25 March, 2012

A Republic If We Can Keep It: Prologue

What is Patriotism?

Patriotism is not uniquely American, but true American patriotism has a unique basis and meaning.

The country we variously identify as America or the United States and the government we recognize as the Republic or less often the Union has a distinctive origin. Unlike many if not all other countries and governments, these related entities are the result of a rare confluence of time, place, culture, and individual actors. Neither the country nor its government could have emerged if any of the factors had been significantly different than they in fact were.

The American Republic came into being near the end of a time in European history often called the Enlightenment. While there is some controversy concerning this stage of European history, there is little dispute that the men who invented America were inspired by a set of ideas and ideals that had great currency and acceptance among learned Europeans at the time. Although these men lived in North America, intellectually they were Europeans and as Edmund Burke told the British Parliament, these men paid more attention to the books written about these ideas and ideals than the people of England. Therefore, it can be truthfully said as it has been, “America emerged from the mind and not from the mist.”

Authentic American patriotism is true to the ideas and ideals that inspired the original American patriots, the Founders and the Framers. It is not bellicose and it is not confined to times of war or reserved only for the military. American patriots, of course, honor those who fight our country’s battles, but they believe patriotism requires a constant vigilance and ongoing dedication to the principles and purposes of the Founders and the Framers.

Patriotism is not an unconditional love of one’s fellow citizens and a hatred, fear, or loathing of all other nationalities. It is not frenzied flag waving and raucous shouts of “USA, USA.” It is neither wearing nor not wearing a flag pin on one’s lapel. Latitude and longitude do not circumscribe patriotism. Patriotism is neither strident, nor self-righteous, nor short-lived. It is thoughtful, temperate, and tenacious. Patriotism tells each true patriot, to “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” True patriots understand as does Cindy Sheehan that it is not patriotism when you simply say “My country right or wrong.”

True patriotism assures one and all that Carl Schurz was correct when he said - “I confidently trust that the American people will prove themselves … too wise not to detect the false pride or the dangerous ambitions or the selfish schemes which so often hide themselves under that deceptive cry of mock patriotism: ‘Our country, right or wrong!’ They will not fail to recognize that our dignity, our free institutions and the peace and welfare of this and coming generations of Americans will be secure only as we cling to the watchword of true patriotism: Our country—when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right.” Authentic patriotism informs one that if our country is worth fighting and possibly dying for in time of war, we should highly resolve that in times of peace it is worth living for and living in.

In November, 2011, the nature of authentic, American patriotism is not merely an academic concern. The re-election campaign of the nation’s first president of African ancestry is underway. As with the first three years of his four year term of office, this last year will be filled with subtle and blatant attempts to undercut his legitimacy. There is, unfortunately, a cohort of American citizens who still agree with the Dred Scott opinion even if they never heard of it. This cohort cannot accept that black Americans are truly Americans and most assuredly cannot accept an American of African descent as the President of the United States. Furthermore, they do so on the basis of what they assert is patriotism. Consequently, it is vital to clarify the precise nature of genuine patriotism.

The contention of this book is that authentic, American patriotism is founded on and grounded in the principles and purposes that launched this human endeavor. Fidelity to these principles and purposes and their effective realization in American society is the essential characteristic of any patriotism truly worthy of the name. This patriotism is the fundamental obligation of every American whether in or out of political office. The citizenry in whom true sovereignty resides must have enough authentic patriotism to require it of those holding or seeking office. It is a truism that we get the politicians we deserve. If the citizenry is shallow, narrow-minded, and mean-spirited, those they elect will hardly be better. If the citizenry is profoundly committed to the principles and purposes of the Republic, those they elect can hardly be any less.

A truly patriotic perspective acknowledges that politics is too often obsessively partisan and too heavily dominated by striving for what is advantageous to a party rather than seeking what is beneficial to our country. True patriotism willingly shuns the temptations of faction and emphasizes love of our country and our brothers and sisters over the clamor of the current cause célèbre. A genuinely patriotic perspective looks fondly back to the high points of our past and confidently forward to the bright potential of our future. This perspective understands that authentic patriotism is volitional. It is a conscious choice based on knowledge, comprehension, and commitment. Patriotism shows its bona fides through one’s words and one’s deeds not in the short term, but throughout a long twilight struggle against the common enemies of humankind – bigotry, hatred, ignorance, duplicity, envy, and greed.

