MARVIN MacFARLAND and I were jumping up and down and waving our arms in the Tune-Inn -- Capitol Hill's best bar for political talk, women, insults, and jumping up and down -- when Silverberg shunted in with the skinny man.
Marvin paused in mid-bounce. "It looks like him," said McFarland, who is division chief for science and technology at the Library of Congress. "Tall, sandy-headed, abstracted blue eyes, crippled wrists from horse-riding accidents."
The skinny man was deep in conversation with Silverberg (Robert, splendid author and the best writer on time travel since H. G. Wells). "Mine, after all, may be a Utopian dream," the skinny man murmured, "but, being innocent, I have thought I might indulge in it till I go to the land of dreams, and sleep there with the dreamers of all past and future times."
"By God, it is him," Marvin exclaimed.
A decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires an explanation. The political thinkers of the Tune-Inn are rather burnt out on government. We needed a shot in the arm. MacFarland one day began to scatter tidbits about the Sage of Monticello. If only there were some way to go up the line and bring him back and bask in the pleasure of his political company.
Silverberg had figured out a way in his brilliant novel, "Up the Line," a phrase meaning "back in history." One simply straps on a Silverberg timer, which is something like a jockstrap with a clock on it. Of course, shunting someone from the past to the present was ruled out by Silverberg's laws of temperal paradox, but he agreed to waive these in order to meet the beloved Sage.
I gave President Jefferson my favorite barstool in the corner by the front window where, if you bend forward, you catch a glimpse of Jefferson's own Library of Congress and of the Capitol dome. Tune-Inners crowded in.
To make the Sage feel at home, Marvin belted out a loud version of his 1801 campaign song: Rejoice, Columbia's sons rejoice To Tyrants never bend the knee But join with heart and soul and voice For Jefferson and liberty.
A faintly sardonic smile fliskered across Jefferson's thin lips. He had invented most of the now-familiar political tricks -- the first campaign biography, slogans, puffery planted in friendly newspapers. Under his leadership, the Republican Party -- then a farmer-laborer coalition, as opposed to the Eastern bankers and monarchal sympathizers of the Federalist Party -- grew used to 2-to-1 victories in the House. Drums, torches, rum, three-cornered hats flying through the air, and "Get your people to the polls if you want your brother to get that Post Office job." That sort of thing.
The philosophical side of Jefferson dominated, however, and is suggested by the reading program he once proposed for a young lawyer.
"Till 8 o'clock in the morning employ yourself in agriculture, chemistry, anatomy, zoology, botany, ethics and natural religion, religion sectarian, natural law. From 8 to 12 read law . . . from 12 to 1 read politics. In the afternoon read history. From dark to bedtime: belles lettres, criticism, rhetoric, oratory. Read the best of the poets, but among these Shakespeare must be singled out by one who wishes to learn the full powers of the English language. Read the orations of Demosthenes and Cicero."
Not even the famed Kennedy senatorial staff, let alone the adviserfed senator himself, covers such intellectual territory. One wonders what topics President Carter persues in his bathroom reading, or whether other candidates even look at the pictures.
"I doubt that any of them even read science fiction," Silverberg noted sadly. "Their knowledge of fiction must be limited to their campaigns." n
"I will be able to die happily," MacFarland remarked, "the day that any candidate for president spends an hour in the Library of Congress reading room."
Jefferson then fired his opening shot.
"Perhaps you are too hard on them," he said, to our surprise. "It is self-evident that the candidates merely reflect the declining literacy and reasoning power of the American electorate. If the candidates give the appearance of emptiness, of being uncomfortable with ideas, of not having the slightest idea of planning rationally for the long-term future, does that hamper their election chances? Of course not. Do the voters seek out leaders who spend their evenings discussing the impact of the computer on education or privacy, the various theories of the formation of the universe, the potentially dangerous increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, intentional alteration of the human species through manipulation of DNA or new mind-altering drugs, the philosophical implications of new findings on brain function? Of course not. Was there a massive public outcry when your leaders -- after America placed men on the moon and built a vast lead in space exploration -- proceeded to more or less dismantle the space program? Of course not. Is there massive indignation that there is a textbrook currently in use in the Washington school system which has a sentence going something like this: 'Someday man will walk on the moon.'? Of course not.
"When the population does not read or reason, unknown flatterers or issue-barren actors are likely to attain office. Your liberals prepare vast lists of social problems but say little of your true and most basic social problem -- the decline of quality in public education. This system is doing no less than producing a vast future slave class."
There was reason for this bitter and frustrated tone. Jefferson was perhaps the most radical political figure, in the context of his times, that this country has known. As both a Virginia governor and legislator early in his career, he attempted to bring social revolution to that state through stripping the Anglican Church of its dominant position (laws were still on the books permitting the church to burn heretics -- laws that Jefferson expunged); through ending the "primogeniture" system that permitted the eldest son to inherit vast plantations intact (Jefferson brought land reform by permitting all heirs to share equally in plantation lands, thus breaking up such estates); and through elminating the death penalty for anything but murder and treason (horse thieves and minor felons were subject to hanging before).
