Thursday, April 28, 2016

face value

My political sensitivity meter is not functioning properly.

A week ago, I opened my Kindle to find a newspaper headline: "Tubman to replace Jackson on $20 bill." I actually said: "Oh, no."

In my defense, I was confused.

I thought the story was about the $10 bill -- where I had been an advocate of keeping Alexander Hamilton's portrait. I completely missed the fact that the story was about the $20 bill, where Andrew Jackson (choose one: a. founder of the modern Democrat party or b. slaveholder and oppressor of Indians -- and then draw up sides) has held sway since 1928.

Not any more. He has been demoted to the back of the bill. Harriet Tubman will take his place up front. And I say bravo -- despite my misinformed initial reaction.

We all know her accomplishments. Civil war spy. Engineer on the underground railroad. Recruiter of insurrectionists for John Brown. Abolitionist. Suffragette.

And best of all, she was not a president or political hanger-on -- like the rest of the faces on American notes. Washington. Jefferson. Lincoln. Hamilton. Jackson. Grant. Franklin.

All of them worthy American heroes. And all of them flawed -- certainly when we apply presentism historiography to their lives. (Undoubtedly, people two generations from now will look back at us in horror that we ate plants. "Weren't they aware carrots have feelings?")

Why should our currency be populated by the faces of political figures? After all, government (fortunately) affects only a small portion of our day-to-day lives.

Why not put the faces of people on our bills who really matter to our daily existence? Harnessing the power of electricity matters a lot more to me than the man who won the Battle of Shiloh. I know far more about the human condition from reading great literature than I do about listening to a presidential speech.

American history is replete with men and women who invented, built, composed, traded, and simply made our lives better to live. Those are the people who we should be honoring on our big bucks.

I would propose a list, but then the names would be the issue -- not the concept.

Right now, I am looking through the Mexican peso notes in my wallet. The faces are a fine mix of what makes up Mexican society.

A full Zapotec Indian who served as president. A mulatto Independence general. A pre-Columbian Acolhua chieftain noted for his poetry and philosophy. A seventeenth century criolla poet. The Mexican general who gave us Cinco de Mayo. The criollo priest who is known as the father of Mexican Independence. And probably the best known of the Mexican muralists -- with his equally talented wife on the reverse.

Mexico's mix gets the concept correct. A few more business heroes or inventors would not hurt. I would nominate the woman who first came up with the idea of serving a chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and walnuts on a pool of jamaica sauce.

So, good for Harriet Tubman. Let's see more faces that are not restricted to the confines of that little piece of land that once belonged to Maryland.

The nation is a far larger (and better) place than the District of Columbia.

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