The Right’s False Patriotism: American ≠ Israeli

Dec 14 2010 Published by under Featured News, Issues, Republican Party

Confused some?

I’m an American. A citizen of the United States. When I sing, “My country ‘tis of thee…” I’m singing about that country. When I “pledge allegiance to the flag…” the flag I am talking about has thirteen red and white stripes and a blue rectangle with fifty little white stars. It does not have a blue Star of David on a white background, between two horizontal blue stripes. My national anthem speaks to the American flag in glorious poetry, composed when it was under attack by an invader: “O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

Notice that it was not an Israeli flag flying over Fort McHenry that day.

I’m an American. Like most people, I love my country. And like most people, I’m willing to complain about it when things don’t seem quite right. When my leaders make mistakes or break laws. “My country right or wrong” is true only in a sense, that sense being that I would not betray my country simply because it did something I don’t approve of, say like invading a sovereign nation for no legitimate reason whatsoever, but rather for political gain. My country made a mistake, but I still love my country.

I can criticize my country when it does wrong; I can also apologize for it when it does wrong, as it did repeatedly for eight years of the Bush administration. I’m not sure I can ever apologize enough for that.

American Exceptionalism is the poisonously radical nationalism of the 19th century all over again. It identifies my country with the god of a specific pantheon and credits not only its creation but it’s survival and prosperity with that god, and so of course, any complaining or criticism is taken as an attack not only on the country (really, the country’s policies) but on that god. It’s that same old ancient trick used in the days of state-sponsored religion known as the divine right of kings. If the king is chosen by god he can’t possibly ever be wrong, can he? Well, neither, it seems, can a country chosen by god.

But I’m here to tell you: if God chose Bush, he made a mistake. I mean, he blew it big time. Let’s make no bones about it.

All this might seem bad enough, but I want to get back to the issue of the flag here for a minute. As I said, there is no Star of David on my flag. I owe no pledge of allegiance to that flag, any more than I do the Union Jack or the tricolor. I don’t sing about their flags in my national anthem. I don’t pay them taxes. They supply me with no essential services. Their soldiers do not stand on a wall to ensure that I can sleep safely at night.

Why did Sarah Palin keep an Israeli flag in her governor’s office in Juneau? She needed an American flag and an Alaskan flag. Didn’t her governor’s obligations stop there?

Why is it that Americans are expected to express loyalty to another country? You can see how bonds of friendship, such as those which exist between the U.S. and Great Britain might be a good thing for both, and none have been tighter since the Second World War, but nobody is expecting me to say, “Great Britain right or wrong!” But that is precisely what they want me to do for Israel.

Israel right or wrong?

In case you hadn’t clued in yet, I’m an American.

Not only do I have the right to criticize my own country, but I have the right to criticize others.

The problem, while frustrating enough for me, a Pagan, is far worse for American Jews. Roger Cohen wrote in the New York Times about ‘[t]he view that American Jews supportive of Israel but critical of its policies are not “real Jews”.’ As he points out,

Israel-right-or-wrong continues to be the core approach of major U.S. Jewish organizations, from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Cohen writes that Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of the progressively-oriented organization called J Street, told him:  “These organizations’ view remains essentially that any time you engage in an activity critical of Israel you are trying to destroy the state of Israel.” Fundamentalist Christians take the same attitude in this country, that to criticize Israel is to seek its destruction, simple criticism labeling you a “terrorist” or “terrorist supporter.”

Sounds familiar doesn’t it? We non-Jewish Americans have heard all that and had it directed at us, often enough when criticizing Republican policies.

Christian fundamentalists (Christofascists) have criticized Obama for not being “Christian enough” – a euphemism for “not being the right kind of Christian” (their kind) and they have criticized him for not defending Israel enough, missing somehow the point that Obama was elected president of the United States to defend Americans – like me. I didn’t vote for him to put my interests – my safety – behind those of another country.

And we are two different countries. I can understand being torn if you have dual citizenship, but 99.99% of Americans don’t have Israeli citizenship. I damn sure have a right to criticize Israel’s policies and I’m not going to lose any sleep doing so. But the problem is a real one and it has the potential to affect millions of lives. As Cohen points out,

President Barack Obama had virtually no domestic constituency for his attempt to denounce the continued growth of settlements as unacceptable and as undermining a two-state peace at its core: land.

Obama was left dangling, more so after the midterms, and had to retreat. This is not merely a failure of the parties. It is a failure of U.S. politics and the way those politics are straitjacketed by an Israel-right-or-wrong mantra that leads inexorably, over time, to one state with more Arabs in it than Jews.

Israel, it seems, is more important to some Americans than America is.

Cohen relates how Ira Strup, a Columbia graduate who experienced the effects of this mantra while performing a one-year fellowship based in Tel Aviv, asked, “Why is it poisoning minds to encourage them to think critically about the actions of the Israeli government?”

Why indeed? The real poison is not the willingness to criticize, but ideology that suppresses all questioning, the poison of nationalism – the poison of a twisted American or Zionist Exceptionalism that demands utter and unquestioning devotion. That might be a reasonable request in a theocracy, or even within a religion, but it has no place in the diversity and pluralism of a modern liberal democracy such as the United States, or, supposedly, Israel. It might have a place in the Old Testament, but it has no place in the Constitution. And the Constitution, not the Old Testament, is the founding document of the country I love, the country I am free to criticize.

The Constitution nowhere demands a religious test. It nowhere demands loyalty to any country other than the United States.

I would cordially suggest, therefore, to those who hold to that mantra that they emigrate to Israel, where they can “rah rah” all they want to a flag with a blue Star of David on a white field between two horizontal blue stripes, kibbutzing with radical Zionists on the West Bank. I, meanwhile, will live in my country under my flag with thirteen red and white stripes and a blue rectangle with fifty little white stars.

I will continue to be critical of, but continue express my love for – just as I would my own children – its actions when they are disappointing. For that is real love; not the “right or wrong” type of devotion that has become not love, but a twisted obsession.

18 responses so far

Analyzing What November 2nd Means

We’ve all seen the graphs, the raw voter data. But what does it all mean beyond Republicans up and Democrats down? I have been wondering about this myself, and on the advice of a Canadian friend, I turned to the conservative (by Canadian standards) National Post. In a wonderfully titled article, “What the #!%*?: The U.S. mid-term elections?” the National Post’s Peter Goodspeed asks and answers some very important questions about the midterms.

It is a useful and interesting analysis of the disastrous turnaround in the American political landscape and helpful for being a view from the outside looking in.

Mr. Goodspeed makes some interesting points (my comments in italics):

  • “Democrats have been driven from office in…every one of the 11 states of the old Confederacy.” We knew there was something to the waving of Confederate flags at those Tea Party rallies.
  • “This is the third election in a row in which U.S. voters kicked out the party in power.” (the others being 2006 and 2008). This was not unexpected. Voters have short memories. As Paul Krugman has predicted, the Republicans will probably be out on their backsides in 2012.
  • “Exit polls show the Democrats lost the votes of women, middle-income workers, whites, seniors and independent voters.” Most important was the loss of the independent voters who put Obama in office in the first place. This is ironic as most of these people voted against their own interests the other day. They will likely regret it before too long. Evan Bayh has some ideas about what the Democrats can do to recover in an op-ed piece in the New York Times.
  • “Voters are disenchanted with both parties… When Marco Rubio, Florida’s Republican senator-elect, took his victory bow, he made a point of warning his party to be cautious. “We make a great mistake, if we believe that tonight, these results are somehow an embrace of the Republican Party,” he said. “What they are is a second chance — a second chance for Republicans to be what they said they were going to be, not so long ago.” Rubio is right. This is neither a sweeping indictment of the Democratic Party nor a sweeping embrace of the Republican. The voters blamed the most handy target – the party currently in power. For an analysis of Rubio, see the New York Times bio.
  • “Democrats lost a generation of powerful centrist leaders.” I find this interesting given that Obama governed as a centrist. Is this yet another slap against centrist politics, diktat vs. compromise?
  • The Tea Party shouldn’t celebrate. Not only are they not popular with “Wall Street Republicans” but “According to the CBS television network’s exit polls, 58% of Tea Party supporters identify themselves as Republican, 33%  as independent, and 9% as Democrats. However, 80% are white, 55% are male and 56% are aged 50 and older. Not exactly a growing demographic.” No, indeed. The Tea Party is neither a grass-roots nor a populist movement. It has a very narrow focus and a very narrow support base and it really offers nothing new or dramatic outside of new levels of hate and bigotry. And “Tea Party candidates” have already demonstrated a willingness to compromise their principles to get elected. The lesson of Scott Brown should not be lost on anyone.
  • “Obama still has a veto and can scrap any Republican legislation.” So true. No doubt he will have cause to use it. We might note the importance too of continued Democratic control of the Senate.
  • “It’s unlikely [Obama will] have a chance to advance his domestic agenda. “ This does seem unlikely. He will be struggling to maintain the changes he brought about from 2006-08.
  • Obama may be vulnerable in 2012, particularly if he “concedes too much to the Republicans.” This will clearly be a problem as many of us felt Obama has already done this, catering too much to Republican concerns despite ongoing evidence that the Republicans had no interest in joining the Democrats in governing the nation.
  • The events of 1952 (and its aftermath) provide precedent for what took place on November 2 and this suggests that Republican gains will be ephemeral, at least in the short term.

I think many of these points are valid and bear further investigation and discussion. Clearly the next two years will be rocky not only for the administration and for Democrats, but for the country as a whole. The Republicans are far from united. The Tea Party is a divisive force and who knows, we may see some of those Old School “Wall Street” Republicans reaching across the aisle in exasperation. Two years of gridlock is unconscionable and it is difficult to see how, if Obama could be hurt in 2012, the Republicans could not also be if they spend the next two years bringing government to a complete halt.

Of course, there is more to it than this. We are mired in a war seemingly without end. The Republicans have attempted to assign blame for Bush’s Afghanistan War to Obama, and they have even tried to present 9/11 as somehow being Obama’s fault; the same goes for the economic crash of ’08, which took place while Bush was in the White House. Other important issues are corporate money and foreign money and the ways in which these impact American democracy. Republicans, who despise the already existing Constitutional amendments, are unlikely to support an amendment to correct the Supreme Court’s heinous betrayal. And the war on the First Amendment will no doubt gain strength.

There will no doubt be collateral damage from this election. If the election was about the economy, there will also be attacks, as I noted above on the First Amendment, but also on women’s reproductive rights, LGBT rights and environmental regulation, to name just a few. What is essential is somehow keeping our government and our country going for two years until we can correct the mistakes of November 2nd, when it is to be hoped voters will wake up to what they wrought.

11 responses so far

The Myth of Self-Regulation

Nov 03 2010 Published by under Featured News, Issues, Republican Party

BP's Deepwater Horizon

Author’s Note: This piece is dedicated to the people of his generation who voted for Tea Party candidates yesterday, and who should have known better.

Self-regulation is a myth. Nobody regulates themselves. Individuals do not, and the idea that money-making concerns (corporations) would regulate themselves is absurd. Corporations are in business for the bottom-line: profits. They want to make money.  This should surprise none of us. This is what they do. Nor should we be surprised that they dislike regulation. Regulation costs them a percentage of their profits, as do taxes. Thus, regulation, like taxation, is for them an evil. So are such issues as minimum wage, benefits packages, and other workers rights issues, including, especially, unions.

It was long ago recognized that people form governments in order to protect themselves from themselves and from each other. Governments are a social construct, a social contract existing for the purpose of regulating human communities, enforcing those laws and customs agreed upon by each community. As Thomas Hobbes said in The Leviathan, in the state of nature (that is, one without government) life is “nasty, brutish, and short.” We need government, and we recognize this need. Even for the most anti-government of the Founding Fathers the need for government was a recognized fact. The issue was not whether we should have a government, but how much power that government should have. Government regulation was there at the get-go, written into the Constitution.

The modern conservative opposition to government is nothing but nihilism masquerading as a rights movement. A world in which everyone can do anything they want is a world without government. And without government there is no regulation because, as I said above, people do not regulate themselves. Laws are essential to every community, as are custom and taboos. These are the ways in which communities regulate themselves and limit behavior which is harmful to the whole.

The necessity of a national government was recognized by the Founding Fathers. The Articles of Confederation failed miserably to provide for the newly liberated colonies. A loose confederation of independent states offered no protection to the states individually or collectively; thus the Constitutional Convention and the United States Constitution. The Constitution placed limits on the “excesses of democracy” evident in the politics of the locality, which of course, favored the locality at the expense of the whole.

Corporations are the same. Corporations are not interested in the whole; they are interested in their own good. That is the nature of the beast, and this must be recognized. Corporations want to make profits, and the more profits the better. Corporate resistance to regulation is understandable. Look at what science has revealed about corporate excesses: the dangers of tobacco, the dangers of pesticides and other chemicals, industrial and agricultural. They make people sick; they kill people. A whole new generation of legal commercials asks those affected to come forward to sue the offenders.

Corporations will not voluntarily police themselves. It is not in their best interest to do so. And when in the 60s we began to see science reveal the dangers of unregulated industry (just as the Gilded Age revealed the dangers of unregulated capitalism) we also saw industry push back and attack and manipulate science. We saw these corporations respond to their threatened profits by manufacturing lies, dishonest “scientific” studies that did what they were paid to do: defend the bottom line.

Wall Street

Corporations still behave this way. They will always behave this way. It should be no surprise to anyone that when regulations are loosened or removed that the corporations behave in a destructive and harmful manner. The Great Depression resulted from unregulated capitalism. The Crash of ’08 had the same origins. The first may have caught people by surprise; the second should not have. We saw how dangerous the unregulated oil industry was when the Exxon Valdez destroyed a swathe of coastline; was it any surprise that deregulation resulted in the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe of 2010? It should not have been. We should be surprised that it did not happen before, or more often. Yet corporations (and the Repubicans) continue to insist that regulation is bad for business and that we need to remove regulations which keep the oil companies from increasing their profits.

The human coast is irrelevant. Companies do not care about people; they are not answerable (as a government is) to the people. They are answerable to their board of directors and the mandate of any successful board of directors is to make profit.

Corporations and Republicans argue that the government does not have the right to regulate them. But the government is regulating them to protect the people, and if a government has no right right, and moreover, no obligation to protect the people on whose behalf it was established in the first place, then what rights and obligations do governments have?

It’s an absurd point to argue; there is no argument whatsoever by the Republicans. Governments do have the right to regulate. Governments from the beginning of time have regulated and they will always regulate. And if the day comes that Republicans get their corporate government you can bet your bottom dollar there will still be regulation, but it will be the regulation of private citizens, like the regulation of women’s bodies advocated by Republicans.

These private citizens – you and me – must be aware of the mythic properties of self-regulation. It does not exist, it will never exist. Wall Street will not regulate itself, nor will the oil companies. They will do whatever they can get away with to maximize their profits and we must accept our share of the blame if we let them. Do not be fooled. These companies are not here to make you wealthy; they are here to make themselves wealthy. The money they save they will not pass on to you. They will gild their parachutes, maximize their profits, and pocket the cash. Deregulating them will help no one but them. Wealth does not trickle down, folks. It trickles up. And the proof is there for anyone who cares to look. Corporations do not answer to us, but they must answer to the government, which at its most basic is the voice of the people, and shame on us if we are too weak to embrace the power we collectively possess by way of our government.

As John Dickinson said in The Liberty Song (July 1768), “Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all! By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!” If we fall to Republican corporatism, we will have only ourselves to blame.

41 responses so far

Vote for the Constitution on November 2

Oct 21 2010 Published by under Featured News, Republican Party

The Republican Target: The Constitution

The 2010 Midterm elections are a few days away, November 2. Everybody knows what they are about, what the major issues are: abortion (the #1 Republican issue), the federal deficit (and in a broader sense the economy), and, of course, the balance of power in both houses of Congress. This means not only are we voting for what Obama might be able to accomplish in the future, but for what he has already done. We are, in effect, being asked to vote for President again. Because the Republicans have made clear that they will repeal every bit of the Obama administration’s legislation, obstruct further legislation, and appoint committees to investigate Obama and administration officials for any and every reason.

A Republican victory in the 2010 Midterms is designed to bring the United States government to a screeching halt, or to be more accurate, destroy it outright.

We stopped them in 2008. But thanks to the Supreme Court, thanks to the ruinous state our economy as a result of Republican maladministration, they get a second chance to finish the job.

But even this is not the end result. No, the true end result of all this is laying the country low enough to accept the return of the legitimate ruling dynasty, the Republicans, ordained by God to be the rightful rulers of His United States.

Few people probably realize that we are voting on the Constitution, and in particular, the First Amendments rights of freedom of choice in matters of religion.

So don’t panic, but there is a lot at stake here, and you had better recognize exactly what it is you are going to your voting places to vote for. You had better have these issues clear in your mind before you enter your ballot, because in a very real sense, there is no going back.

The Republicans intend to take us to a place from which there is no return.

You see, their fantasy America, the mythic America that was founded as a Christian nation in their re-written text books, is about to come to fruition. They are that close.

Church State separation doesn’t exist in the Republican mindset. There is no place for it in the Constitution or even in discussion of the Constitution. They simply say it isn’t there. Why? Because the words don’t appear there. And if it nowhere says “separation of church and state” then it can’t possibly be there, can it?

But it can. And it is. The First Amendment is very clear: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

Then there is the little matter of Article 6, Section 3, which prohibits religious tests for office:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

This is very clear. There can be no mistaking what is meant. Yet the Republicans keep insisting it is a myth. They do not offer any actual evidence for all their claims and what quotes they throw our way are invented quotes supposedly made by Washington. Bruce Wilson, of Talk to Action, points out that the “’George Washington’s Prayer’ even served as the printed invocation prayer for the 2001 National Prayer Breakfast…[which] Historians have known it to be fraudulent for, literally, decades.” This fraudulent prayer is held out as proof of what the Founding Father’s intended. But they like to claim that the phrase “separation of church and state” appears only in a letter to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut, and is therefore inadmissible.

It is interesting that Washington’s extra-constitutional prayer (which was never invoked by Washington) is evidence of the Founder’s intent to establish a Christian nation (Washington was present at the Constitutional Convention but did not contribute to the debates) while Jefferson’s words (he was not present at the Constitutional Convention but was a close confidante of Madison, who was) are not evidence of the Founder’s intent to establish a secular nation. The First Amendment is in the Bill of Rights, and if it is inaccurate to call Madison the Father of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights was his entirely.

But the Religious Right does not want to talk about Madison, who, significantly, was a Christian who believed in the separation of church and state, and who fought for it tenaciously. And of what Washington actually said? They don’t want to talk about that either.

When in 1789 some New England ministers took up the issue of the lack of mention of “the true only God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent” in the Constitution, Washington answered, “the path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction.” This was the answer of a politician and before the Religious Right can attempt to subvert this genuine quote as well, they will need to be reminded that Washington corresponded with 22 major religious groups and attended various services: Lutheran, Congregational, Dutch Reform, and even the despised Roman Catholic. He said he was tolerant of all religions (echoing Jefferson), including Muslims and Jews.

And Washington never became a member of any church; that is, he never took communion, saying he was “no bigot…to any mode of worship.” He did not, as far as we know, even own a Bible.

This is the man the Religious Right would make their poster boy for Christian theocracy. They would use the main upholder of the Constitution to bring it down.

When Alexander Hamilton was asked why the Constitutional Convention had not recognized God in that document, he is said to have answered glibly, “We forgot.” During the convention, he dismissed Franklin’s suggestion of a daily invocation as “foreign aid” that was unneeded.

The facts are all there and in plain view. That the Republicans continue to express unsupported and unsubstantiated claims and insist that they are right in absence of all proof should send out the requisite warning bells to all voters. Voters, it is proven, do not always carefully study the issues at stake, do not want to be troubled with trying to understand them and their complexities. But this is a very simple one, because we are voting on the Constitution and its foremost principle, that the United States is a nation of true religious liberty, alien to the idea of state-sponsored religion, and to the idea that one denomination’s holy book can be legislated into law for all.

This was one of the things which we threw off when we declared our liberty from Great Britain. It is one of the things our Nation has always stood for, and which has made us strong. A Republican vote is an anti-Constitutional vote, a vote against the very fabric of our Founding document, and I hope people will keep this in mind when they go to the polls on November 2. Because we won’t get a second chance.

11 responses so far

GOP Organization Tells Latino Voters to Stay at Home

Oct 20 2010 Published by under Featured News, Issues, Republican Party

Robert de Posada

The GOP will do anything it can to buy an election and if it can’t do that, it’s proven itself perfectly willing to steal one. Until recently we’ve been in the buying stages, as the GOP corporate machine spends millions in an effort to create a Corporate America, but with that not representing a sure road to success, the GOP seems to have moved onto the stealing stage, as demonstrated by a recent ad by a GOP-linked group called Latinos for Reform.

Media Matters calls it a “A third-party group headed by a GOP operative” – Robert de Posada – former Director of Hispanic Affairs at the Republican National Committee under Lee Atwater. Robert doesn’t want Latinos to vote. Latinos, of course, mostly voted for Barack Obama in 2008. So perhaps the timing of such a commercial immediately before the 2010 midterms will come as no surprise to you.

Here is the English-language version:

And the Spanish:

Obviously, not voting would be a egregious error for Latinos, with so much at stake. Giving the anti-immigrant Republican Party a victory is no way to show your displeasure with the Obama Administration. Yeah, that would show them!

Fortunately, people aren’t being so easily taken in. Huffington Post reports that, “The ad has quickly made waves in Nevada, prompting leaders in the Latino community to denounce the campaign’s message and to encourage stations to take it off the air” and Spanish language TV network, Univision, will not be running the ad:

Univision will not be running any spots from Latinos for Reform related to voting,” said a spokeswoman for the network, Monica Talan, in an email. “Univision prides itself on promoting civic engagement and our extensive national campaigns encourage Hispanics to vote.”

Huffington Post reports that “This effort to squelch the Latino vote may be particularly disturbing to Nevada Democrats considering a recent report showing that Latinos were more likely to vote Democratic in this year’s elections, but were already lacking the motivation to show up to the polls.”

This is a blatant and misleading attempt by the GOP to steal the election. Trick the voters not to vote. Yes, trick. Like the equally reprehensible Jews for Jesus (which is not Jews, but Christian fundamentalists) aiming at tricking Jews (who are not tricked) the conservatives have tried to co-opt the Latino vote by getting their token Latino to urge his fellow voters to stand on the sidelines.

The Latinos aren’t being fooled either. Letting the party of hate and bigotry win in order to punish the Democrats for failing to act is such an attractive option to the GOP that they let their fantasies run away with them. But then, look at the whole ACORN fantasy. You can almost see them rubbing their hands together in glee as they ready to pop their corks in an orgy of celebration.

Epic fail ladies and gentlemen. Do not pass go, do not collect your sought-after payday. We will beat you in 2010 because we do not want what you are selling. We will not go willingly into slavery for your corporate masters, we will not allow you to deprive of us social security and health insurance and minimum wage. This is our country – every American’s country – whatever their skin color, ethnicity, sexual leanings, or type and level of religiosity, and you can’t have it for your totalitarian fantasies.

I’m a Scandinavian American Heathen and I approve this message. Though it isn’t my native language, I think an Adiós! would be appropriate here.

13 responses so far

Conservatives Stumble Over God Gap

Oct 19 2010 Published by under Featured News, Republican Party

The LATimes reports that the “most rapidly growing category today is composed of those Americans who say they have no religious affiliation.” This is bad news for conservatives because the “nones” as they call themselves “have been alienated from organized religion by its increasingly conservative politics.”

We’ve all heard the rhetoric: God hates gays, God hates atheists, God hates secularists, God hates abortion, God hates liberals, God chooses our presidents, God chose America to be his nation to spread his word, God will do the right thing for America, America has turned away from God, America is being punished by God, God destroyed New Orleans for its sins and he will destroy America.  These aren’t church slogans; these are Republican politicians.

These young people are not atheists, though they might end up being accused of this for their troubles. Conservative purity standards are pretty tough after all, and ironically, and happily for liberals and progressives, they are the problem.

Abortion and homosexuality are major issues in conservative politics today and unsurprisingly, they are major issues for fundamentalist Christianity. The GOP tent has gotten very small and there is room for only the pure, those who are ideologically committed to a marriage of religion and politics. If you want to know how closely intertwined the two are, look at BeliefNet’s comparison of Gallup’s 2009 religion map next to the 2008 electoral map.

Ideological purity may sound great on the drawing board, but it’s not so good when you need votes – lots of votes. Obviously, the ideas then are mutually incompatible. You can’t have the one because you won’t allow the other. The Republicans lost the 2008 presidential election because of this small tent but then cognitive dissonance set in and they came away convinced that they had won the election and that Obama had usurped the presidency. They have cemented their attachment to this particular psychosis by labeling themselves a government in exile.

Delusion is not the best answer to reality. And if you keep making excuses you never learn the lessons you need to learn.

But back to our nones. “The fraction of twentysomethings who said that homosexual relations were ‘always’ or ‘almost always’ wrong plummeted from about 75% in 1990 to about 40% in 2008.” This is the same time period in which the GOP was marrying the Religious Right and putting its stress on homosexuality. This became a problem for the twentysomethings, who, as the LATimes puts it, decided that “If being religious entailed political conservatism…religion was not for them” because they saw it as “intolerant, hypocritical, judgmental and homophobic.”

Needless to say, Evangelical Protestantism has also taken a hit. It enjoyed growth in the 70s and 80s. “Meanwhile,” as the LATimes study shows us, “the proportion of young Americans who have no religious affiliation at all rose from just over 10% as late as 1990 to its current proportion of about 27%.”

I myself was willing to vote for Republican candidates until the Republican Party because a Christian party. After that, it became impossible. I could not vote for somebody who questioned my status not only as a citizen but as a human being. No doubt there are other religious people who have moved to the middle or left as a result of unpalatable choices offered by Republican purity standards. It is well known that Republican social liberals voted for Obama in 2008. You can be sure they won’t vote for the likes of Sarah Palin in 2012, or her “approved” candidates in 2010.

The LATimes concludes that “Continuing to sound the trumpet for conservative social policy on issues such as homosexuality may or may not be the right thing to do from a theological point of view, but it is likely to mean saving fewer souls.” And garnering fewer votes.

As the LATimes says, we can’t conclude from this that American religion is dying. There will always be conservatives and there will always be people who put their religion first. There will always be fundamentalists for whom the distinction between religion and politics is blurred, or nonexistent. But the facts are there for all to see: more and more Americans are social liberals, more tolerant than their parents and grandparents, and increasingly, less religious.

The reactionary forces of religious conservatism are lashing out by becoming more insular, more judgmental, more restrictive, and more exclusive – right as young people become more inclusive in their outlook, and more accepting. This is similar to the problem faced by Tea Party candidates whose extreme political views sold well to the base during the primaries, but which may set them back or even make them unelectable in the general elections. Some of them, like Angle, have revamped their website to put on a “moderate” face (even while inexplicably continuing the wacky rhetoric) and many of them have simply begun denying they “ever said that.”

But again, the facts are there. Many voters may remain unaware of the issues and the candidates and their platforms, but those who wish to know can easily find out in our heavily digitized world. Everything that is said or done ends up on the Internet somewhere, making it a permanent archive of “wish I hadn’t said that” moments.

7 responses so far

Some Thoughts on America’s Shame

Someday, future Americans will look back on the end of the 21st century’s first decade and feel shame, and perhaps a sense of wonder that such an advanced nation, one of the most free to have ever existed, could be home to such petty prejudice and superstition, that rights we once held thought defined us could be so easily and thoughtlessly trampled.

Just as we look back with shame on our treatment of the African Americans brought to these shores and kept in a state of slavery, future Americans will look back with shame on the treatment meted out to our first African American president, not because of his education or qualifications, but because of the color of his skin.

Thomas Jefferson, though he owned slaves, knew that slavery was wrong; he thought of it as a social contagion that was harmful to all, slave and free. He fully expected slavery to come to an end and took legislative steps to begin the process. He knew that extreme measures in his own day would lead to the fragile new union’s collapse if not outright war. It came to war anyway, of course, and over 600,000 dead and a president with the courage to say “enough.”

The road to true freedom for blacks in America did not come all at once, or even with the Emancipation Proclamation. The process has been long and hard and many battles for civil rights had to be fought and won before racism would yield. But racism did not die and is not dead yet, and some, myself included, were shocked when Obama was elected by the degree of racism still existing in this country, by the waving of Confederate flags under which slavery flourished and was defended.

Everyone is equal, the Founding Fathers said. We all have the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But there are those today who disregard the utopian dreams of the Founding Fathers, people to whom egalitarianism extends only to those like themselves, of the same skin color, or the same religion, or the same political leanings. They live in a land of absolutes, where you are one of the chosen – or one of the damned.

We have seen the reactionary forces of this group of people displayed in all its unsavory rhetoric since Barack Obama announced that he would run for President of the United States. He has been accused of being a “Kenyan anti-colonialist” and a “Muslim” and of not even being an American citizen. Conservatives have danced to “Barack the Magic Negro” and refuse even to call him by his real name while they share pictures of the White House surrounded by a watermelon patch, and then play dumb when called out.

They have even accused the Democrats, those who put Barack Obama in office as the first black president of the United States, of racism and keeping black people down. If by holding them down they mean electing them to the highest office in the land, then I suppose they are right, but that is a strange use of the English language, stranger even then Sarah Palin’s unintentional non sequiturs.

Then there is the belief that the word Muslim is in some sense an insult. Barack Obama is not a Muslim, but according to the Constitution, it would make no difference if he was. The United States was founded on the idea of the separation of church and state, that there would be no state religion to sap our hard-won liberties, and the Constitution (Article 6, Section 3) ensures that there will be no religious test for office. The office-holders religious views are, according to the Constitution, completely irrelevant.

Someday, future Americans will look back and shake their heads sadly, wondering how such low arguments could not only be tolerated but bandied about on a major network and in major print newspapers, that a whole political party could operate on the assumption that the Constitution is irrelevant, for irrelevant it must be if what it says can be so easily disregarded.

Most of us may not expect something as free and open-minded as Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future to come to fruition, but we like to think we were further along than we turned out to be; we like to believe there is some hope yet that we may prove ourselves worthy of the founding documents’ lofty words, that liberty is not only for a few, but for all equally, that even if it could not become true all at once with the signing of a pen, that it would be true someday, that it was meant to be true some day.

That such levels of racism and bigotry could exist in the 21st century is a mark of shame for those alive today. We are not who we were supposed to be, ladies and gentlemen, and we share a responsibility in not having created and nurtured the society that we should have created. We have made advances, but not enough. There are still those who expect the wrath of God to befall us for our sins, or who assign natural disasters to God’s wrath, or who would deprive those they don’t approve of, of their allegedly inalienable rights.

You have no rights because you are black; you have no rights because you are a woman; you have no rights because you are gay; you have no rights because you are an atheist; you have no rights because you are a Muslim; you have no rights because you support what the Founding Fathers promised us: liberty and individual human rights – for all.

The forces of exclusion bring shame on all Americans. And the rest of us will bear that shame if we let them triumph, if we let the great experiment begun in 1776 expire because we do not have the courage to stand up and give a shout for what is right, and to shout down what is wrong. Someday Americans will look back in shame on this era, but it is within our power to bring that era to an end, if only we will do what is right in three weeks, and again in two years, and again in every election that follows.

21 responses so far

The Tea Party Disconnect

Oct 12 2010 Published by under Featured News, Issues, Republican Party

How did American politics come to be about taking rights away from people when the founding of our country was centered on the giving of rights? And how is it that the group that rants the most about lost rights turns out to be the one most in favor of denying them to anyone else?

The United States was founded on a cresting wave of the ideals of the European Enlightenment, on ideas of liberty and human rights, on the belief that all people have certain rights by nature, not because they have been granted by some political entity. But these ideals seem to be the last thing on the Tea Party’s mind.

There seems to be a disconnect here.

But they don’t want you to notice it. The people running as Tea Party candidates are like snake-oil salesmen; they seem to think if they talk fast enough, you won’t be able to keep up. They talk hard and they talk fast and they don’t stop for questions. They shy away from interviews and debates that might expose their precarious positions and they will deal only with their own approved propaganda agency: Rupert Murdoch’s FOX News.

If any of them are caught out on a lie or inconsistency or an inconvenient fact, they immediately go on the offensive and accuse the media of being biased; they use terms like “liberal media elite” or worse, and invoke paranoid fantasies about government operatives, Democratic plants, or schemes to discredit them. Their rhetoric is, as MediaMatters defines it, “extreme and dishonest” and it is bearing violent fruit.

Candidates and followers are of one mind on this: Nothing, absolutely nothing, can be allowed to get in the way of the siren call of their narrative. If you challenge them they will, like their darling, Sheriff Arpaio, go after you.

Theirs is a discordant narrative; one centered on a mélange of various complaints and perceived threats. Abortion is going to destroy our country; a vast gay conspiracy, a shadowy agenda, is working to destroy the American family and the fabric of American life; the specter of Sharia law is reaching out across the land and has already snared several American cities and threatens to envelop more, destroying American liberty; the government is the enemy, determined to take away our rights; any liberal government is an usurper government and only a government of conservatives is a legitimate government, just as the Founding Fathers intended.

But it’s all lies. And such lies!

The Tea Party runs a platform of nihilistic, fear-inspiring negatives. Like other authoritarian movements it offers nothing constructive but is designed solely to divide, not to unite. The rallying cry of “take our country back” begs the questions of “whose country?” and “from whom?” Obviously, given that America by definition must belong to all Americans, it became necessary to create the idea of “real” and false Americans. Once this category is properly defined we can easily spot the “false” Americans, the constructed Other, to better deny them their rights – liberals, women, gays and lesbians, Muslims, atheists and others who fail the new purity standards. The false Americans and their usurper anti-colonialist Kenyan president have the country; they want it back.

Again, they insist this is how the Founding Fathers wanted it.

Nationalism has not unreasonably come to be been seen in its extreme forms to be a disease. Untold millions were killed by excesses of nationalism in the 20th century. In the 19th century, as various nations came to grips with their past and tried to find a place for themselves in the present, they created false narratives and ideologies. The Tea Party’s embrace of the idea of American exceptionalism is more of the same; it takes us backward, not forward, casting aside history and its lessons, facts and their consequences, to support a fragile and inconsistent mythology designed to be a framework for false conservative assertions about this country.

In this the Tea Party has found a partner in the Religious Right. We are being assured, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that our nation was founded as a Christian nation upon Christian principles, that the Constitution is based upon the Bible and that the Ten Commandments were always the basis for American law. None of this is true of course; no Tea Partier can point to a single piece of evidence to support their contentions, but that does not stop people like Sarah Palin and Sharron Angle and others from repeating them anyway. And in the process America becomes like the Old Testament, born of exclusionary religion, about restrictions, and not, like the Constitution, born of an inclusionary secular Enlightenment, about rights.

Tea Party candidates rail loud and often about rights but the only rights they seem truly interested in are their own, the right to tell others how to live their lives. By creating a false image of themselves as a majority they hope to wield the tyranny of the majority that James Madison hoped the Constitution would hold at bay. They are absolutely opposed to anyone or anything directing their own, of course, including the legal system. They are above the law; they are above the commonly accepted normals of morality. The rules of the herd do not apply to them. And while they say they don’t want government interference, they are more than happy to embrace the federal government if it can be made to coerce others to adhere to their own ideology.

We should do away with the Department of Education because the federal government should not be allowed to interfere in our children’s education; we should do away with government regulation in the economic sphere because nobody should be able to tell corporations what they can and cannot do; there should be no Social Security, no Medicaid or Medicare and no minimum wage; we should take these rights away and deny those rights and we should re-write the history books to show that all these changes are justified.

They claim they want to go back to what the Founders intended, to the original meaning of the Declaration and Independence and Constitution but they want to eliminate this amendment or that amendment or all the amendments together. Yet clearly, since the Founders made amendments to the Constitution they intended amendments to be made.

It is difficult to understand how the Tea Party and its candidates can overcome this disconnect except by telling lies and they seem to have embraced dishonesty to the extent that it’s become their default setting. Witness Bachman’s “urban legend” defense, or Angle’s denial of the evidence of her own website, or O’Donnell’s denial of what is undeniable.  Tea Party dishonesty is widespread and easily spotted; the digital record does not lie: Watch them say it; watch them deny they said it.

We have to recognize that one lie begets another. The lies keep growing and you have to add new ones. It is a process that once begun is not easily ended. These lies sell to the base and they are often passed over by a right-leaning media but the majority of Americans like to ask questions.

Politics have never been known for their honesty, but what we are seeing here is a nationwide systems error, lies told about other lies and lies based on a false narrative of what the United States is and what the Constitution is and means. We cannot allow the Republicans to crown uninformed and uneducated non-readers like Sarah Palin as Constitutional experts, and we cannot allow the media to give free passes when such claims are made.

This is what makes the control of information so critical to Tea Party success. The lies must be told; they must be accepted at face value, and any discussion is to be avoided in favor of repetitious use of talking points which play to emotion and not to reason. The national media has largely failed in its responsibility not only to journalism but to veracity. The job of the media is not only to report what happens but to analyze it and given the egregious nature of that failure it is up to the voter to educate him or herself, to remake that connection the Tea Party has done so much to shatter.

16 responses so far

Focus on the Family: Legislating Hate and Subverting the Constitution

James Dobson, Dominionist

In no instance have… the churches been guardians of the liberties of the people.
– James Madison

Because he thinks the Supreme Court will never outlaw abortion, James Dobson, dominionist and head of the Christian hate group known as Focus on the Family, figures he can do an end around by getting individual states to ban it.

I would be willing to settle for each state making a decision, and we’ll fight that out in the state legislatures in 50 states. I just don’t see the Supreme Court saying this is flat-out illegal. I wish they would, but I don’t think that will happen.

Dobson says that “You can’t deny it’s a baby. You see it sucking its thumb, moving and turning cartwheels in its mother’s womb.”

That’s not a pretty picture, certainly, but it’s also not the whole argument. I don’t think many people argue that abortion should be employed as a method of birth control, but that is how abortion opponents frame their argument. Of course, they’re so anti-abortion that they’re willing to force incest and rape victims to bear their attackers’ babies and they’re willing to let mothers die.

There no explanation and no justification for the privileging of the life of a fetus over that of a mother.

This end-round the Supreme Court’s ruling, Roe vs. Wade (1973) has been tried before and the Supreme Court has struck down many state laws limiting or regulation abortion from the mid-70s on. The problem for James Dobson and his group is that the Supreme Court ruled that abortion is a fundamental right under the Constitution.

The pros and cons of abortion (or that ruling) aside, Dobson seems to miss one of the original purposes of the Constitution, which was to protect the American people from “excesses of democracy” of local legislatures, which tended to run roughshod over the rights of the minority.

In other words, certain restraints were placed on the powers of local legislatures in order to force them to respect the rights of all their citizens, not just the majority (Article I, Section 10).  That is why the United States Constitution trumps state constitutions. All citizens have rights equally, not just those who form part of a majority.

As James Madison said, “In Republics, the great danger is, that the majority may not sufficiently respect the rights of the minority.” In fact, Dobson places himself in direct opposition to Madison. While Dobson somehow imagines that his own particular religion is the truest guardian of a liberty he would extend to only a few, Madison argued that “The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.” And that true liberty extends to all.

This is the problem with state referendums which, for example, attempt to deprive certain groups of their civil rights – Proposition 8 in California being a case in point. The hypocrisy of the Republican position on rights is apparent when those rights are reserved for only a few. It is not the position of the Constitution that some are more equal than others, or that equal rights are dependent upon holding a majority. States can’t vote to ignore the Constitution. This is not something that is permitted. It is not something that can be permitted. Nor can states vote to ignore the rulings of the Supreme Court. It – not Dobson’s interpretation of the views of his supreme deity – is the final arbiter in the land.

Of course, while the Constitution says (Article VI, Section 3) that no religious test is required to hold office, Focus on the Family ignores the Constitution by arguing the opposite:

Does the candidate have a Christian world-view? Is he pro-life? A clue is whether he knows the embryonic stem-cell debate and opposes the process. Does she firmly support God’s definition of marriage, and does she oppose civil unions that give marriage benefits to same-sex couples? Does he believe that parents, rather than the state, have ultimate say over what a child learns in school? Is she hostile toward or silent on matters of faith? A candidate’s positions on all these issues are important indicators.

The major problem with the Republicans is that they have become not just the morality party but the party of one particular morality – Christian morality, and a specific type of Christianity at that. While most cultures share ideas of taboo behavior, it would be a mistake to assume that one idea of morality can function as a guide to every person on earth. The same protections employed in the Constitution to protect the minority apply to religious minorities. The eighteenth century’s Evangelicals understood this; Dobson does not.

But then Focus on the Family is anti-minority, and by that I do not mean necessarily racist, but opposed to groups that represent a minority point of view. For example, Focus on the Family thinks bullies are the true victims, not the kids they abuse and beat up or force into suicide. The majority should be able to do whatever they want and (for now) Christians are still a majority religion in the United States. Might, in Dobson’s view, appears to make right, and that was not the view of the framers of the Constitution.

