I'm always impressed by the wisdom of many of the founding U.S. politicians, especially in comparison to the unsettling number of absolute cretins in the government today.
For my brother's graduation w/ a history degree I got him a book of quotes by the 'Founding Fathers'. Their insights were so direct and rational in a way that is very rare nowadays in DC or the media.
I saw this BBC article mentioning the 200th anniversary of Thomas Paine's death at age 72.
After reading Thomas Paine's 'Common Sense', 'Right's of Man', as well as 'The Age of Reason', I could instantly appreciate the fundamental principles that Paine was describing. He is still a main source of political inspiration for me.
Although it's been 200 years, his core ideas of intellectual liberty, pragmatic rationalism, & populist democracy are timeless.