(Thomas Paine - painting by Auguste Milliere - from Wikipedia)
The liberals and conservatives in my neck of the woods are having a big argument, and the subject is Thomas Paine. Yes, Thomas “These are the times that try men’s souls” dead-201-years Paine.
You see, in the early 1800s, Paine lived briefly in New Rochelle, N.Y. and two groups there lay claim to his legacy. The Huguenot and New Rochelle Historical Association owns Paine’s old cottage and has opened it to the public as an historical site. The Thomas Paine National Historical Association, unrelated to the other group, operated a Paine Museum next door to the Cottage – or at least it did, until the New York Attorney General seized the Museum over the group’s financial improprieties.
The two groups have feuded bitterly for a while, but this did not become public knowledge until last week, when the Huguenots announced a new “In the Spirit of Thomas Paine Award,” and naturally, made the first recipient Fox News pundit and conservative political consultant Dick Morris.
Yes, Dick Morris, one of the biggest weasels in the weasel-heavy punditocracy, was selected for an award that supposedly symbolizes political freedom and original thought. Let's just say the two Paine groups are not in agreement about this.
Bradley Mulkern, head of the Paine Association, issued a sarcastic press release, posted in The Journal News, which mockingly welcomed Morris’ apparently sudden conversion from GOP doctrine to Paine’s principles. John Wright, director of the Huguenots, responded to Mulkern, "Screw the guy. Who the hell does he think he is to have lockstep copyright on Thomas Paine?"
Now at first, I agreed with the Paine Association that a repellant political hack like Morris was unworthy of such an award, but as I did a little research - i.e. reading Wikipedia - I realized that Morris was, in fact, an inspired choice because his career has so much in common with Paine’s.
(Dick Morris photo from Fox News. Don't worry, I washed my hands afterward.)
ON CHANGING DIRECTIONS OUT OF PRINCIPLE:
PAINE: Two years after emigrating from England, he published Common Sense, which advocated the overthrow of British rule in the colonies.
MORRIS: Two years after being forced out of the Clinton Administration by a prostitution scandal, he testified against his former boss in Clinton’s impeachment trial.
PAINE: Published Common Sense, The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason, three widely-read treatises that changed the course of history.
MORRIS: In 2006, published Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race, a quickly forgotten book which predicted that only Condoleezza Rice could stop Hillary Clinton’s inevitable 2008 election.
ON DEALING WITH THE DESPOTIC:
PAINE: While living in France, he declared that Napoleon was “the completest charlatan that ever existed.”
MORRIS: While working for Fox News, he declared, “I love Karl Rove. He elected Bush.”
ON REDISTRIBUTING THE WEALTH:
PAINE: Proposed, in Agrarian Justice, that every American, upon reaching the age of 21, be provided a basic annual guaranteed income.
MORRIS: Redistributed $200 an hour to Sherry Rowlands for toe-sucking sessions at a D.C. hotel.
ON SPREADING DEMOCRACY:
PAINE: Was such an enthusiastic supporter of the French Revolution that he was chosen for their National Convention, even though he could not speak French.
MORRIS: Was a paid consultant for a British party that advocates their withdrawal from the European Union.
PAINE: “Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice.”
MORRIS: “I didn't do what they said I did. I may have done enough so that I don't know if I can prove my innocence.”
PAINE: Wrote, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.”
MORRIS: Promised to pay all his back taxes when the IRS filed a $1.5 million tax lien against him.
PAINE: Wrote, “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”MORRIS: Converted to Catholicism after his prostitution scandal.
PAINE: Wrote, “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country.”
MORRIS: Declared that he would leave the U.S. if Hillary Clinton was elected President.
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF SOLDIERS:
PAINE: Wrote, "An army of principles can penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot."
MORRIS: Said, "One of the things, though, that I think the antiwar crowd has not considered is that, if we're putting the Americans right within their arms' reach [in Iraq], they don't have to come to Wall Street to kill Americans. They don't have to knock down the trade center. They can do it around the corner, and convenience is a big factor when you're a terrorist."
ON BENJAMIN FRANKLIN:
PAINE: Was a personal friend of Benjamin’s.
MORRIS: Is all about the Benjamins.
Clearly, Dick Morris is every bit a worthy recipient of a Thomas Paine Spirit Award. That sound you hear from the cemetery is not Paine spinning in his grave. It’s Paine having his toes sucked.