What Would Thomas Jefferson Say about San Jose Inside?

If you want to analyze how something modern fits within the grand sweep of American history, pose the question and use a Founding Father.  If you want to suggest that democracy and freedom are at stake, use Thomas Jefferson.  Even if it’s a pretentious effort, it’s an excellent way to rebut Larry Stone.

Many of our loyal readers, like Larry Stone (link, comment 17) and Bob Kieve, have criticized the negative anonymous comments that appear on our blog.  We’ve debated the issue and decided that anonymity is an essential element of the blogosphere.  So we allow it as long as it doesn’t violate our comment policy. (link)

But let me give the final word to Christopher Daly, a Boston University journalism professor, who wrote an interesting blog: “Are Bloggers Journalist?  Let’s ask Thomas Jefferson.”  (link)

Here’s an excerpt:

“Hundreds upon hundreds of pamphlets were printed in the colonies between 1760 and 1776, providing the intellectual setting for the debate over independence. Those writings—and their authors—played a role that was at least as important as established newspapers in giving expression to the growing political crisis.
“The pamphlets were crucial to the rebellion because they were cheap, because they presented provocative arguments, and because it was impossible for the royal authorities to find their authors and stop them. The authors of the pamphlets were not professional writers, nor were they printers. They were lawyers, farmers, ministers, merchants, or—in some cases—men whose true identities are still unknown. It was a well-established practice in colonial times for writers to use pen names, even when writing on non-controversial subjects.
“With the coming of conflict with England and the fear of reprisals by the authorities, most pamphleteers resorted to writing under a nom de plume such as Cato or Centinel—the “Wonkette” and “Instapundit” of the day.
“They would use a sympathetic printer’s press under cover of night, then sneak the pamphlets out for distribution. As a result, the pamphleteer had one great advantage over the printer: he could state the boldest claims against the Crown and not have to fear any penalties. The pamphleteers amounted to the nation’s first version of an underground press, a guerilla counterpart to the established newspapers.”

I mistakenly suggested above that Daly should get the final word.  Since this is the blogosphere, you get it—anonymous or not. 


  1. Jude:

    Even aligning this web site with the “common sense” style pamphlets of our American History is the ultimate in vanity.  Ask Jefferson? Can’t wait to see who you channel next …
    P.S. How big of a check do you pay Knight Ridder for San Jose Inside’s PR?

  2. For those who would, in defense of dignified discourse, rail against the inclusion of the anonymous voice, I suggest a reassessment. Consider:

    Despite that its designers stood front and center when making their case, the invasion of Iraq was nonetheless sold to the public by false pretence and manufactured evidence. The original objectives of the war have been so discredited and disproved that they are no longer even mentioned.

    With cameras rolling, three years ago then-Governor Gray Davis stood tall while assuring Californians that his budget included the painful cuts necessary to restore fiscal responsibility to the state. In truth, he’d reduced the budget process into a common shell game, one destined to increase spending and send the state into a crippling economic crisis.

    Time and again, San Jose taxpayers have been fed misinformation about the construction costs, furnishing estimates, and rule compliance involved in erecting the new city hall. Each assurance, denial, explanation, and deception has been delivered by an accountable city official.

    Clearly, at the national, state, and city levels, the big lies—the elaborate, truly damaging deceptions—are never delivered by anonymous sources. No matter how deep you search history, you will find that the powerful lies are always those most proudly and publicly delivered.

    With the news media rapidly decomposing into little more than agenda and entertainment, it is the anonymous government voice that now more than ever deserves our attention (and, of course, cautious skepticism). At a time when integrity (the unbending kind) in government has pretty much vanished from all but the worker bee level, anonymity provides the dedicated and vulnerable the means to safely expose the elaborately manufactured lie.

    With the practice of retaliation and personal ruin now raised to a fine art in even local politics, no blog dedicated to good government can afford to shut out the anonymous whistle-blower. If the serious-minded reader has to skim past the negativity of the wounded or the nonsense of the light-hearted, that is a small price to pay for robust participation, especially when compared to the raucous negativity—the shouts, curses, and challenges—of the public square of old. 

    Free speech is Man’s most powerful machine; it runs best without a muffler.

  3. You quote another’s column:
    “The pamphlets were crucial to the rebellion because they were cheap, because they presented provocative arguments, and because it was impossible for the royal authorities to find their authors and stop them. The authors of the pamphlets were not professional writers, nor were they printers.”

    Jude, are you guys really that scared of the “authorities”? Of course you’re not. Creating a blog today in San Jose is not quite the same as distributing a pamphlet in Revoltionary America. I do think blogs are the ultimate democratic tool of the people. Everyone,  can compete with newspapers and other media for expression of ideas. Of course that doesn’t mean some blogs aren’t irresponsible or poorly written.  But I just don’t get the link between Tom Jefferson and anonymous comments. That’s a leap. But I still like your blog.

