Archive for the ‘america’ tag
I want to return to some statistics to which I referred earlier because the point that I’m about to make was lucidly confirmed as I was recently revisiting Christopher Hitchen’s anti-theistic polemic, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.”
The data is, admittedly, old from 2002, but since we are still being implicated by the events precipitated on Sept. 11, 2001, they are still, more or less, useful. The figures are from the Pew Research Center and present the not-surprising evidence that America leads by wide margins every single other wealthy, modernized nation in the percentage of people who say religion is, not just important, but very important to their lives. Fifty-nine percent of Americans said religion was very important to their lives, while on the same question, 30 percent responded affirmatively in Canada, 33 percent in Britain and 11 percent in mostly godless France. On the other hand, in many parts of Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, where localized violence or deprivation or corruption are common realities of daily life, religion has a large stranglehold over the populace and leadership. For instance, Nigeria is at 92 percent, Pakistan at 91 and Indonesia at 95.
The conclusion is clear. As Pew points out,
Americans’ views are closer to people in developing nations than to the publics of developed nations.
Pew also found that
wealthier nations tend to place less importance on religion — with the exception of the United States.
And as Hitchens notes, with much less sterility:
… as I write, a version of the Inquisition is about to lay hands on a nuclear weapon. Under the stultified rule of religion, the great and inventive and sophisticated civilization of Persia has been steadily losing its pulse. Its writers and artists and intellectuals are mainly in exile or stifled by censorship; its women are chattel and sexual prey; its young people are mostly half-educated and without employment. After a quarter century of theocracy, Iran still exports the very things it exported when the theocrats took over—pistachio nuts and rugs. Modernity and technology have passed it by, save for the one achievement of nuclearization.
This puts the confrontation between faith and civilization on a whole new footing. Until relatively recently, those who adopted the clerical path had to pay a heavy price for it. Their societies would decay, their economies would contract, their best minds would go to waste or take themselves elsewhere, and they would consistently be outdone by societies that had learned to tame and sequester the religious impulse. A country like Afghanistan would simply rot.
And it has rotted, or at least, remained inert for decades. For another example, see Somalia, which has been wrecked by Islamic extremists for years.
But before readers begin to point out that the majority of countries on the list with both high percentages of devout believers and high occurrences of violence and servitude are predominantly Muslim, America again being the exception, many in both lists, those with less devotees and more, are European and Latin American. While many of the European nations function quite ably, in some cases much better than the U.S., without religion at center stage, much of Christian Latin America is woefully impoverished, with a wide chasm between the haves and have-nots.
The larger point is that religion, taken to its extreme, as it is in many of these countries, chokes free thought, free government, democracy and well, everything else. This is the disconcerting reality that Pat Robertson, James Dobson and many others would hope to bring to this country: devout House members, devout Senate members, a devout president and devout local elected officials all the way down the rung. What would be left but to declare, once and for all, a theocracy? And we only have to look beyond our shores for proof of what such a reality might bring. We can only be thankful that believers in America today don’t believe in holy writ quite as much or as fervently as believers of different holy books, or the same book, elsewhere.
This is like the Boston tea party for people that decided, let’s say, I don’t know, two and a half months ago, that they didn’t want to pay taxes anymore. The tea part is just a metaphor [on screen: a Fox News reporter pointing to boxes at one of the tea parties containing a million tea bags]. Let me get this straight. To protest wasteful spending, you bought a million tea bags. Are you protesting taxes or irony? — Jon Stewart, The Daily Show
A friend asked a couple days ago whether I was still writing about the Tea Party some, and I said I hadn’t in awhile, but hey I’m always happy to pop the cork now and then.
I think this pretty well sums up what is happening in conservative/libertarian/Constitutionalist circles around the country:
- 80% are white (with 8% not responding to the question)
- 60% are male
- 40% are college graduates
- Over a third make $75,000 or more
- 50% live in rural areas
- 77% label themselves conservative
- 96% are Republican-Independent
- 87% say they will vote Republican for U.S. House
What is slightly surprising, but not shockingly so, is that 40 percent of those polled were college graduates. Now, I didn’t expect them all to be illiterate yokels — I’ve debated with a number of folks over a reteaparty.com, and many aren’t dim bulbs by any stretch (They also don’t like the Tea Bagger label) — but I did think the number would be more in the 30 percent range. Still, 60 percent aren’t college graduates, so that says something.
Also not surprising is the fact that 66 percent of Tea Party supporters made more than $50,000 per year, while only 42 percent made that much across all people who were polled.
Of course, the rise of the movement itself is not surprising, as we have a progressive president who has taken drastic measures — some experts say not drastic enough — to attempt to right the economic ship. It has risen despite the fact that Obama has stated nearly until he’s blue in the face, that any tax increases would not affect people making less than $250,000. It has risen on the tailwinds of ridiculous charges of Nazism, socialism, fascism or Communism, terms often used interchangeably for some reason, to describe the same person or his policies by folks like Mark Levin, Michael Savage and others who often squelch any potentially meaningful political discourse into name-calling and arguments that break no new ground and just echo the tired arguments of all the others.
All of this to make the ultimate case, as I understand it, that America should get back to the Constitution and the grand ideals of the Founders. While that’s a sexy notion and helps sell books, one problem exists with that. Readers of the Constitution or “Paradise Lost” or “War and Peace” can’t drop their authors into the 21st-century and make assumptions about what they might think on topics of the day. The Founders lived in a different America, and it’s an America that will never exist again. It was a more brutal time, a much larger country, and we were under the heel of the British. The Founders really didn’t have representation in Parliament; we have representation, whether we agree with those representing or not. The Founders were not making any claims against big government; they were fighting for the right of self-government itself.
Proponents of larger government intervention versus less did exist then as now, most notably from the Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans, and some of them would be shocked at how big our government has become, but even the most conservative among them understood that the country would change with the times, and thus they had enough foresight to know the Constitution would need amending. The claim that all the Founders, or even most of them, were ultra conservative or libertarian has no basis. They did pen the bits about separation of church and state, free speech, freedom of the press, and religion, after all.
The only argument of the Tea Party that is even halfway analogous would be arguments against upped taxes. But obviously, while taxes was one grievance against Britain in the colonies, they it wasn’t the only issue.
So, the crux of what is happening, as I see it, is that people are angry (about something, the country’s debt, bailing out corporations, etc.) and don’t know what to do, so they wail on the government, and folks like Levin, Savage, Beck and the gang are pawning their wares and playing off those frustrations like door-to-door salesmen. So, one question may be: Why don’t I share in their frustrations? Because while I am as angry that Wall Street and the corporations were bailed out as anyone else, I don’t see our government’s reaction to it as a permanent mark of things to come. We aren’t anywhere near crisis mode regarding our government. Obama will be elected, or he won’t. The talking heads will continue railing against Obama or a Republican will get elected and the vitriol will shift toward whichever progressive in Washington is trying to bring us ever out of the stone age.
But that’s enough ranting for now. Here’s something to strum your satirical lyre:
In a New York Times Magazine preview titled, “How Christian Were the Founders?,” Russell Shorto writes about members of the Texas State School Board’s attempts to paint a more Christian picture of the United States’ founding via changes to the state’s social studies curriculum guidelines, guidelines which the article contends,
will affect students around the country, from kindergarten to 12th grade, for the next 10 years.
because of that state board’s influence on how other states choose its curriculum material.
… Tom Barber, who worked as the head of social studies at the three biggest textbook publishers before running his own editorial company, says, “Texas was and still is the most important and most influential state in the country.” And James Kracht, a professor at Texas A&M’s college of education and a longtime player in the state’s textbook process, told me flatly, “Texas governs 46 or 47 states.”
In the article, Shorto speaks with numerous members of the Texas state board and with college professors and other experts. In fact, for the most part, the only non-experts to which Shorto speaks, are, you guessed it, the very ones who will have such a weighty influence over what students are taught for the next 10 years.
While some amendments the state board has considered — one which would ask students to study Americans who have contributed much to our history (Ed Kennedy was omitted, while Newt Gingrich was included, for instance. For the record, Hillary Clinton was included, but one could make a convincing case that Kennedy had far more influence in Washington in his 30 years of service) — drew seemingly along party lines, other amendments dabbled into religious territory.
The majority of the article dealt with this conundrum: Is America a Christian nation (or should it be) and should our textbooks present that case? Noted atheist Sam Harris in his, “Letter to a Christian Nation,” meant “Christian nation” in the more nebulous sense based on pure numbers: as of 2008, about 76 percent of Americans claim to be Christian in one way or another. Fifty-one percent are Protestants (Thus, reducing the number even farther of actual Evangelicals who might be in favor of more fervently merging government and religion).
Cynthia Dunbar, current visiting associate professor of law at Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Va., is one member of the Texas State School Board who seems to think this is and should be a Christian nation in the second sense. Shorto visited one of her lectures, and in The Times article, he writes:
Her presence in both worlds — public schools and the courts — suggests the connection between them that Christian activists would like to deepen. The First Amendment class for third-year law students that I watched Dunbar lead neatly merged the two components of the school’s program: “lawyering skills” and “the integration of a Christian worldview.”
