Living History: From Concept to Creation / by Chris Weigl

This post was originally published by Christopher Weigl on March 28, 2014 on his blog "Weigl" and has been re-posted here with his permission.

The first thoughts I had about the series came about after the 2006 mid-term elections. It was early 2007 and everyone kept saying: “you should be happy. Your side won.” And I thought: you know, it’s not really about sides anymore. It’s about issues. I wanted us out of Iraq and I wanted us out of Afghanistan. I wanted the House to cut off funding for military operations overseas. I was sick and tired of these bullshit wars that were costing us a fortune and seven years later I’m still not too thrilled about the way things are going but I feel a little better that at least we have people in charge who aren’t national embarrassments. A blow-up doll would have been an improvement over the Bush administration. I remember in 2004 when a reporter for Rolling Stone went aboard the Kerry press bus in a gorilla suit. He was trying to draw attention to a fact that everyone had come to accept over the course of the campaign: John Kerry had become a Cigar Store Indian and next to a wild acting Gorilla would look even more foolish. John Kerry’s largest campaign event that year was an event in Madison, WI with Bruce Springsteen. Kerry had just returned for an awful showing up in Green Bay where he announced that it was “great to be here at Lumbard Field.” Oh dear.

The Kerry campaign was deflating about as quickly as it had gained momentum in the high school basements of small towns across Iowa to beat Howard Dean in the Democratic Primary. I remember joking with a social media guy who worked for Howard Dean that if he could just get Wes Clark to friend him on MySpace he’d be good to go. Oh, how time and technology passes. He told me that nothing short of an endorsement from a founding father could save Howard Dean’s candidacy if they lost the Iowa Caucus and as it turns out he was right. That got me thinking: what would happen if a founding father endorsed a candidate? This line of thinking stayed in the back of my mind until 2007 when a Junior Senator from the state of Illinois named Barack Obama announced his intention to run for President. I thought to myself that just as the social media guy had said in 2004 that it would take the endorsement of a founding father to get that man elected President. I had just finished reading Mr. Obama’s book and was quite impressed with his ability as a writer. When I saw what he was like as a speaker I was, like much of the nation, awe inspired. Later, I would go and see Senator Obama when he received the endorsement of the Mayor of Milwaukee Tom Barrett. It was a sad and solemn day. It was the day of the Virginia Tech massacre. The Senator took the stage and read a few words that Bobby Kennedy once said. The event was very somber. I’ll never forget it.

We were a slightly more tolerant nation after our economy imploded due to the disastrous policies of the Bush Administration in the autumn of 2008. It was then that I started thinking about whether people would respond to Senator Obama differently if a former slaveholder were there telling the terrified white folks that it was okay to vote for a black man. That’s also when I thought back to the man who followed John Kerry around in a Gorilla suit. Why couldn’t a bunch of historical re-enactors follow Obama around? Have Jefferson field some of those ridiculous Muslim questions with comments about the Barbary Wars. Have Alexander Hamilton talk about how much experience you need to hold and wield power in Washington. After all, Hamilton wasn’t born in America, but then I thought that the right would attack Hamilton and lump Obama and Hamilton together saying something like Hamilton wasn’t born here so how do we know Obama wasn’t born somewhere else as well? This line of thinking was in my head before the birther nonsense started. Luckily for the country John McCain picked a complete imbecile for his running mate and after making a series of bizarre campaign moves it became increasingly apparent with each passing day that Barack Obama would be elected our nation’s forty-fourth President and from my vantage point that meant that a second Mesopotamian War would be averted.

My own thoughts about the necessity of the political endorsement of a founding father dissipated for a few years until the 2012 GOP Primary heated up in the summer of 2011. In the summer of that year Michelle Bachmann was the front-runner in the polls and I was in Boston with my father when Sarah Palin decided to drop by. I remember that she stopped by the Paul Revere house, stated some of the typical Republican talking points about freedom and excess taxation before moving onto whatever other poor, unfortunate historical figure she had yet to malign and disgrace by her uninformed remarks. I also thought that I wasn’t sure if a founding father would be conservative enough to win the GOP primary. Washington’s foreign policy would have been far too tame. John Adams would have been way too liberal. Jefferson was a man of science and reason: two things that are anathema to the current Republican Party. Madison, although he would certainly come off to some as a hawk, believed in a strong central government, something that would have doomed him with the so-called “small government” conservatives. The only one who would stand any chance would be Patrick Henry and he wasn’t exactly beloved by the founders due to his opposition to the US Constitution. I started thinking about the attack ads that some of the conservative SuperPACs would run against them and it made me laugh. It was because of this that I started putting together a story where I could play around with some of these non-sensical ideas and thus Living History was born.