  4. How many Letters to the Editor never get written because the would-be author is afraid of possible repercussions?
    It’s easy to see why someone who works in City Hall might be reluctant to put his or her name on a blog that directly criticizes a city official, or city policy.
    Or suppose, just as an example, a mid-level employee of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group has doubts about BART-To-San-Jose?  Would that person have reason to hold back from sharing his opinion in this sort of public forum?
    As long as anonymity is not used to hide behind irresponsible and unfair attacks it seems like a reasonable, and necessary, component of the blogosphere.

  5. Anonymity allows us to express our true feelings without the fear of being ridiculed by the Mayor, City Administration, or the folks at SVLG.

    I know there are plenty of City Hall types who write on this board and do so because they can express their true feelings to everyone without having to put their jobs on the line.  It is too bad that this administration at City Hall does not welcome diversity of opinions.  The poor City Manager is handcuffed by Guerra and can’t be independent out of fear of losing his job. 

    Members of the City Council & their staffs are intimidated by Gonzales/Guerra.  I applaud Cortese for standing up to Gonzales, et al and not being afraid to share how he feels and why. 

    I like what Flabeets says about SVLG.  However, there really aren’t any mid-level employees there and all of them are brainwashed by Carl and his drones to live, breathe, eat, & speak Guardino-ese.  Even when SVLG members disagree with Guardino they are criticised by him and asked to keep quiet.

    I’d love to see an audit of SVLG and what they really do besides have meetings and publish papers that tell us what we already know.

    And, back to City Hall.  What will happen to BART once Gonzo is out of the Mayor’s office? It is not the big deal to Chuck, Dave, & probably Pat…don’t know about Cindy.  And, I’d like to start taking bets on what happens to Guerra & Dishotsky once Ron is done.  I cant think of any of the 4 mayoral contenders hiring them and I cant think of any private sector companies that love Ron that much to take in his 2 mean spirited, self-proclaimed arrogant, brash, & abrasive “leaders.”

  6. “The poor City Manager…” Oh, please. Certainly Gonzo Inc. wants the Manager under their thumb, but if he had an ounce of backbone he would do the job that a professional city manager is supposed to do. As long as he allows the Mayor and Council to abuse and/or ignore the City Charter, he is not doing his job and gets no sympathy from those who have to watch this daily dose of incompetence.
    Oh for the days when we had a REAL city manager.
    Otherwise you’ve hit most of the nails on the head.

  7. True, Del should stand up to Ron/Joe.  But, he is scared for his job.  What is very interesting to note is how long Del has been City Manager.  Most City Managers dont last 6 years in one city, but this one does because the 6th floor has paralyzed the 4th floor. 

    Any student of Public Administration would be disgusted at the set up between Mayor-Manager today.  It is a disgrace but Del is in a tough spot, but he sure knows how to play the political game.

    I used to work for the City and saw it all and it was sad. 

    Oh..get this…in the time of tight budgets and lay offs at City Hall, the Council today is going to look at raising the freeze on the salaries of their staff.  They just dont get it, do they?

  8. Love Inside San Jose writes:

    “And, back to City Hall.  What will happen to BART once Gonzo is out of the Mayor’s office? It is not the big deal to Chuck, Dave, & probably Pat…don’t know about Cindy.  And, I’d like to start taking bets on what happens to Guerra & Dishotsky once Ron is done.  I cant think of any of the 4 mayoral contenders hiring them and I cant think of any private sector companies that love Ron that much to take in his 2 mean spirited, self-proclaimed arrogant, brash, & abrasive “leaders.”
    Are there not going to be any other mayoral contenders in San Jose other than the four horses you mention? Can’t we have a good ol’ politcal race like in the “old days”? It’s not that the current and possible contenders are not capable of serving as council people or even mayor. But I’d sure like to see other citizens throw their hat into the ring. Citizens should stand up and run as they have in the past. Not just the same old same old. Whatever happened to Tom Hayes’ political career? Or the spirit he brought to the old school of politics? Remember the guy who ran against John Vasconcellas? He ran a smart campaign and didn’t win. But boy did he cause political discussion within the old guard. That’s what we need more of! I’ve known Tom Hayes for a long time but haven’t mentioned this to him before (I hope he’s not angered by me mentioning this kind of candidate and using his as an example).  But independent citizens running a campaign is not a bad thing. This blog adds to that spirit a lot. Keep up the good work.

  9. David,

    “Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary.”

    ~ -Robert Louis Stevenson

    Did you miss this gem posted earlier on SJinside?

    The problem is not the office holders, it is the system—more importantly it is we the people.

    As we are quoting Jefferson:

    “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”

    We the people are not exercising a wholesome discretion and if they do not educate themselves soon, I am afraid we are doomed to the following fate expressed by Scottish Professor Alexander Tyler in the 18th century.

    “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse (generous gifts) from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, (which is) always followed by a dictatorship.” “The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through this sequence. From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance, from abundance to complacency; from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back into bondage.”