His most radical Virginia reform proposal, however -- creation of a free public school system with financial aid for the poor but bright -- was never instituted until after the Civil War. He had hoped that public school districts would become "Little Republics" which would form the major strength of the main republic. Now, in 1980, he concluded painfully that the "Little Republics" were America's principal weakness. Where, he pled, are your education-conscious candidates?
Another element of the Jeffersonian creativity was the pioneering of the economic embargo as a substitute for war. Through his two presidential terms in the early 1800s, an arrogant British fleet -- freed to harass America after the defeat of Napoleon -- seized 1,000 U.S. ships and impressed 6,000 American sailors, attempting to goad the new republic into war before it was ready. Jefferson instead halted all maritime trade, crippling Britain's export industries to its major overseas market. The move was initially unpopular -- putting thousands of U.S. seamen out of work and shutting down many trade-dependent industries -- but it eventually turned America's eye inward and helped to develop a strong domestic industry. When contemporary wheat farmers propose a "bushel for a barrel" boycott against the OPEC oil exporters, they draw from Jeffersonian tradition.
Jefferson's America was restless, adventurous and thirsty for exploration.
"It was apparent to me," noted Jefferson, "that our new nation must expand and explore, not only to break free of encirclement by Britain, France and Spain, but also to remain strong of sinew, to perfect the mechanical, scientific and survival arts, and to achieve the level of creativity that only the free and independent individual mind may attain. Thus, the Louisiana Purchase, doubling America's size at one stroke, raising its imagination to incredible heights. I would suggest that a vast new program of space exploration, industrialilzation and colonization would bring even more political economic -- and spiritual -- benefits than did the Louisiana Purchase. But only one of your candidates, the odd Gov. Brown, has addressed this proposition and, unfortunately, he stresses development of the solar/microwave satellite which would place electrical power generation in the hands of a centralized utility. I would prevent your monied Hamiltonian establishment from purchasing the sun. Every American should have equal access to solar power, and where are your candidates who stress not only national energy independence, but also individual energy independence?"
"You're a decentralization man, then" I asked.
"To the death," answered the Sage. "Let the nation become a park of reasonably self-governing neighborhoods, perhaps of 2,000 to 5,000 population each, with our eyes on the stars. Your computers could give each neighborhood access to the data banks of the others, of the central government, and of the large or multinational corporations which potentially offer more of a 'Big Brother' threat even than the federal government. The principal goals of the central government of this United Neighborhoods of America would be, of course, self-defense, encouragement of science and invention at the smallest governmental levels, the movement into space, and training in all the basic survival skills which make an individual truly independent. I doubt that it would be wise to allow a candidate to run for national office unless he had extensive experience in neeighborhood government. Your major defense against the dread tyrannies of an Orwellian 1984 will be such Little Republics."
"Have you prepared a bill of particulars against the current president and Congress?" asked MacFarland.
"Prudence dicates that I be restrained in such criticism," replied Jefferson. "The responsibilities and problems of President Carter and the Congress are so much different and so much larger than were mine that detailed comparison is difficult. However, I would note that there is little concern in Washington today with planning for the problems lying 20 or more years in the future. In the Cabinet, each department has its own long-range planning capability, operating entirely independently of each other, offering no all-encompassing futures advise to the president. The Congress, although it has several new planning agencies, pays little attention to them. As only one example, the most visionary congressional group for planning into the next century, the Congressional Clearinghouse of the Future, has the support of less than 10 percent of the House and Senate members."
At that moment, Billie Larsen edged into the crowd around the Sage. Trouble. She's the Speaker of the House's tough Lady Friday who goes onto the House floor and tells the representative darlings how to vote.
"All right, big man," growled Billie, "how would you go about getting elected with radical-brained programs like that? Do you think you would have a chance in hell just because you've read so damn many books and thought so far over our heads?"
Is was a representative question from an operative of the old-fashioned, back-slapping, ham-stringing Irish pol, Tip O'Neill, but its crude directness froze us in mid-thought. The Sage of Monticello gazed abstractedly out the front window. After a full minute, the blue eyes turned cold and focused on Billie like a magnet.
"You want slogans?" he asked rhetorically. "All right. 'An End To Emptiness.' You wonder about my political imagination? Do not forget that I died on the Fourth of July exactly 50 years after I released the Declaration of Independence. You want to know my constituency? Anyone who has read a single book this year, who has been abused in a credit check, who has paid ever-higher prices for necessities because of the abuses of monopolies, who has recieved a lower-quality education than he or she had hoped for, who is tired both of Ralph Nader and General Motors, any American Indian who believes the original Americans should have full control of the Interior Department and of former Indian lands, any black who is tired of being told by social workers that science and scholarship are strictly white middle-class callings, anyone tired of being asked $100,000 for a small house or apartment. I could go on."
The Tune-Inn erupted. "An end to emptiness!" we yelled. "For Jefferson and liberty! Another round of screwdrivers!"
Silverberg shunted back, unfortunately materializing on the ceiling and crashing to the floor, creating a good deal of confusion. After he recovered, he said, "My God, I've made a terrible mistake. I was able to bring Jefferson here but I don't know how to get him back." I whirled quickly toward the corner -- and saw that Jefferson had left during the confusion.
"Good lord!? Marvin exclaimed. "What have we done?" Thomas Jefferson was loose on Capitol Hill.