Monthly Archives: September 2011

History Lessons

I’ve been off the grid a bit lately, as a sista needs to be Dr. Moniquealicia sooner rather than later.  To that end, I’ve been diligently studying for my comprehensive exams — reading and re-reading the philosphies that were critical to the creation of the United States, and its government.

There are a couple of things that stand out:

1.  In my adult life, I’ve been ambivalent about the place America holds in the annals of world history.  At worst, I’ve been completely resistant to the idea that the United States of America is “the greatest idea in the last 500 years” — I saw an author discussing this concept a couple of years ago, and I immediately balked at the audacity of such an assertion.  The United States?  With all its issues?  Nah.

And then I gave heed to my favorite anecdote:  I shan’t throw the baby out with the bath water.  In time, I began to see the United States for what it was on paper, and how it has endeavored to bring idealism into fruition.  And ol’ Mo got all soffe on the U.S. of A.

On that freezing Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009, I definitely grabbed one of those little American flags and walked around with it shamelessly.  I bought hook, line, and sinker Barack Obama’s common refrain, “in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.”  It’s all the more impressive, however, given United States history, that Barack Hussein Obama’s story did happen.  You may fault or credit (depending on your politics) white guilt, the on again/off again romance shared between young people and politics,  or the sheer absurdity of Black people during the ’08 campaign (My President is Black/My Lambo’s blue, and I’ll be gotdamn if my rims aint too… #sigh).  Invariably, no matter your opinions about why Obama happened, the fact remains that the free and fair election of Barack Hussein Obama did happen.  And in the grand scheme of things, it was pretty cool and I was pretty proud to be American on Election and Inauguration Day.

However, what’s happened in the wake of Obama’s election is made clearer to me by way of a little Constitutional and Founding Fathers context.  Which brings me to…

2.  I believe the debates, disagreements, and compromises which preceded the creation of the Constitution are the scabs we continue to pick at.  Central government vs. state’s rights, Republican vs. Democratic representation, to address or ignore the slavery problem, and indeed the Black problem.  What are the authorities and limitations of the separation of powers?  What about the strength and influence of factions, and the rationales behind political ideologies that are led either by cooperation or individualism — public vs. private?

For example, during the Federal Convention of 1787, the Framers debated who should elect the national Executive (the President).  Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts proposed that the national executive should be a single person chosen by the national legislature.  New York’s Gouverneur Morris disagreed, stating that the “public at large” should have the last say.  It was Roger Sherman (of the Sherman/Connecticut Compromise, responsible for the bicameral U.S. legislature) who charged that the sense of the nation would be better expressed by the legislature because the people at large would never be sufficiently informed enough to make a wise decision.

The people would never be sufficiently informed.  One could get all up in arms over Sherman’s lack of faith in our political aptitude.  But would one really be just in doing so?  I bet if you took a poll of average cats on the street, 3 in 5 couldn’t tell you who is Secretary of State, or the name of one of their state’s Senators, or the names of the candidates running for President in 2012.  I’m not judging the average cat, as life requires us to multitask, and knowing who Rick Santorum is simply doesn’t put food on your table or coins in your pocket.  Thus, being politically astute isn’t at the top of our task lists.  To be sure, there’s no shame in not knowing.  But not knowing and waltzing your ignorant ass into a voting booth and picking the guy with the most interesting name is a problem.  And Americans are audacious like that.  We don’t have to know, yet we feel entitled still to our say.

And finally,

3.  The state’s rights/slavery issue remains a hot one in American political life.  However, it’s a little different now.  The Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson debates hinged on how the governed should be governed, and on Jefferson’s insistence that the common man (agrarians — farmers, the middle- and lower-middle class) refused to be ruled by aristocratic, oligarchic  government in America too.  The colonists wouldn’t win the American Revolution only to be subjected to the American version of British authority.

The Anti-Federalists had legitimate concerns about the Constitution and the prospect of national power being concentrated in the financial and industrial centers in the northeast.  However, what undercuts their argument and also undercuts the nobility of the Founding Fathers’ intentions is their disservice to the issue of slavery.  Staughton Lynd said that in time, slavery will be recognized as “one of the two or three distinctive themes of the American experience.”  Indeed, the Framers knew better; they knew it was impossible to juxtapose the institution of slavery with the Lockean concepts of natural rights and revolution.  So they looked the other way, unwilling and incapable of reconciling slavery with their “ingrained capitalistic attitudes.”  In other words, there was money to be made and the inhumanity of slavery hadn’t yet pierced the framers’ consciences enough to choose doing the right thing over stacking paper.  Does this concept sound familiar in any way?  Because it should.

Governing within the ever-present specter of competing interests, and the pursuit of capital and prosperity has been a feature of American politics since the beginning.  It’s been interesting to see how these matters played out over the centuries, and how politicians have re-worked the Framers’ intentions to suit their contemporaneous political needs.  Folks are gleefully inclined to hearkening back to the days of yore, misunderstanding and misinterpreting the Constitution and the contexts within which decisions were made.  For example, modern state’s rights conservatives aren’t echoing the same sentiments the Jeffersonian state’s rights crowd did in the 18th century.  The former feels less noble, more insidious, and more divisive.  They are the SAY NO TO GOVERNMENT crowd…unless, of course, government is handing out checks to stimulate growth in a local economy, or to clean up natural disasters.  In those cases, the state has the “right” pick and choose when they say no to government.