But this is no surprise from a group that has argued that “tolerance and diversity” are “buzzwords” used to promote a (nonexistent) homosexual agenda, or that it is not gays that are being persecuted by Christians but Christians by gays. It is clear that fact plays very little role in Focus on the Family’s rhetoric.

Where at the founding of our nation Protestant leaders, unhappily familiar with the example of the Church of England and the Papacy, mostly showed opposition to the idea of state sponsored religion, today’s Protestant leaders seem to think the intention all along was to create an officially Christian United States, and James Dobson feeds into this misguided mania. Despite any evidence in favor and piles of evidence against, he insists that his fevered imaginings are reality.

When the only mention of Christianity in the Constitution is “the Year of the Lord” in Article VII; when there is no mention of liberty in the scripture he champions, Dobson’s claim that Christianity is essential to the American republic or to liberty are absurd. Every state ratified this secular Constitution without objection to the absence of God. That the American Revolution was a largely secular revolution might explain this; the Second Great Awakening, as it was called, was a product not of the 18th, but of the 19th century. James Dobson is not only attempting to bypass the Constitution, he is attempting to subvert it. He is not trying to save America but to destroy it. And in light of the evidence, Dobson’s claim that “the charge that we are hateful is simply not rooted in fact” rings hollow.

34 responses so far

The War on Liberty

Taking Aim at Lady Liberty

As the 2010 Midterm Elections loom, it is appropriate to examine what the Republicans have done to destroy our country. It is easy to dismiss such questions with answers of “they’re all the same” but they’re not, and the facts demonstrate this for any and all who have an interest in evidence over the diktat of ideology.

For eight years, the Bush administration plundered the American people, violated the Constitution, and tarnished our image abroad with egregious breaches of international law. America came close to becoming a rogue state, a brand of American exceptionalism so extreme that it seemed America was above the laws that bound the rest of the civilized world together. Grievous harm was done, some of it likely irreparable.

While the Obama administration has reversed some of these policies, it has embraced others; as totalitarianism creeps closer, democracy is pushed back. Those who hold power do not relinquish it once gained, and the Executive has become dangerously powerful, throwing the delicate system of checks and balances all out of kilter. As Paul Starr wrote in The American Prospect in 2006, “The real danger today is the loaded weapon that Bush and his defenders are willing to put in the hands of all future presidents.” Tyranny is the logical end-place should the powers of the Executive not be checked.

This is not the first time the Constitution has come under attack. Starr goes on to observe that,

Repeatedly through our history, the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution have been threatened in war by an overreacting government and then reaffirmed in peace by calmer leadership. The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, the suppression of free speech during and after World War I, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, McCarthyism, and the wiretapping of Vietnam-era dissenters — all of these came to be seen, once fears subsided, as violations of our freedoms and embarrassments to our heritage.

Bush is largely responsible for creating an “imperial presidency”; by claiming “”Unitary Executive” power, he announced to the world – and was unchallenged by a cowed Congress – that the law was what he said it was. He may have never said that the Constitution was just a “goddamn piece of paper” but his every action confirmed that this was his attitude toward the document that creates and binds this nation together.

But the Constitution, if America is to survive in any form recognizable to the Founders, must be more than a mere set of guidelines or suggestions. It is a living, flexible document, but it cannot be twisted like a pretzel. Like anything else, it will shatter if enough stress is applied.

The attack on America from within was persistent and ruthless: John Conyers (D-MI) is on record (2005) as stating that the Bush administrations violations of law were “not only serious, but widespread.” And in 2005, Bush was far from done with America. The Bush administration violated six amendments and the writ of habeas corpus and only Congress may legally suspend habeas corpus. By 2006 the Boston Globe was able to report that Bush had “claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.”

Essentially, Bush played Pompey, using a national emergency to vest within himself dictatorial powers. The Roman Republic did not survive Pompey for Pompey made Caesar possible and Caesar killed the Republic. Each blow against the Constitution weakens the structure. But the Constitution does not make the president king, though it grants him enough power that today, that even if he restrains his impulses, he is the most powerful person on earth. Congress too has a Constitutional role, as does the Supreme Court. If either of these abrogates their powers, if they do not function as intended, liberty comes under attack.

The Republicans have come dangerously close to asserting the divine right of kings. Bush claimed to be appointed not by the American people but by God. Other Republican politicians and pundits claim that only Christians are fit (or should be legally allowed) to hold public office, and Article VI section 3 is repeatedly violated in word if not in deed when these Republicans pretend that there is a religious test for public office. America has become the New Rome and the president chosen by God. If this is true, then the Republican Party is indeed God’s Own Party and only they have a legitimate claim to power, resulting today in the idea that the Democrats – and Obama – are usurpers and the Republican leadership is a government in exile.

This is as preposterous as it is dangerous, and Americans must wake up and recognize this – and resist. The Republicans continue to utilize the weapon of fear embraced by the Bush administration. Do as we say, or America will be destroyed, is their message. Turn your back on God and he will turn his back on you. In truth, if we do what they say, America will be destroyed – utterly – because the Republican path is the road to ruin, a headlong rush toward the Rubicon and a mortal blow to the Constitution.

The Republican leadership of 2010 offers America nothing Bush did not already offer in 2001. President Obama has repeatedly warned that their message is the same message that got us into trouble in the first place and he is not wrong. The championing of States Rights invokes the specter of the Confederacy, and racism the dark shadow of slavery, and the appeal to “Second Amendment remedies” is nothing short of a promise of treason. Do it our way, or we will overthrow the government; if we can’t have America, there will be no America. That is their message. That is their promise.

They say they want to take America back, but folks, the America they claim to represent never existed, not in the minds of the Founding Fathers and not in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Neither the President nor Congress, nor the Supreme Court has defended the Constitution. This leaves liberty just one defender: the American people.

Liberty stands for human rights and freedoms. It was appreciation of America’s embrace of liberty that brought Lady Liberty to these shores. If we won’t defend her now, we might as well send her back, because we will have proven ourselves unworthy of her.

10 responses so far

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