovered this scientific gem in The Audacity of Hope. Historian Michael Beschloss gushingly informed us that Barack Obama is the smartest man ever to enter the White House. That would put him on top of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, T.R., Eisenhower, and, of course, Reagan.
There's only one problem with President Obama's humble description of the earth rotating around the sun: it doesn't. The earth rotates on its axis. It revolves around the sun. This may not have been in the fifth-grade curriculum in Jakarta, Indonesia, but its what most of us learned here.
I taught this lesson to my three-year-old grandson before dawn in his bedroom recently. He has a blow-up globe, and we used it to show him that the sun really doesn't rise; rather, the world turns. Simple rotation.
Fortunately, when the Electoral College meets, and when Nobel Prize Committees convene, they don't ask candidates any fifth-grade science questions. It could be embarrassing.
But, with undaunted courage of their own, the ferrets of the media will make sure that no conservative know-nothings ever evade their pointed pens and escape their ridicule.
I'm grateful for rotation. In the Founders' time, rotation most often applied to rotation in office. It meant the need for some ins to be rotated out regularly. So it's not surprising that some conservatives appreciate rotation -- maybe even as much as they appreciate revolution.
Robert Morrison is a writer in Annapolis. He served in the Reagan administration.