Dunbar began the lecture by discussing a national day of thanksgiving that Gen. George Washington called for after the defeat of the British at Saratoga in 1777 — showing, in her reckoning, a religious base in the thinking of the country’s founders. In developing a line of legal reasoning that the future lawyers in her class might use, she wove her way to two Supreme Court cases in the 1960s, in both of which the court ruled that prayer in public schools was unconstitutional. A student questioned the relevance of the 1777 event to the court rulings, because in 1777 the country did not yet have a Constitution. “And what did we have at that time?” Dunbar asked. Answer: “The Declaration of Independence.” She then discussed a legal practice called “incorporation by reference.” “When you have in one legal document reference to another, it pulls them together, so that they can’t be viewed as separate and distinct,” she said. “So you cannot read the Constitution distinct from the Declaration.” And the Declaration famously refers to a Creator and grounds itself in “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Therefore, she said, the religiosity of the founders is not only established and rooted in a foundational document but linked to the Constitution. From there she moved to “judicial construction and how you should go forward with that,” i.e., how these soon-to-be lawyers might work to overturn rulings like that against prayer in schools by using the founding documents.
Shorto correctly observes:
Besides the fact that incorporation by reference is usually used for technical purposes rather than for such grandiose purposes as the reinterpretation of foundational texts, there is an oddity to this tactic.
Though it was less erudite than Dunbar’s lecture probably was, I once read a letter to the editor in which the writer indicated that we are, indeed, a Christian nation based on The Declaration. But several problems exist with this line of reasoning. First, as the article notes:
“The founders deliberately left the word ‘God’ out of the Constitution — but not because they were a bunch of atheists and deists,” says Susan Jacoby, author of “Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism.” “To them, mixing religion and government meant trouble.” The curious thing is that in trying to bring God into the Constitution, the activists — who say their goal is to follow the original intent of the founders — are ignoring the fact that the founders explicitly avoided religious language in that document.
Another problem exists with Dunbar’s “incorporation by reference” case: The Declaration of Independence is just that. It’s a declaration. It’s not law. As Shorto’s article states, it’s undeniable that the early history of this country oozes with religious overtures, from the Pilgrims to Anglicans to Quakers Baptists and many others. And while one cannot study American history without encountering religion along the way, one can study the founding and the Constitutional Convention without injecting religion into the equation. As Shorto notes:
In fact, the founders were rooted in Christianity — they were inheritors of the entire European Christian tradition — and at the same time they were steeped in an Enlightenment rationalism that was, if not opposed to religion, determined to establish separate spheres for faith and reason. “I don’t think the founders would have said they were applying Christian principles to government,” says Richard Brookhiser, the conservative columnist and author of books on Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris and George Washington. “What they said was ‘the laws of nature and nature’s God.’ They didn’t say, ‘We put our faith in Jesus Christ.’ ” Martin Marty says: “They had to invent a new, broad way. Washington, in his writings, makes scores of different references to God, but not one is biblical. He talks instead about a ‘Grand Architect,’ deliberately avoiding the Christian terms, because it had to be a religious language that was accessible to all people.”
I am not opposed to religion courses with the sole purpose of studying the story of religious influence and growth in the country, and even history textbooks that include some discussion of religious groups if its relevant to a certain topic, like religious condemnations of slavery in the 19th-century, for instance.
But the Founders knew full well that at the time that the majority of the people in the country were and would be Christians. Heck, many who took part in the Constitutional Convention were Christians in some sense of the word. Here’s a full rundown. Many of the most notable ones (Jefferson, i.e.), however, were deists, and one can’t deny that. Many were products of the Enlightenment and rationalism. But the Founders, even those who believed in Jesus, were far ahead of their time and had the foresight to realize that a free society must both protect people’s right to worship … and their right not to worship. They were all-too familiar with a near-theocracy in Great Britain, in which the Church of England was (and still is) the official national church. The Founders sought to create a place more free from whence their ancestors came.
Unfortunately, the evangelical crowd is seeking to reverse that, and that should make anyone with an appreciation for the Constitution and this diverse country pretty ashamed. So, to reiterate, this isn’t a Christian nation in the sense that many evangelicals wish it were, nor should it be. If it was, it would be a theocracy, and I don’t think folks who are fighting to reinsert Jesus and the creation story into textbooks fully understand the implications of seeing their goals carried out to their fullest ends. If they did, they would view modern day Iran, the former Islamic caliphate in the Middle East, the Crusades or the current wave of Islamic nutcases who want to establish a modern caliphate, and they would shutter.
Iran, headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is planning to charge five people in connection with recent protests against the government with, no joke, warring against God. Eight people were killed Dec. 27 on the day of ritual Shi’ite mourning in protests against the established leadership led by supporters of Mirhossein Mousavi. Make no mistake. Iran is a theocracy in which Khomeini regularly leads the country in prayer in talks with his populace, which are commonly dubbed, not speeches, but sermons.
Now, suppose this was the case in America. Many folks these days think the United States either is, or should be, a Christian nation. Indeed, Sam Harris wrote a book called, “Letter to a Christian Nation,” with this thought in mind. Of course, Harris knows that America isn’t literally a Christian nation because that would mean it’s a theocracy, but he was working from the assumption that most people in this country profess some form of Christianity. In fact, that number is at about 76 percent, as of 2008. Here’s some stats on the topic.
What would this mean for America to actually and literally be a “Christian nation?” We would first have to define what that would mean. Would we mean that the country was led by a majority of evangelical, biblical-literalist Christian lawmakers? Or that the president was an evangelical and only some of the legislature was evangelical? Or that the president and lawmakers were mixed in their respective religions, but the general populace consisted of a majority of evangelical Christians?
I do and always have taken this to mean that, like Iran, a complimentary example of a theocracy, that the president himself would have to be an evangelical, and that government bodies, from the U.S. Congress, down to state and local bodies, would conduct their business under the auspices of the dominant religion. So, literally, I take it to mean a state governed and regulated by a religion. A certain segment of our population seems to think our country was founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs. Here is what James Dobson had to say in an April 15, 2009 interview with Sean Hannity on America as a Christian nation:
HANNITY: Dr. Dobson, the president said, as we all know, that America is not a Christian nation. Every other president had suggested we were. Our founders and framers suggested we were. What did you think when you heard that, and how would you answer him and tell him otherwise?
DOBSON: Well, Sean, it would — I would really like to hear the question asked and answered in a different way. Whether or not we’re a Christian nation is not the issue. The issue is did we have Christian roots and has that influenced, the Judeo-Christian value system, influenced our law, our constitution, and our way of life. And it has, and he implied that there was a kind of theological equivalence between Christianity and all the other religions of the world on that issue, and that’s not true. The United States has been from the beginning greatly influenced and primarily influenced by the Judeo-Christian system of values. And that is still accurate.
Of course, folks always have to add the “Judeo” part because to say simply “Christian beliefs” would be wrong in every degree, and they know it. Adding the Judeo part makes it more general and, in part, accurate, but not much more. The evangelical brand of Christianity that we see today, in part, began with the moral majority camp, which got its start in the late 1970s. The Founders, and I can probably say this until I’m blue in the face, were not evangelicals at all, but most of them were deists, which meant they did not believe in a personal god. They believed in a god who set the world in motion and did not interfere in human affairs. This would rule out both Jesus and Yahweh, both of which intervened in human affairs.
Sure, many Christians lived here early in our history and immigrated to escape the Church of England and other tough circumstances, but our documents are, at their core, secular. Obama, in the above reference, was speaking of the current population of America, which consists of Christians, Muslims, Jews, non-believers and many others. Article XI of the Treaty of Tripoli said that the U.S. “is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” The following was enacted under one of them, and one of my favorites, President John Adams:
The 1796 treaty with Tripoli states that the United States was “in no sense founded on the Christian religion.” … This was not an idle statement, meant to satisfy muslims– they believed it and meant it. This treaty was written under the presidency of George Washington and signed under the presidency of John Adams.
Thus, to think that this is a Christian nation, in the most literal sense, is false. To believe that this should be a Christian nation subjugates every person, believing or not, in this country and creates a timorous and dictatorial atmosphere, the extreme of which we can observe in Iran on a daily basis, where “warring against God” is not merely a moral indictment, but a legal one.
And that would be a dangerous leap to make.
Want a pretty good benchmark for when you know times are tough in the United States? When folks in poor parts of Mexico are actually sending money northward to assist unemployed relatives in the States.
The New York Times reported Nov. 15 the cases of several families who previously had received money from their United States-based relatives, but when those relatives lost their jobs, those in Mexico started chipping in and sending what they could north over the border via wire transfer. According to the article,
During the best of the times, Miguel Salcedo’s son, an illegal immigrant in San Diego, would be sending home hundreds of dollars a month to support his struggling family in Mexico. But at times like these, with the American economy out of whack and his son out of work, Mr. Salcedo finds himself doing what he never imagined he would have to do: wiring pesos north.
The article notes a telling fact: it’s easier to get by on very little in Mexico than it is in America. The Avendano family, living in Miahuatlán, scrape by via a kind of subsistence farming on their own land. To help with their finances, Sirenia Avendano sells chili rellenos around the neighborhood.
Speaking of his two sons, whose hours and tips were cut at the Florida restaurant in which they work, Javier Avendano said,
We have an obligation to help them. They’re our sons. It doesn’t matter if they are here or there.
An aquaintance of mine who runs, with the help of his wife and family, a Mexican grocery store and restaurant here in town once told me of his own struggles to reach America. He took the dangerous jaunt across the border many years ago, was once an illegal, and has long since gotten his citizenship. He has children in the local school district and has deep roots in the county in which I live at this point. The last time I checked, he was still sending money back home to his parents.
As I have said many times and will continue to say, stories like those of my acquaintance and of the Avendanos speak to the fact that illegal immigrants aren’t monsters, as Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh and others would have us believe. They are human beings with families and folks who love them. Should we do away with our naturalization laws and open to borders completely? Definitely, we shouldn’t do away with the laws, but enforcing the border with a 1,000-plus mile fences seems like a comic book, implausible, inhumane and abhorent solution. There is such a thing as country citizenship, in Mexico, in other Latino countries and here. Should we accept the fact that the ones who are here probably aren’t leaving unless the situation here gets worse than it is in Mexico? Probably so. The wholesale excavation of these people is completely out of the question and is absolutely, logistically impossible.
So, what do we do? First, and I hope the Obama administration doesn’t oversee anymore raids. We should stop the inhumane raids, separating children from their parents. Focus on the employers who are willingly or not, hiring illegals. If they unwillingly hire them, that is, presented the potential employee with proper paperwork and the illegal lies or presents false information, dish out a lesser penalty to the employer. If the employer willingly hires illegals because it’s cheap labor or for whatever other reason, throw the book at them.
This issue has become one cause that I’m willing to champion over and over again. For too long, I’ve heard the talking heads and folks who apparently have a cold stone for a heart, rant on and on about how immigrants are turning the country brown, that we should close the border and that immigrants are taking “real” Americans’ jobs (whatever that means), and it’s really nauseating.
Talk about nauseating. This quote is too ill-conceived to let slip through the cracks. On the supposed “brown” dilemma, check out what Frosty Wooldridge had to say about the immigration problem in California:
The brown toxic cloud strangling Los Angeles never lifts and grows thicker with every immigrant added. One can’t help appreciate the streets of Paris will soon become the streets of LA. However, Paris’ streets erupted while LA’s shall sink into a Third World quagmire much like Bombay or Calcutta, India. When you import THAT much crime, illiteracy, multiple languages and disease—Americans pick up stakes and move away. It’s an unlivable nightmare.
It’s chilling to me that viewpoints such as this ignorant drivel still persist in what was once, in its infancy, such a progressive, forward-looking country. Arguably, and regrettably from my view, we haven’t been all that progressive since the 18th century, but that’s for another debate.
But I digress. Next, I’ll look at this topic somemore, as it relates to Lou Dobbs’ recent resignation from CNN and a recent, related New York Times editorial. I am currently working on adding content to a new WordPress-powered Counting Crows site, so that would explain my lack of posts in the last week or so. But I’m back in the saddle. … I hope.
I recently finished reading “Decision in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Convention in 1787” by Christopher and James Lincoln Collier, and for anyone who has not read it, I would highly suggest it as an introduction to what happened behind closed doors that summer, which eventually resulted in what we know as the document that binds us and guides us as a nation.
The book’s conclusion, which included a brief explanation or thesis about how the axioms presented in the U.S. Constitution fit into and implicate how we conduct business as a nation in modern times. It’s conclusion reminded me of a discussion I had with (seemingly) the entire bloc of Tea Party supporters, of which, that post can be found here.
My main premise in that post was to suggest that no one really knows what the Tea Party movement is about. Is it about a strict adherence to the Constitution? Is it anti-tax? Anti-big spending? Anti-Democrat? People showing up in 18th century garb at rallies across the country didn’t exactly clarify matters. Another point that I hope was clear in my post and in other posts on this blog, here and here, is that it’s awfully hard to know precisely on which side of current national issues the Founding Fathers would have come down on. We can probably get close, but they were people of their own times attempting to forge a document that would live beyond them. And they most certainly did, but to say that we can take modern questions like, should we bailout the automakers or should we offer universal health care, and place them onto the Founders, seems to me anachronistic and reading back onto them modern concerns. The truth is, as I see it, they would likely be extremely surprised to see how much liberty we have taken thus far with their — our — document. The authors of the aforementioned book acknowledged this problem.
Take the Colliers’ interpretation of how the Founders would have viewed the modern incarnation of the Supreme Court:
The power of the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution is what has given the document the flexibility necessary to deal with changing conditions. Yet it is certain that the delegates would have been horrified to see how broadly the Court has used its interpreting power. They believed, at bottom, that if final power had to lie anywhere, it ought to be in the legislature, which they saw as the primary voice of the people. They certainly did not expect the judiciary to be dealing with day-to-day details of school ssytesm, prisons, and fire departments as they do today.
Also, after FDR, we see a string of presidents taking military action and intervening in affairs overseas with troops without first asking for Congress’ approval. George W. Bush would obviously be the worst agressor in recent years.
Here is what Encarta says, which notes that Congress in years past has simply “relinquished” powers to make war to the president:
U.S. presidents after World War II have assumed most of the authority to send U.S. troops into battle. The Korean War (1950-1953), for example, was regarded by the U.S. government as a police action rather than as a war, and President Harry S. Truman never sought a declaration of war from Congress. And in 1964 Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which effectively ceded to President Lyndon B. Johnson the ability to wage war against Vietnam. Congress passed a similar resolution on January 12, 1991, authorizing President George H. W. Bush to use force against Iraq in the Persian Gulf War.
And the Colliers’:
What, finally would the Founders have thought of the tendency of recent American presidents to commit troops to battle without formal permission from Congress? They would almost certainly have been astonished and outraged. They were determined not to give a potential tyrant an armed force to use as he wished. (Not to call him a tyrant; that would probably be inaccurate, but this is precisely what George W. Bush did). Had they seen a president sending troops out on his own in pursuit of his foreign policy objectives (Again: See Bush) they would have taken immediate action to stop him.
My larger point is this: If we want to take a literalist reading of the Constitution and say such things as, ‘It’s socialism that the president will now be the largest shareholder in GM or that it’s socialism to attempt to bailout the banks,’ we might as well begin taking the entire building down brick-by-brick. Or, even that such things as Medicaid and Social Security are unconstitutional (as some in my debates with the Tea Party supporters were claiming), we might as well start from ground zero and begin the country over again. We are one of the country’s the world looks to for leadership, and it’s much too late, centuries late, to begin debating, off the rantings of Glenn Beck and others, that the entire edifice is now faulty and unconstitutional.
The Framers, Madison, Washington, Gouvenor Morris, Hamilton, Gerry, Randolph, the Pinkneys (Charles and Charles Cotesworth) and many others were some of the greatest minds to ever land on this soil. Though they might have been astounded or enraged that we would now make some of the policies that we are making, they were forward thinking enough to realize that circumstances in the 18th century would not be the circumstances in the 21st century, including some of the very provisions they laid forth in the Constitution. That’s why they made it flexible enough to be amended and interpreted. They, I think, trusted that great minds would also follow their own, doing what was best for this country and, subsequently, for the international community.
This is sort of a continuation of this post about the apparent phenomenon known as “tea bagging,” which is an action of protest against what some feel has become a government system of overtaxation vis-à-vis the Boston Tea Party, in light of the recent large stimulus package and corporate bailouts.
Reteaparty.com says this about the organization:
PEAC is a political action committee that campaigns on behalf of issues, candidates, and potential candidates that promote honesty and Constitutional leadership. Currently, PEAC has launched campaigns to draft three unconventionally honest candidates: Rand Paul, Andrew “The Judge” Napolitano, and Peter Schiff. Additionally, PEAC has launched ReTeaParty.com, to organize a national Tea Party and fundraiser for the Goodwill on July 4, 2009, to promote the cause of honest and Constitutional government, voluntarism, and to organize an historic display of protest against our lack of representation. At ReTeaParty.com, thousands of people sent their representatives a Tea Bag in the mail on April 1, 2009, as a sign of our unrest over D.C.’s foolish solutions and overspending. — reteaparty.com
And during a recent broadcast by FOX News, the organization’s founder, Chad Peace (PEAC?), had this to say:
It’s not a reaction to any one person in particular it’s not a reaction against Obama or Pelosi or against Dodd or Barney Frank — any of these guys in particular. It’s against the whole idea of Washington that they can take our money and solve our problems for us.
And here we come to the hang of it all: the very reason why the Republican ideals of personal liberty and small government married to notions of moral uprightness do not work. Many on the right attempt to coerce folks in leadership or pray for them or lobby them or whatever on social issues like abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research, hoping federal or state governments would, indeed, solve our problems. They believe federal and state governments can and should solve what they perceive to be our social ills. Government should preserve the institution of marriage. It should uphold certain moral codes that would prohibit heinous dabblings in abortion and embryonic stem cell research. Government should get drugs off the streets and prosecute drug dealers to the fullest extent of the law. State laws should keep the sabbath holy by disallowing the purchase of alcohol on Sunday (and in some states, disallowing even retail purchases before 1 p.m.!) Government should more fully represent our moral values, they say.
And in the same breath, what do we see? The same folks turn an about-face, and speak out against gun control, against big business regulations and against taxes. Thus, they favor big government in some areas and those of moral or social concerns, but not others like taxes or gun control. But they can’t have it both ways, and the logic just does not add up. Small government taken to its fullest end would mean this: the legalization of controlled substances, the continued or even a relaxing of gun control laws, allowing states to decide gay rights, relaxing regulations on abortion and stem cell research and some states disbanning their ridiculous blue laws. True, big government would mean the opposite. But both Dems and Reps want to pick and choose which causes they will champion.
