Move over, Jerry Maguire.
When Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says, "Show me the money!" he means it. Literally.
Since changing who’s on our currency clearly ranks as one of today’s most pressing issues, Secretary Lew decided to boot President Andrew Jackson off the front of the $20 bill, replaced by Underground Railroad abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
So what prompted this move? And why now?
Let’s take a look:
1) Some will claim that race was the driving factor, with a former slave eclipsing a onetime slave owner.
If race entered into the equation, it shouldn’t have. Slavery was wrong, as we know. But do we condemn, for all of eternity, those who owned slaves – a common practice of that era? Do we disregard, and even whitewash from history, a person’s decent qualities and accomplishments, solely because of that?
If that’s the case, every monument to Thomas Jefferson – by far America’s biggest hypocrite on the slavery issue – has to go. The man who threatened to derail the Declaration of Independence if an anti-slavery clause wasn’t added was himself an avid slave owner. As a crusader against the practice – so long as he could keep his slaves – Jefferson is perhaps America’s most overrated "hero."
But does that mean we should blast his face off Rushmore and dismantle the Jefferson Memorial? Should we close the University of Virginia, which he founded? Same for George Washington, who also owned slaves. And do we shutter the Ivy League’s Brown University, founded on profits from the slave trade?
Of course not. Hopefully, we are mature enough to discern mistakes from accomplishments, celebrating the significance of the latter while not endorsing the former.
Tubman trumping Jackson, while a bad idea for many reasons, has no place in the race debate.
2) President Jackson’s accomplishments – from defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans, to founding the Democratic Party, to preserving the Union when South Carolina threatened succession – earned him a place on the $20 (perhaps the most widely viewed denomination, since it’s the predominant bill dispensed by ATMs). That honor should not be revoked, regardless of someone else’s accomplishments. One has nothing to do with the other.
3) In the same vein, Harriet Tubman’s courageous achievements obviously merit recognition. Fine. But do it in such a way that it doesn’t diminish a former president.
Build a monument in her honor. Construct a museum. Name a congressional wing. Or yes, place her on U.S. currency, but make it an original denomination, be it a newly minted coin or a $15 bill. But don’t denigrate her and that for which she fought – equality and fairness – by creating a controversy where there needn’t be one.
Both she and President Jackson deserve better.
4) Jackson’s fate was widely expected to be the same for Alexander Hamilton, who was slated to be wiped from the $10 bill. But credit for saving his portrait from the monetary dustbin is being given to – are you ready for this? – the Broadway play "Hamilton."
It’s bad enough that the Treasury Department is meddling where it shouldn’t be, but to base a monumental decision – right or wrong – on a fleeting musical is crazy.
Secretary Lew certainly seems to have a lot of time on his hands.
5) At the risk of sounding conspiratorial, is it just coincidence that this news, heralding "women" and "diversity," comes right as Hillary Clinton is about to be the first woman presidential nominee?
And the new bill design will be unveiled, to mammoth fanfare, in 2020, the year in which Mrs. Clinton may well be running for re-election. Another coincidence?
6) So long as we’re discussing fairness, how is it right to honor Martin Luther King Jr. with a national holiday – which he certainly deserves – by marginalizing George Washington and Abraham Lincoln? Sorry, but two of history’s – not just American history, but all of history’s – greatest figures each deserves his own special day. And while we’re at it, God spare us from the car and furniture companies’ "President’s Day" sale ads, which take desecration to a whole new level.
7) Perhaps most tragic is that so few care about this issue, especially the narcissistic millennials. Broad stroke of the brush, to be sure, but it’s nonetheless true that too many simply disregard our history with a cavalier shrug, despite the ease of learning that technology has provided. All the blood, sweat and tears that went into making America the greatest nation in world history is being whitewashed and forgotten, replaced by a gluttonous, I-don’t-care-about-that-stuff attitude. And that disdain doesn’t stop with history, as there is an equally glib antipathy toward such things as manners, correct grammar and common courtesy.
But so long as they can "like" the stupidest things imaginable on social media – while being incapable of holding a basic thirty-second human-to-human conversation — life is good.
Unless we cash in that attitude quickly and buy a dose of common sense, the problem will never be solved, no matter how many Harriet Tubman $20 bills we print.
And you can take that to the bank.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected].