The Score: Jefferson’s Legacy, Khizr Khan, SCOTUS Review, Improving Debates, Negative Partisanship
This week on The Score – How can presidential primary debates be improved? What did the Supreme Court do during its just-ended term? Can Donald Trump win reelection in the current political climate? And we report from Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello on the anniversary of American independence.
Fourth of July at Monticello
This week’s episode opens with the sound of Thomas Jefferson’s Chinese gong, tolling the hour of nine in the morning and marking the beginning of the fifty-seventh annual naturalization ceremony for new citizens at Monticello, on the hill overlooking Charlottesville, Virginia.
After this year’s ceremony, I had the opportunity to speak with Leslie Greene Bowman, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, and I asked her about current controversies surrounding the third U.S. president and author of the Declaration of Independence and what Monticello has planned for the sesquibicentennial of the Declaration of Independence in 2026.
Bowman recently published an op-ed on “Why Jefferson Matters,” in which she writes:
It is precisely the duality of Jefferson’s legacy — his vision and his failure to enact it — that make him relevant today. Our past is populated with real people, not heroes on pedestals, and we study, value, and devalue those whom we deem most influential to our present and future.
Jefferson matters. He is crucial to understanding ourselves and our country, why we hold high self-evident truths and why we have yet to fully realize them.
Bowman is author of American Arts & Crafts: Virtue in Design (1992) and she wrote the introduction to Monticello: The Official Guide to Thomas Jefferson’s World (2016) and the foreword to Monticello in Measured Drawings: Drawings by the Historic American Buildings Survey (2001).
Monticello is on Twitter as @TJMonticello.
This year’s featured speaker at the naturalization ceremony was attorney, author, and Gold Star parent Khizr Khan. As he explained during his remarks, Khan discovered the Declaration of Independence as a law student in Pakistan in 1972, he immigrated to the United States in 1979, and he became a U.S. citizen six years later. To me, he seemed unusually well-prepared to jump through the hoops of naturalization, so I asked him if he was able to pass the citizenship test the moment he stepped off the boat. He laughed at the question, saying it was hard work to learn about American history and government in order to become naturalized.
Khan is the author of An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice (2017) and This Is Our Constitution: What It Is and Why It Matters (2019), which he explained to me is aimed at middle-school students who are studying civics.
I also asked him what comes to mind when he hears the phrase, “Dissent is patriotic.” (Spoiler: He agrees that it is.)
For a special treat, I recommend checking out the performance of the Lewis and Clark Fife & Drum Corps, who traveled from Missouri to participate in Monticello’s Independence Day activities. These young musicians, burdened by the heavy garments of early 19th-century soldiers, have amazing discipline and skills. I was blown away when I saw them.
Reviewing the Supreme Court Term
Last year, I interviewed John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a public-interest law firm focused on civil liberties, about the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017-18 term. This past week, I met with him once again to chat with him about the just-concluded term of the U.S. Supreme Court. I wanted to get his impressions of some key cases and the opinions of the newer justices on the Court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
Whitehead was also a guest on The Score in March of last year, talking about the First Amendment. He is author of Battlefield America: The War On The American People (2015), A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State (2013), and The Second American Revolution (2004), as well as several other books.
Making Presidential Primary Debates Better
Anyone who watched the first Democratic primary debates, spread over two nights and featuring twenty candidates, realized how flawed the arrangement was. This past Wednesday, I spoke by telephone to James M. Copeland, an award-winning debate coach who has been one of the judges of presidential debates for the Associated Press since 1976, to ask him how these debates can be improved. He spared no one in his assessment.
In the interest of full disclosure, Copeland was my debate coach at Marquette University High School in the 1970s and rival coaches at the Georgetown University Forensics Institute in the early 1980s. I interviewed him for Bearing Drift in 2016 to get his take on the Trump-Clinton debates. He also offered debate tips to Donald Trump in an article on my personal web site.
In addition to being an award-winner himself, Copeland is the namesake of the National Speech & Debate Association’s “James M. Copeland High School Coach of the Year Award.” He is author of Cross Examination in Debate (1983) and co-author (with William E. Buys) of Speech Activities in the High School (1967), Second Thoughts on Establishing an Energy Policy (with James J. Unger and William Southworth, 1978), Second Thoughts on the Question of Criminal Justice (1976, also with Unger and Southworth), and On the Foreign Policy Question (1979, with Unger), as well as other books aimed at high school debaters and debate coaches.
In 2018, Christopher Newport University political scientist Rachel Bitecofer surprised many by her precise predictions of the outcome of the midterm congressional elections. She has applied the same model to the 2020 presidential race and predicts that the incumbent, Donald Trump, will lose. Her analysis was released earlier this week by the Wason Center for Public Policy.
Bitecofer is assistant director of the Wason Center in Newport News and senior research fellow at the Niskanen Center in Washington. She is author of The Unprecedented 2016 Presidential Election (2017). You can find her on Twitter as @RachelBitecofer.
I spoke to Dr. Bitecofer by telephone on Tuesday and began the conversation by asking her what she means by “Negative Partisanship.”
Next week’s episode of The Score is still a work in progress but be sure to come back next week to hear more news, reviews, and interviews. Until then, we’ll be waiting for you.