President Hamilton?

Though the quote has appeared in several different forms over the years, philosopher George Santayana wrote this: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If I may, I would like to reword this famous statement and apply it to a current event: “Those who never learn the past are condemned to misstate it.”

What has prompted me to mess with the immortal words of Santayana? A monumental President’s Day blunder by online coupon provider Groupon, that’s what. According to a plethora of major news outlets Groupon issued a news release last week promoting $10 off of local deals over $40, complete with this explanation of the deal: “The $10 bill, as everyone knows, features President Alexander Hamilton — undeniably one of our greatest presidents and most widely recognized for establishing the country’s financial system.”

Now, in Groupon’s defense, Hamilton is generally credited with laying the foundations of the nation’s financial system, having served as the first Secretary of the Treasury the U.S. ever had. However, as with Benjamin Franklin on the $100 bill, Hamilton never served as president of the United States.

Compounding the problem, Fox News has reported that upon being informed of the blunder Erin Yeager, Groupon spokesperson, told MyFoxNY.com, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree.” Agree to disagree? Whether or not someone was ever president of the United States is not a matter of opinion; it is historical fact, easily checked and verified.

Groupon’s press release–which, believe it or not, is still available on its web site–refers to Hamilton as president three times and refers to him once as “our money-minded commander-in-chief.”

In the grand scheme of things this is pathetic but not that big a deal. However, it is evidence of a greater problem. That problem is a two-edged sword of ignorance of and disrespect for U.S. history. There is no excuse for having multiple professionals at a major corporation failing to recognize that Alexander Hamilton was never president of the United States. (Presumably more than one person has to approve press releases and ad campaigns). There is no excuse for a company spokesperson responding “we’ll have to agree to disagree” when the error was identified. The error was a result of ignorance or stupidity (or both), and the explanation once the error was identified is a result of ignorance or stupidity (or both, but most likely the latter).

Furthermore, the explanation is a prime example of the foolishness of relativism. Relativism is the idea that there is no absolute truth, that all beliefs and points of view are relative, subjective, and based on the preferences and viewpoints of those who adhere to them. “Agree to disagree” is a shorthand definition of “tolerance” and it works fine for things like which baseball team has a better starting rotation, which fast food chain has the best French fries or even which U.S. president was the best president. Those are topics subject to legitimate differences of opinion and conviction. There are different ways of defining “best” and legitimate, cogent, rational arguments could be made for multiple answers to those questions. Relativism has its place. I see it demonstrated almost daily at family meal times, for example–particularly when it comes to the vegetable of the meal and the opinions of my children as to how good–or not good–the vegetable may be!

Relativism has no place, however, when it comes to verifiable facts. There can be a difference of opinion as to which fast food chain has the best French fries, but whether or not a fast food chain even exists or even serves French fries is not open for discussion; the answer can be found and proven. Which U.S. president was the best will bring plenty of different answers, and you will probably find plenty of them today in particular, since it is Presidents Day. At a minimum I can guarantee you will find arguments for George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. There is no definitive standard by which one can determine “best president” so that range of opinion is fine–healthy, even. But there is no question as to whether or not Alexander Hamilton was a U.S. president.

It is a sad day when a major company errs on what should be basic elementary school history. My favorite professor in college used to refer to some things by saying, “Every good schoolboy or schoolgirl should know this….” Sadly, the number of things every good schoolboy or schoolgirl knows is rapidly diminishing. That is due in no small part to an observation regularly made by my favorite graduate school professor: “Sometimes there is nothing common about common sense.”

“…not a woman’s rights issue but a human rights issue”

This coming Sunday, January 19, is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Since 1984 the the Sunday in January falling closest to the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision has been recognized as Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, having begun with a proclamation from President Ronald Reagan on January 13, 1984. Reagan’s proclamation asserted that the death of 15 million children by abortion from 1973 to 1984 was “a tragedy of stunning dimensions that stands in sad contrast to our belief that each life is sacred. These children, over tenfold the number of Americans lost in all our Nation’s wars, will never laugh, never sing, never experience the joy of human love; nor will they strive to heal the sick, or feed the poor, or make peace among nations. Abortion has denied them the first and most basic of human rights, and we are infinitely poorer for their loss.” President Reagan continued to issue proclamations for this Sunday of remembrance each year for the remainder of his presidency. President George H.W. Bush did so, too, as did his son, President George W. Bush. President Bill Clinton did not issue these proclamations, nor has President Barack Obama.

The National Right to Life has called the presidential proclamations and the designated Sunday “a wonderful statement of what the pro-life movement is really all about.” Not surprisingly, pro-abortion groups such as NARAL are adamantly opposed to the proclamations and the recognition of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, saying that they are in fact attempts to restrict women’s rights. This is not an argument restricted to NARAL and other extremist pro-abortion groups. An April 2009 article on FoxNews.com quotes actress Amy Brenneman as saying, “Unless a woman really has sovereignty over her own body we really haven’t come that far.” In other words, denying a woman the right to kill the unborn child living in her womb, should she so desire, is akin to denying women the rights to own property or vote or pursue career paths previously restricted to men.

Fortunately, there are others that articulately explain and defend the right to life and the reasons behind the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, and not all of them are individuals that might be most commonly referred to by the mainstream media as right wing Bible bangers. For example, model Kathy Ireland presented her pro-life views very clearly in the same FoxNews.com article that quoted Brenneman.

Ireland explained, “My entire life I was pro-choice — who was I to tell another woman what she could or couldn’t do with her body? But when I was 18, I became a Christian and I dove into the medical books, I dove into science. What I read was astounding and I learned that at the moment of conception a new life comes into being. The complete genetic blueprint is there, the DNA is determined, the blood type is determined, the sex is determined, the unique set of fingerprints that nobody has had or ever will have is already there.”

Interestingly, despite what she learned in her research, Ireland claims that she resisted becoming pro-life; it still did not line up with what she thought was right and it certainly did not line up with what most of the people in her world believed. So, she continued her research, calling Planned Parenthood for help. “I called Planned Parenthood and begged them to give me their best argument and all they could come up with that it is really just a clump of cells and if you get it early enough it doesn’t even look like a baby. Well, we’re all clumps of cells and the unborn does not look like a baby the same way the baby does not look like a teenager, a teenager does not look like a senior citizen. That unborn baby looks exactly the way human beings are supposed to look at that stage of development. It doesn’t suddenly become a human being at a certain point in time. I’ve also asked leading scientists across our country to please show me some shred of evidence that the unborn is not a human being. I didn’t want to be pro-life, but this is not a woman’s rights issue but a human rights issue.”

Ireland’s argument is well stated, and as we approach Sanctity of Human Life Sunday I urge you to take a stand for life however you see fit. You may do it quietly, you may do it privately, you may do it publicly or corporately. However you choose to do it I would ask that you do it respectfully–the name-calling, threats and violence that have been employed by same in the name of the pro-life movement do not help the pro-life cause nor do they reflect well on anyone engaging in such activity. This truly is a human rights issue. Take a stand for life!