A soundly patriotic perspective realizes that genuinely loving one’s country is not enough. No matter how fervent one’s emotion may be, one must faithfully adhere to the principles and advance the purposes upon which and for which the country exists. One must also forego bitterness and hatred toward others while doing so. A soundly patriotic perspective sees one’s country not as a certain territory, or array of mountains, rivers, fields, and forests, but a set of principles, purposes, and promises. Authentic patriotism is dedication and service to that set of principles, purposes, and promises. True patriots share Nathan Hale’s regret at having only one life to lose for their country, but also resolve to live their lives in service to the ideals that make their country worth loving. A proper patriotism swears allegiance not merely to one’s country or its flag, but to justice, humanity, and a relentless endeavor to make one’s country honorable as well as prosperous and strong. True patriotism reveals itself not only by the pronouncements it makes, but also by precepts it remembers and the people it honors. Genuine patriotism understands that its purpose is to reclaim the soul of the Republic. When it stands and states that Americans can and must do better, it is not making a challenge to their patriotism, but issuing a call for renewed effort and resolute exhibition of actual, active patriotism.

Mock patriotism is either the last or first refuge of scoundrels, depending on the circumstances, while true patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than any other and loves its country enough to constantly call it to a higher plain. A true patriot understands and demonstrates that dissent is often the highest form of patriotism. Such a person knows that “Wrong is wrong no matter who says it” and that blind acceptance of official policy often betrays the great principles, profound purposes, and cherished promises that make patriotism a worthy virtue. An authentically patriotic perspective cherishes America’s virtues and confronts America’s deficiencies. It does not boast its country will be the greatest; it vows its country will be the best. True patriotism holds a country that is good may well become great, but knows a great country will not endure if it ceases to be good. Sound patriotism understands the mores of the market as they pervade our society imperil our ideals and institutions. It realizes that a need to calculate the cost and profit of everything will render us oblivious to the value of anything including loyalty, honesty, courage, honor, and commitment to one’s family and one’s country.

A truly patriotic perspective agrees with George Washington –

"The name of American, which belongs to us, in our national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism.... It should be the highest ambition of all Americans to extend their views beyond themselves, and to bear in mind that their conduct will not only affect themselves, their country, and their immediate posterity; but that its influence may be co-extensive with the world, and stamp political happiness or misery on ages yet unborn."

Therefore, with a good conscience the only sure reward and history the judge of their achievements, true patriots go forth to lead the land they love. Knowing that as they do this, the energy, integrity, devotion, and fidelity they bring to this endeavor will illuminate the country and those who serve it, and hoping the glow from that fire will truly light the world.

Our words must be our bond; therefore, let us study our founding documents for the principles they contain and the purposes they set forth. Then, let us proceed to finish the great work remaining before us and ensure that government of the people, by the people, for the people does not perish from the earth.

A Child Is Dead!

Breathes there a one with soul so dead

As never to oneself have said

No matter what excuses may be pled

A child is dead!

In a seemingly prosperous Florida town

A young black boy was wantonly gunned down

The police were summoned and quickly came

But the lad lay dead all the same.

Must we not all wonder why?

A happy, friendly child had to die.

He went to the store and was coming back

Then was slain for the crime of “walking while black”

For too long this has been the case

People hating people based on race.

Fathers mourn and mothers weep

Are our consciences asleep?

Before there is an irrepressible outcry

How many innocents must wrongfully die?

All citizens of good will must take a stand

And drive this viciousness from the land.

Now we all must raise our voice

See the options and make a choice

This is too much; we’ll take no more

We must act now and end this dreadful horror.

Let this recent murder be the last

Banish it to a terrible past

Let it never again be said

A child is dead!

05 March, 2012

The Pants on Fire Party

The Republican campaign for the presidency, even in its primary phase, is not about logic, reason, evidence or truth. The Republicans have nothing to offer most Americans because they champion tax cuts for the rich, deregulation of corporations, military adventurism, religious intolerance, patriarchal gender relations, and a slashed social safety net. Republicans have campaigned on nothing of substance or any plan to move the country forward and voters are drowned in negative attack ads flooding the airways. With the economic disparity, lack of jobs, income inequality, housing collapse, and a host of other crises in this country, Republicans continue to campaign by attacking each other and President Obama. In this way, they continue to shred the political and social fabric of this nation, provoke crises in governance, and impair the ability of the Republic to deal effectively with the challenges confronting us all.

All of the remaining presidential nomination contenders persist in campaigning against a cartoon version of the man in the White House. None of these candidates can complete a stump speech without lying in one or more ways about President Obama. On the eve of Super Tuesday, we must recognize this glaring deficiency in the Republican candidates and the Republican Party. They have no interest in governance and seek only to rule. To understand the difference, we need merely reflect on the deeds and words of the Founders from 1776 onward.