    We the people are spoiled,  we want everything from their government and no leader could risk telling us the truth for we shall not reward that truth.  We seek not to pay taxes and are offended when services are in short supply. 

    We do not punish the corrupt politician nor distinguish the honest, we hold both in equal contempt.

    We want truth as long as the truth is agreeable.  We disdain politics, politicians and public participants in the arena and are willing to show up and vote only when it is convenient for us.

    We vote for our own self-interest and not for the benefit of society.  Our collective greed is exceeded only by our inability to accept responsibility in the problems we created.

    The vast bonds we have passed, the numerous reform initiatives, term limits, the election of George Bush, the ousting of Gray Davis, athe passage of Proposition 13 have still not brought us happiness with our government.

    So we seek more reform, more regulation until we have come to this place where no person is above the law and no person can faithfully abide by the law.  Thus making the entire population corrupt by definition.

    Yet who do we seek to change this dynamic? Do we ask the person in the arena who best understands the causes and solutions for this state of affairs to act?

    No, let us find the best actor, actress or sycophant willing to lie to us, give us what we want and willing to blame others for our situation.

    Who will rise to the challenge, who will save us from our bondage?  Surely it must be a citizen savant.

  10. Jude:

    I certainly respect the right of a blogger to remain anonymous; I just don’t give their comments as much credibility or attention as I do to someone who isn’t reticent about attaching a real name to a blog.  Newsweek is currently in a heap of trouble for relying on an anonymous source.  San Jose Inside regular bloggers are usually not real “whistleblowers” who face serious harm or consequences if their identities are revealed.  Generally, their postings are just their personal opinions.

    Speaking of opinions, I wrote in a guest blog several weeks ago that San Jose Inside was “becoming a venue for civic malcontents.”  The landscape hasn’t changed.  More than 85% of the blogs are still very negative in tone and content.  I’m not suggesting that these naysayers suddenly see things differently.  I hope however, to have more contributors who view people and events more positively, who are more constructive and optimistic in their attitude and outlook.  I know these folks read the blog, they just don’t contribute to it.  And, I know they would be more willing to sign their real name to their opinions than those anonymous folks.

  11. Go ahead and round up the Gonzo “yes” men and women. They can add their “Yes, Sir” to the mantra of the City Manager who is the perfect Yes Man.

    BTW, I am not negative. I am positive. Positive that this pathetic group has got to go before SJ will ever be the place that many of us hope it will be.

  12. Hey larry,

    Why don’t you pass the pipe your smoking.  You and your companions have made a mess of the city and county.  Only reason you have no problem is you and your “friends” have lined you pockets to the max! 

    I be smiling too!  Or is that Toooo or Twooo

    Keep smokin!

  13. Everyone talks about free speech.  Few talk about whether or not the rhetoric is responsible or worthy of further discussion.

    Some of the comments on this blog can be dismissed in the most basic of economic cliches.

    “You get what you pay for!”

    However we should not worry whether the tone of a comment is positive or negative, but rather whether it is thoughtful and insightful.

    We should worry not whether the person used their own name or hid behind an alias.  But we should care that people believe their free expression can have negative consequences. 

    A person has a right to be wrong without suffering economic, political, social or physical harm.  Disagreement should not engender hate. 

    Personal courage dictates that the convictions of one’s beliefs can stand the scrutiny of many other opinions.  One should never fear being wrong, for no one has ever always been right.  Neither should one shrink from expressing an unpopular view simply because it is not embraced by the masses, the media or the powerful.

    Finally, to quote Lincoln, “People will little note nor long remember what we say here. . .”  But the fact that we can say it expresses our freedom and, just maybe, somebody is listening and remembering.

    For Lincoln, great as we remember him, was wrong when he uttered that phrase.  Many people did note and remembered what he said that summer’s day in Gettysburg.

    And it was worthy of discussion. . .

  14. To Booo,Guess who:  Take a look at what’s been happening to San Jose why wouldn’t the comments be negative.

  15. Larry,
      Hurry down to the library and check out a copy of Marry Poppins…while the libraries are still funded. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it more than the blogs here. 
      Why are you so afraid of dissent? Does it make you nervous when people point out that the Emperor has no clothes? Come to think of it, in local politics, who IS the Emperor?
      Meanwhile, get used to us “civic malcontents.” We’re not going away, and we’re not going to blow sunshine to feed political egos.

  16. To compare pre-revolutionary pamphleteers to anonymous bloggers is ludicrous.  The pamphleteers had a legitmate fear of imprisonment or death.

    Some of your bloggers are undoubtedly persons whose jobs would be in jeopardy if thier identities were known. 

    But I’d bet the farm that at least half of your bloggers are merely ranters who spout off anonymously with no real reason to be anonymous.

    I vent, I rant, I yell and scream in print and otherwise—but always under my own name.

    To all those bloggers who have no legitimate reason to be anonymous except lack of spine, I for one request that you just put a sock in it unless you’re willing to have the courage to say what you want to say in the open.

    John Michael O’Connor