TCS Daily

Jefferson at South Park

By Stephen W. Stanton - April 11, 2003 12:00 AM

Last night, I had a Reese's moment. You might remember the candy commercials more than a decade ago. In them, two strangers serendipitously bump into each other and their snacks get mixed up. At first, they complain that "you got your peanut butter in my chocolate" and vice versa. Soon they discover "two great tastes that taste great together," the precursor to the modern peanut butter cup.

A few months ago, I wrote a pair of columns about South Park Republicans, which described how a vulgar cartoon captures the essence of modern conservatism. The idea even caught the attention of the show's creators.

More recently, I wrote a piece about the United Nations that asked, "What would Jefferson do?" (WWJD) The column drew parallels between contemporary global issues and the situation facing colonial Americans. The words of Jefferson are as relevant today as they were back then.

Last night on South Park, Eric Cartman got his chocolate in Thomas Jefferson's peanut butter. In the 100th episode of South Park, the fat little fourth grader goes back in time to figure out how the Founding Fathers would deal with Iraq.

Having and Eating the Cake

Sure enough, Thomas Jefferson told us exactly what he would do. Handing Cartman the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson said, "Perhaps this document will make the reasons for war obvious to all." Lest we forget, the Declaration of Independence was tantamount to a declaration of war. Back in 1776, when a British colony flipped off the King, it could expect swift and decisive military retribution.

Jefferson was not pro-war (few sane people are). He was anti-oppression. War was the price he and others were willing to pay to defend the inalienable rights of the colonists. Of course, if all men are truly created equal, the rights of the Iraqi people are also inalienable. They deserve liberation just as much as colonial Americans did. (Perhaps more so, since the Iraqi people have been oppressed far worse than eighteenth century colonists. I don't recall reading about British soldiers whose official duties included rape, jailing children, and executing the families of colonists who refused to become suicide bombers for the crown.)

Then, as now, leaders worried about the horrors of war. In addition, the Founding Fathers were also concerned about the standing of the United States among the other nations of the world. If we appeared too passive, we would invite bullying by aggressor nations who expect appeasement in all circumstances. Conversely, if we appeared too belligerent, other nations of the world would unite to oppose the danger of a well-armed America. Rather than side with either the peaceniks or hawks, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson decided to "have their cake, and eat it, too." (The quote is from the cartoon, not actual history.)

Cartman wakes from his flashback to share the Founding Fathers' wisdom with protesters on both sides of the war issue. As he takes the podium, violent pro-war and anti-war activists are beating each other to a bloody pulp in the town square. The left-wingers hold up "Bush is a Nazi" banners and call their opponents "bloodthirsty rednecks". The hawks, for their part, call the anti-war protesters a bunch of "flag burners" and "un-American bastards". Each side considers the other unpatriotic, an affront to the principles upon which the nation was founded.

However, in typical South Park fashion, the show took a firm position while taking potshots at extremists on both sides of the issue. Cartman reminds the crowd that their differences need not be so divisive.

"You people who are for the war, you need the protesters. Because they make the country look like its made of sane caring individuals. And you people who are anti-war, you need these flag wavers. Because if our whole country was made up of nothing but soft p#$%@ protesters, we'd get taken down in a second. That's why the Founding Fathers decided we should have both. It's called having your cake, and eating it, too." [expletive changed]

Common Sense Cartoons

The show concludes, rightly, that while a war in Iraq may be necessary, the peace protesters serve a valuable purpose. The U.S. is by far the most powerful military force in the world. If our government seems to have an itchy trigger finger, that would make hundreds of other heads of state very nervous. The last thing the world needs is another massive arms race as China and a dozen small-potatoes dictators scramble to build WMD stockpiles in anticipation of an inevitable American invasion.

The peace protesters demonstrate the reluctance of this nation to go to war. Our freedom of speech and press provide vital checks and balances against the president's ability to wage wars of aggression. Several million Americans have taken to the streets to object to a military action against a dictator that violated international law for a dozen years, ignored the terms of his cease-fire, fired upon U.S. and U.K. aircraft, developed WMD, precipitated the world's largest environmental disaster, gassed his own people, initiated two wars that killed more than a million people, and imposed one of the most brutally repressive regimes in human history.

If we face such strong domestic opposition when the case for war is so clear-cut, then maybe Castro, Kim Jong Il, and Robert Mugabe can sleep well at night without hiding a nuclear gun under their pillows. They know that the U.S. does not go to war for light and transient causes.

Just as importantly, they know there is a limit beyond which they dare not go. By using the military reluctantly yet decisively, the U.S. maintains a delicate balance between destabilizing interventionism and impractical pacifism.

So what would South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker do about Saddam Hussein? I am not sure about the real world, but they tore him apart in their cartoon universe. Saddam Hussein frequently appears on the weekly show, and was a main character in the South Park movie. In fact, after he dies on the show, Saddam is too evil for even Satan to tolerate. Saddam enjoys hell too much. To truly punish the despot, he is sent to heaven to endure an eternity of goodness that he finds utterly insufferable. Once in heaven, God catches Saddam building a chemical weapons plant. Of course, he denies it. "Look, God, If I was going to secretly build a chemical weapons plant, I wouldn't make it look like a chemical weapons plant, would I? I'd make it look like a chocolate chip factory or something."

To be clear, I take absolutely no credit for the South Park episode. Matt Stone and Trey Parker are far more creative than I am. Like everybody else, I simply enjoy the chance to say "I told you so".

A cartoon that encourages the right to civil protest yet still supports military action to depose Saddam? That sounds like common sense conservatism to me (expletives be damned). Military action to depose an oppressive tyrant? Sounds exactly like what Jefferson did back then, and probably what he would do today.

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