The nominal front-runner, Willard Romney, sets a good example for his rivals every time he wins a primary contest. In his victory speeches on these occasions, Willard rattles off at least five lies before he intones “God Bless the United States of America.” For example in Florida, Willard claimed he would always protect Medicare and Social Security even though he has endorsed the Ryan budget which makes Medicare a guaranteed contribution program rather than a guaranteed benefit program. Estimates are that this change will cost seniors a minimum of $6,000 annually. Furthermore, Romney insists that President Obama intends to cut $500 billion from Medicare to pay for the Affordable Health Care Act. To the extent that this canard has any real referent whatsoever, it pertains to a decrease in Medicare cost increases. This is not a cut from the program; it is an outcome of better management of the program. If costs increase less than projections, such an achievement does not take funding from the program. The most remarkable feat of outright prevarication happened in a twenty-six word sentence. Willard declared, “We’re headed to a Greece- type collapse, and [Obama] adds another trillion on top for Obamacare and for his stimulus plan that didn’t create private-sector jobs.” The United States is not head for any type of collapse; the Affordable Care Act is estimated to lower the debt by $230 billion through 2021. The American Recovery Act created at least 2 million jobs. Aside from these embarrassing errors, however, Romney’s declaration is fine.

When he won Nevada, Romney had a new set of fabrications. First, he asserted “Obama told people the stimulus would hold unemployment below 8%.” Note how he cannot seem to remember what office Barack Obama holds. Unfortunately for the truth of Willard’s assertion, President Obama said no such thing. The former chief economist for Vice President Biden did project an 8% unemployment rate by the fourth quarter of 2009 and this projection was mistaken. Nonetheless, President Obama never hinted, implied, or stated in any way that passing the stimulus would ensure an unemployment rate of 8% or less. Second, Willard repeated the canard that “Obamacare costs jobs.” In truth, the Affordable Care Act led directly to 315,000 jobs in 2011. If this law was a job killer, would it not first kill jobs in the industry it regulates? Of course, it would, but because it is not a jobs killer, no health care jobs were killed and in fact many were created. Third, on Mitt’s lists of mistruths is – “Obama Began His Presidency by Apologizing for America.” This has been refuted so thoroughly and so often that it is shocking Romney would repeat it. This is simply one more indication of the fictitious nature of the rival Republicans are contending with. As Bill Adair, PolitiFact editor for the Tampa Bay Times, said of this statement, “We rated Romney's statement Pants on Fire.” For his fourth attempted trick, Willard declared, “ObamaCare Turns Healthcare Decisions over to Government Bureaucrats.” The tenuous link to reality concerns the “Independent Payment Advisory Board.” Let us remember this body pertains to Medicare and it does not affect decisions regarding individual patients. It deals with payments to hospitals and other providers of medical care. Its purpose is to reduce wasteful spending on ineffective treatments. Given that complaints are common about the cost of Medicare, one would think a mechanism to reduce costs would be applauded by all. For his final Nevada falsehood, Willard charged, “Obama Is Shrinking Our Military.” Once again this is delusive, deceptive ranting. Military expenditures are going down because the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down. The President’s budget for 2012, calls for no cuts to any military procurement program and the projections call for an increase of $36 billion by 2017. These five lies were spewed in early February, but Mitt had more in store.

To celebrate his recent victory in Michigan, Willard let loose another torrent of lies. First, he falsely claimed President Obama has done nothing to get the economy going. In this he ignores the stimulus he slammed previously which added between 2.4 and 3.6 million jobs early in the president’s term. Romney also ignores the 3.7 million jobs created over the last 23 months. Next, Willard charged President Obama said he is one of the top four presidents of all time. What the president actually said is that he believes the legislative and foreign policy achievements in his first two years bear comparison with those of any president, except for Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. Mitt’s third charge is that President Obama thinks he is unchecked by the constitution. To do so, Willard must embrace a twisted view of constitutionality that makes anything the president does which Republicans dislike unconstitutional. This is nonsense and Willard’s purveyance of it tells us more about his fitness for the presidency than it does about President Obama’s. Fourth, Mitt claims that the president wants to raise taxes on small business. This ignores the eight small business tax reductions President Obama has already signed into law. Finally, Romney declared, “Obama has offered no plan save Social Security and Medicare.” This is patently untrue. The beginning of the President’s plan is to keep the Republicans from ruining the programs they have so long opposed. Secondly, the president has proposed raising the earnings cap and finally, Social Security is solvent through 2037. The myth that Social Security is in danger of collapse is another generic, recurrent Republican lie told by all prominent party spokespersons.

