Tag Archives: Benjamin Franklin

It’s time to write those checks

Do you remember that old phrase…”Put your money where your mouth is”?

It strikes me as more timely than ever.

The upcoming election is critical.  Its outcome will determine the future of our country in countless ways.

If you’re concerned about which way the results may go, you should consider donating to the candidates and the causes you support.  And you should do it right now.

I’m “old school.”  Although I sometimes make donations online, I still like to pull out my checkbook and write actual checks.  They’re not very big.  I’m heartened by big-money donors like Mike Bloomberg, who just gave $100 million to the Biden campaign in Florida.  By contrast, my checks are much, much smaller.  More like a grain of sand in a miles-long beach of donations.

But every little bit helps.

Here’s some history:  I‘m old enough to recall the presidential campaign of 1972.  My husband (aka Marv) and I ardently supported the candidacy of George McGovern, who valiantly campaigned for president that year, fighting the unrelenting dirty tricks devised by Richard Nixon and his allies. The Watergate burglary was just one crime in that long ugly record of wrongdoing.

Marv and I sent McGovern’s campaign the astounding sum of $100.  Astounding because we were young and living on two minuscule salaries as pathetically-paid faculty members at the University of Michigan. That check for $100 made a huge dent in our budget.  I’ve checked the figures, and the 2020 equivalent is $626.47.  You can imagine how committed we were to WWII hero/Vietnam War opponent George McGovern, and how much we despised Tricky Dick Nixon, for us to come up with a donation like that.

Sadly, the dirty tricks of the Nixon era have been surpassed by the dirty tricks engaged in by the current occupant of the White House. Even Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell, did his dirty work behind the scenes, unlike our current attorney general, whose astonishing power-grab is out there for all of us to see.

Back to donations: Instead of boring you with details of other donations I’ve made, both before and after ‘72, I’d rather move on to the situation today.

Because we’re only seven weeks away from this fall’s election, there’s no time to waste. 

All of the candidates in this hard-fought campaign are in need of funds to help them win. 

I strongly urge you to get out your checkbooks or your credit cards, or both, and donate to the candidates you earnestly want to win. And to any organized group whose efforts you’ve decided are also worth your support.

I’ll be honest:  I want to see a new president elected. And I want to see a U.S. Senate that will reflect the views of the majority of voters in this country, not those of a single senator from Kentucky.

I want to keep the U.S. House in the hands of those who are in the majority right now, under the continued leadership of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.  And I want to see judges who are fair and not overly influenced by politics fill all of the openings for new judges in the federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

I’m writing checks to support the candidates and causes I want to win.  For probably the first time in my life, I’m also sending money to bolster the efforts of a group of politically energized veterans.  A group, Vote Vets, has stated its strong opposition to our current president.  And in a compelling letter seeking my support, it has told me exactly why.

Of course, you may have chosen to take other steps to support candidates and causes, like knocking on doors and making phone calls. Those efforts can do a lot to help, and I commend you for doing them. But at the same time, please don’t forget the enormous need for funds to pay for TV advertising, among other things. Especially if your candidate refuses to hold rallies that endanger the lives of those who attend them.

You may disagree with me on any or all of these candidates and causes.  If you do, go ahead and support the candidates and causes that you prefer.  We still live in a democratic republic…if, as Benjamin Franklin said, we can keep it.

So…will you put your money where your mouth is? 

If you don’t, and your candidate fails to win, you may everlastingly regret your decision not to lend your much-needed support.

Hamilton, Hamilton…Who Was He Anyway?

Broadway megahit “Hamilton” has brought the Founding Parent (okay, Founding Father) into a spotlight unknown since his own era.

Let’s face it.  The Ron Chernow biography, turned into a smash Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, has made Alexander Hamilton into the icon he hasn’t been–or maybe never was–in a century or two. Just this week, the hip-hop musical “Hamilton” received a record-breaking 16 Tony Award nominations.

His new-found celebrity has even influenced his modern-day successor, current Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, leading Lew to reverse his earlier plan to remove Hamilton from the $10 bill and replace him with the image of an American woman.

Instead, Hamilton will remain on the front of that bill, with a group representing suffragette leaders in 1913 appearing on the back, while Harriet Tubman will replace no-longer-revered and now-reviled President Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill.  We’ll see other changes to our paper currency during the next five years.

But an intriguing question remains:  How many Americans—putting aside those caught up in the frenzy on Broadway, where theatergoers are forking over $300 and $400 to see “Hamilton” on stage—know who Hamilton really was?

A recent study done by memory researchers at Washington University in St. Louis has confirmed that most Americans are confident that Hamilton was once president of the United States.

According to Henry L. Roediger III, a human memory expert at Wash U, “Our findings from a recent survey suggest that about 71 percent of Americans are fairly certain that [Hamilton] is among our nation’s past presidents.  I had predicted that Benjamin Franklin would be the person most falsely recognized as a president, but Hamilton beat him by a mile.”

Roediger (whose official academic title is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Arts & Sciences) has been testing undergrad college students since 1973, when he first administered a test while he was himself a psychology grad student at Yale. His 2014 study, published in the journal Science, suggested that we as a nation do fairly well at naming the first few and the last few presidents.  But less than 20 percent can remember more than the last 8 or 9 presidents in order.

Roediger’s more recent study is a bit different because its goal was to gauge how well Americans simply recognize the names of past presidents.  Name-recognition should be much less difficult than recalling names from memory and listing them on a blank sheet of paper, which was the challenge in 2014.

The 2016 study, published in February in the journal Psychological Science, asked participants to identify past presidents, using a list of names that included actual presidents as well as famous non-presidents like Hamilton and Franklin.  Other familiar names from U.S. history, and non-famous but common names, were also included.

Participants were asked to indicate their level of certainty on a scale from zero to 100, where 100 was absolutely certain.

What happened?  The rate for correctly recognizing the names of past presidents was 88 percent overall, although laggards Franklin Pierce and Chester Arthur rated less than 60 percent.

Hamilton was more frequently identified as president (with 71 percent thinking that he was) than several actual presidents, and people were very confident (83 on the 100-point scale) that he had been president.

More than a quarter of the participants incorrectly recognized others, notably Franklin, Hubert Humphrey, and John Calhoun, as past presidents.  Roediger thinks that probably happened because people are aware that these were important figures in American history without really knowing what their actual roles were.

Roediger and his co-author, K. Andrew DeSoto, suggest that our ability to recognize the names of famous people hinges on their names appearing in a context related to the source of their fame.  “Elvis Presley was famous, but he would never be recognized as a past president,” Roediger says.   It’s not enough to have a familiar name.  It must be “a familiar name in the right context.”

This study is part of an emerging line of research focusing on how people remember history.  The recent studies reveal that the ability to remember the names of presidents follows consistent and reliable patterns.  “No matter how we test it—in the same experiment, with different people, across generations, in the laboratory, with online studies, with different types of tests—there are clear patterns in how the presidents are remembered and how they are forgotten,” DeSoto says.

While decades-old theories about memory can explain the results to some extent, these findings are sparking new ideas about fame and just how human memory-function treats those who achieve it.

As Roediger notes, “knowledge of American presidents is imperfect….”  False fame can arise from “contextual familiarity.”  And “even the most famous person in America may be forgotten in as short a time as 50 years.”

So…how will Alexander Hamilton’s new-found celebrity hold up?  Judging from the astounding success of the hip-hop musical focusing on him and his cohorts, one can predict with some confidence that his memory will endure far longer than it otherwise might have.

This time, he may even be remembered as our first Secretary of the Treasury, not as the president he never was.