Now, I come to the issue of the tea baggers. Obviously, it’s ludicrous to fain any comparison to folks today protesting taxes to those of the Revolutionary War era protesting taxation without representation by the British government. We have taxation with representation, and taxes are quite necessary to get things done. If there were no taxes, the country as we know it would crumble. If the tea baggers are protesting the stimulus plan and the bailouts, fine, but I fear this movement is another incarnation of those who throw the word “freedom” around like it’s a Hacky Sack. Witness this video:
Richard Behney, tea party organizer in Indianapolis, who clearly is trying to equate himself and piggy back on the fame of Joe the Plumber (By now, if phlegm is not forming in your gut and ready to spew upward, something is wrong), said,
To hear that a segment of our society and our politicians want to come in and take everything away and spread it around, umm, that’s when I said enough.”
Later, he said, “This is a freedom-loving, American thing,” when talking about the movement, noting that “they’re (politicians in Washington) all part of the problem and it’s time to stand up for freedom.”
What incoherency is this? What the hell does freedom have to do with anything? Throughout this whole debacle, has our freedom ever, ever, ever been in question? Or is this slick-haired baffoon just throwing out those four or five right wing buzz words that might give him instant cred with ignorants, including words like freedom, America, God, independence and country? I posit the latter.
As an addendum, this particular rally on April 15th is supposed to feature a guy playing Thomas Paine, who was, I must note, a deist, and whose arguments would fly in the face of Glenn Beck’s and (probably) Richard Behney’s belief that the Bible is true, for Paine believed nothing of the sort, and that’s quite evident from reading “The Age of Reason.” (Side note: Deism isn’t valid either, for it says that, while God exists, he is out there somewhere, did not author the Bible and is sort of an impersonal watcher on the world and personal events. He watches “from a distance” as the song goes. Thus, if he isn’t personally engaged in this world, it seems to follow that he is irrelevant and of no consequence for us.) Further, it’s a bit of an insult to the legacy and great work of Paine to have these types of folks parading his name around as if he would agree with them on every point. He would probably agree with them on very few points. But that’s where the idiocy of this generation has gotten us.
Thomas Friedman’s Feb. 24 New York Times column from South Korea read thusly:
For all the talk in recent years about America’s inevitable decline, all eyes are not now on Tokyo, Beijing, Brussels or Moscow — nor on any other pretenders to the world heavyweight crown. All eyes are on Washington to pull the world out of its economic tailspin. At no time in the last 50 years have we ever felt weaker, and at no time in the last 50 years has the world ever seen us as more important.
It seems there comes a price with all those years spent touting America as the world leader in well … everything, from economics to military might to democratic freedoms. Many of our leaders (i.e. Carter, Reagan, Bush version 1 and 2, Clinton) have led the charge in spreading democracy abroad, regardless of whether the people of the receiving countries desired it or not. Since the years following the Great Depression, our country’s pendulum has swung upward economically and in world influence. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing (OK, taking over a country and by brute force leading that country toward democracy when no one asked for our help probably is a bad thing, but I digress …) as long as we are willing and able to meet the challenges that come with such responsibility.
Or as Friedman poignantly quoted in his column a “senior Korean official:”
“No other country can substitute for the U.S. The U.S. is still No. 1 in military, No. 1 in economy, No. 1 in promoting human rights and No. 1 in idealism. Only the U.S. can lead the world. No other country can. China can’t. The E.U. is too divided, and Europe is militarily far behind the U.S. So it is only the United States … We have never had a more unipolar world than we have today.”
Is this a scary thing or a positive? At face value, it’s a touch scary. We aren’t exactly the most progressive country (though we seem to be increasingly headed that way, paragraph 6) in the world if you think about some of our present or past ideals. Some among us, about 49 percent, according to a recent poll, favor a “comprehensive government health care system,” and 10 percent would like to see such a system with “limited” government. The Obama administration, perhaps and finally, may be able to get this done, but what of the last few decades?
Just yesterday, I spoke with a man whose wife was diagnosed about a year ago with ALS. He has liver cancer and chemo was ineffective (and actually made his condition worse). He is waiting on a transplant. He can’t work, can’t pay the bills and he’s taking care of his wife by himself, when someone should be taking care of him. He’s behind on his mortgage and is near foreclosure. Universal health care could help these folks at least be able to not worry about the medical stuff and focus on making the house payment, buying food and the like. Or, perhaps, Obama’s housing plan could provide similar relief. But our love affair with big business, pharmaceutical companies and their lobbying efforts have proven our idealisms are, or at least have been, ill-conceived.