The other contenders for the Republican nomination join the chorus of lies with such things as the Gingrich claim, “He rushes to apologize to Afghans while he is waging war on the Catholic Church in the United States," Gingrich told the crowd in Rome, Georgia. "So let's be clear: This is an anti-religious administration at home, which apologizes to another religion overseas. And that's about as one-sided and wrong as you can possibly be." Newt is correct about being “one-sided and wrong,” but he is mistaken about to whom this applies. The only religious war being waged in America today is that launched by Catholic Bishops who want their choices to preclude the possibility of women making different choices on their own. In this they have been joined by Republican opportunists who cannot resist any chance to smear the president. Rick Santorum adds to the lies by promising that his administration would "end entitlement programs on the federal level, give them back to the states and cut them dramatically to save money." The lie comes when a Santorum spokesperson says the former senator was referring to programs such as food stamps despite the fact that entitlements is the term right-wingers routinely use to belittle Social Security and Medicare. Mr. Santorum also lies by asserting the president has a phony theology and then claiming to have been talking about environmentalism. This defies the usual definition of theology as the study of religious faith, practice, and experience and in particular the study of God and God’s relation to the world. This is a unique feature of Santorum’s lying. He uses commonly understood words and when challenged claims he meant something the words are not typically thought to mean.

Beyond the obvious distaste for lying, why should this outrageous behavior by candidates of a major political party concern anyone? The first reason is that if the lies are successful, the citizens will elect people to office who have acquired the habit of lying to the electorate. This is hardly a firm foundation for government by the consent of the governed. If one thinks of the election process as a means of securing the consent of the governed, it can hardly be effective if votes are gained through deception. As serious as this problem is, however, there is a deeper reason for concern. As George Romney observed in 1964, “dogmatic ideological parties tend to splinter the political and social fabric of a nation, lead to governmental crises and deadlocks, and stymie the compromises so often necessary to preserve freedom and achieve progress.” The current conduct and composition of the Republican Party is the essence of ideological dogmatism.
The party and the country failed to heed Mr. Romney’s warning, so retiring Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine updated it in regard to the Senate. "It's dysfunctional and the political paralysis has overtaken the environment to the detriment of the good of this country. It's very, very difficult to resolve major issues." She went on to say, “We’re not working out issues anymore. We’re working in a parallel universe with competing proposals, and up or down votes.” Ms. Snowe correctly indicates that the current mode of Senate operation is at odds with the vision of the Founders, and she makes the point that “the United States Senate is predicated and based on the essence of consensus building.” Furthermore she declares, “if we abandon that approach, then we do it at the expense of the country and the issues we need to address to put us back on track."

Therefore, persistent broadcasting of ideologically based falsehoods about one’s political rivals is destructive to the Republic all federal and state office holders are solemnly sworn to preserve, protect, and defend. This is not something that can be attributed to politics as usual and ignored. It is not something that can be left to the politicians to sort out. The lying ideologues will not stop unless they are soundly and roundly defeated. The recent dispute of contraceptive coverage in health care insurance illustrates this. On the floor of the Senate, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) declared, “our Constitution demands that those individuals and institutions that object to providing these services on religious and moral grounds be protected.” No it does not! The Constitution protects the rights of individuals; institutions like corporations are not people and they have no rights under the Bill of Rights. So a long-serving United States Republican Senator openly lies during an ideologically charged debate. Senator Blunt chimed in with this, “This issue will not go away unless the administration takes it away by giving people of faith those First Amendment protections.” Because this entire issue is false neither Senator Hatch nor Senator Blunt can speak truthfully about it. They are engaged in political opportunism and they do not care how threatening they are to the equal protection of the laws due millions of American women as they work to exploit this bogus, but divisive issue.

On March 4, 2012, on Meet the Press, Newt Gingrich repeated the outrageous lie that President Obama voted to legalize infanticide in Illinois. This is flagrantly untrue, but it does enrage the conservative base. Also, Mitt Romney advocated, in a 2009, USA Today Op-Ed, health care reform driven by the federal government and an individual mandate. During the current campaign, however, Willard has denied taking either position. Because of the impending tsunami of slime soon to deluge us as a consequence of the Citizens’ United Decision, this habitual lying extremism is a significant danger. This inability or unwillingness to practice a basic truthfulness on the part of so many Republican candidates for so many offices presents the American electorate with a grievous defect in the political process.

The rampant dishonest campaigning by the Republicans denies voters a valid choice; it diverts Democrats to debunking the lies and it prevents both parties from serious discussion of the challenges and choices confronting the Republic. In order for political campaigns to be constructive endeavors, they must attract the citizenry and engage them in a thoughtful consideration of the whats and the hows of governance. Propagandistic, wedge issue campaigns pollute the public discourse and stifle the chorus of unity our Republic so genuinely needs.

The Republic belongs to the people, not the politicians. As 2012 moves on, the time is rapidly approaching for all who love their country to rise and shine. Let us step forth to lead the land we love to a better, more prosperous, more united America for ALL Americans.