We were one of the last to jump off the “slavery” ship (Most developed European nations abolished it before us, including Russia, France, Denmark, Sweden, the British Empire [except in some colonies], etc.) After that, the country limped through Reconstruction, the Black Codes, Jim Crow, lynchings and segregation before finally deciding that our black fellow-countrymen were actually, and not just in writing, our equals. Further, it’s well documented that we aren’t exactly trailblazers when it comes to education either.
So, I think there’s many areas in which, in fact, we aren’t leading and have lagged behind ideologically. Militarily, of course, we are leading, and maybe this is the area that matters most. Or, perhaps our one-month sojourn under a new administration has made folks forget about the last eight years of failed policies. Lest we forget, with the exception of George Bush and his administration, many of those folks who supported those ideologies (Sanford, Perdue, Palin, Jindal and the like) are still in Congress; they just don’t hold the majority.
Make no mistake, today, this is a great nation, regardless of our previous moral lapses. But if one measures greatness by the average life span of the populous or by quality of living or by educational achievement, etc., we simply have a long way to go. Because of our military might and our insistence on carrying the world banner, folks look to us. And that’s fine. Obama seems to be up to the task. I just think it’s peculiar that given our many shortfalls, the eyes are still all on us. And perhaps that speaks even more to our standing, and in turn, our immense responsibility.
Because we here in the South have few listening options when it comes to talk radio, I tuned in to Sean Hannity’s radio program on the way to work yesterday, which is aired on one of the few talk radio stations in town, with conservative voices being the only options to which one can listen.
Anyway, he was talking about the election and specifically, about how the Republican Party had slipped off the track in seemingly losing the excitement and support of its formative years. In part, he suggested McCain and company, and the party in general, had failed to represent the most important American ideal, which was to spread democracy and freedom throughout the world.
And this is where I want to camp out for a minute. Regardless of whether he said “spread” or “promote” (“spread” carrying a more active connotation) matters less because the premise is largely the same: folks like Hannity seem to support us taking an active role in helping create as many democracies around the world as possible.
But why? Why should this be the highest calling of our country? Should not helping our own people have better lives be the highest calling? Or perhaps throwing more money into medical research? Or research into clean technologies to help quell climate change, which would truly benefit humanity since we produce 1/4 of the world’s greenhouse gases.
Historically, one can see that it’s quite ironic that many think spreading democracy should be this country’s clarion call, when this country was one of the late bloomers in abolishing slavery among the industrialized nations. (England abolished it in 1772, and in 1883 in the colonies, while France did away with it in 1793 on the mainland and 1794 in its colonies. America: 1865) That said, I don’t want to undercut the importance of the election of Barack Obama in coming closer to healing our still-lingering racial divides. Though, clearly, he’s not wholly black, it was a momentous step, one in which Britain has not yet taken. Chalk that up to another ironic twist.
But back on point, why this march to the sea for democracy? Clearly, every civilization of the world is not dead-set on obtaining democracy for itself. If those countries were, they would take the necessary steps to raise up coups and overthrow their oppressors. In nearly every case of tyranny on this planet, the oppressed always, always outnumber the oppressors (except, perhaps, in the case of Nazi Germany, where Hitler was brilliant in his attempts to propagandize the entire movement so as to enlist supporters from the bulk of society) and by vast majorities. It would take massive mobilization techniques, but no one can convince me that if the Russian people during the Communist years really wanted to overthrow the government, 100 million people (current census estimates are at 141 million) marching on Moscow couldn’t do the job. The city’s government would be laid to waste, even if the forces amounted to men with basic rifles and ball bats. Or, people unhappy with a country’s leadership could simply leave en masse. Not only would that amount of people be an impossible force to stop, but by their very absence, the infrastructure of the government would fail to sustain itself. I’m not suggesting or advocating that any of this should take place, but simply pointing out that the American government talks a lot about helping those who are oppressed in other countries out of tyrannical situations. But I argue there is much that those folks could do to help themselves (A government army would be no match for an entire country’s population rising up against it.), but they simply don’t do it, for whatever reasons. In these regards, we often give petty dictators too much credit. Against the mass of an entire country, they could be rendered obsolete.
Regardless, this notion that we are to be the beacons of freedom and democracy for the entire world is absurd because some peoples don’t want the type of democracy we enjoy. If some do, they don’t take the steps to make it happen. Moreover, our bombastic imperialism has gone a long way in eroding our favor with the rest of the world. John McCain and Sarah Palin may have described themselves as mavericks and would have supported the spread of democracy, but in world affairs, being a maverick means being a Yahoo (race of brutes), which means being the typical, gung-ho, manifest destiny American, bent on penning our signature on everything good and right with the world. When in fact, much that is bad, self-destructive and not right with the world also bears our shiny John Hancock. Who woulda thunk it?