In sum, suffice it to say that American history lives and breathes and creeps up on us more frequently than we realize.  Perhaps our lawmakers would be well-served by revisiting it from time to time, instead of making shit up as they go along.


Why I’ll Vote Democrat in 2012

Because in the last 15 years or so, Republicans have lost their souls.  They’ve lost their way.  They’ve gone completely fucking nuts.  And the people who support this current cabal of selfish, insensitive assholes campaigning for the Republican nomination seem to have tucked away their good sense, too.  Watch this: 

To be fair, Ron Paul’s a libertarian so his response didn’t surprise me much.  Paul would prefer that the government stays out of nearly every facet of American life.  When asked during the CNN Tea Party debate what should happen to a person who failed to get health insurance, and found himself in a coma, having been dealt a major medical situation, Paul effectively offered a *kanyeshrug*.  What was his advice to the hypothetical young man?  Essentially, go find a church to help you…and um…good luck, sick nigga.  

On some level, I respect Paul’s position.  At the very least, he is genuinely libertarian.  He’s not “playing politics,” as the saying goes.  Paul sincerely believes that government should be hands off in the private sector.   It’s a principled position — one with which I disagree, but can accept.  At least the guy’s intentions are honest.

What’s disgusting though is the crowd’s reaction — their delight in a young man’s potentially fatal misfortune.  And this isn’t the first time tea party types have applauded death.  See Exhibit B:  

These people are typically pro-life, aren’t they?  Or is that only in instances where a woman’s uterus is concerned?

Conservatives tote around funny logic; they respect and revere life in the abstract, and in the womb.  However, once one breaches the threshold of life outside the womb, all bets are off.  You’re just as expendable an entity as anyone else.  You’re on your own.  And if you can’t hack it, well…

They don't really give a fuck.

Thing is, you can totally hold that position in America.  In my opinion, however, you don’t get to hold that position and be President of America.  Obviously, there is much work left to do  because democracy in this country remains an idea, an experiment whose kinks haven’t yet been worked all the way out.  That being said, in its 235 year history, the United States has righted significant wrongs and stood in defense of some pretty stellar principles — the most important of which had to do with the dignity of humanity.  The path to Social Security, for example, was neither quick nor easy, but it was driven by the notion that Americans shouldn’t be left to wither away and die once they pass the age of maximum productivity.  It was driven by the principle that we actually do give a fuck about what happens to you — and by “we” I mean government, and by “you,” I mean you.  

The decades between 1930 and 1980 seemed to lend much credibility to the Federalists’ assertions that the United States must be controlled by a strong  central government.  States play their role, but were “right” and “wrong” left for them alone to determine, I might never have been free.  Again, this isn’t hyperbole to oversell a point.  I’m from Alabama; in 1861, my state seceded from the Union to keep business as usual.  And by “business” I mean slavery.  And by “usual” I mean legal, enforced.  Ongoing.

The equality-centered activism of the 60s and 70s would have meant nothing if the Federal government hadn’t played its hand, and sought to render the following words practical as opposed to toothless and merely rhetorical:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

In other words, power and opportunity should no longer be concentrated in the hands of the already powerful.  Anyone so inclined gets to have a shot at a slice of the prosperity pie.

In the 80s, it seemed Ronald Reagan would make it his life’s work to discredit the role of government, famously noting that “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the Government and I’m here to help.'”  Terrifying, Gipper?  To whom?  Surely, not to the Black students of Little Rock, Arkansas or Tuscaloosa, Alabama who were protected by the U.S. National Guard from some folks uttering truly terrifying words laced with venom and disdain for their particular hue of humankind.  I suspect it also wasn’t terrifying for New Orleanians caught in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to learn that government was “here” to help.  In fact, I imagine it got terrifying when government failed to.

Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma recently told some constituents that Barack Obama would be reluctant to cut certain social programs because he, “as an African-American male” received “tremendous advantages from a lot of these programs.”  While I could argue the douchebag presumptuousness of such a statement (because after all, Barack Obama is Ivy League educated and pretty fucking smart on his own merits), there’s some value there.  Yes, minorities tend to be more sensitive to the erosion of government programs.  Because without them, tyranny of a misguided majority is a definite possibility.  Who got the power to let power go?  Few.  Very few.

I’m not a pie in the sky liberal operating out of idealism and ignoring reality.  I understand that in addition to being an institution that helps, government also is a business that must profit to stay functional. To that end, there are bottom lines that must be met, and difficult decisions that must be made.  However, those decisions should never come at the expense of our principles.  It should never be ok to cheer and delight in the death of a human being to justify an ideological perspective.

To criticize, disagree, and offer an alternative solution is par for the course, as the business of politics is compromise — “sausage-making”.  However, the second option must provide more guidance than:  “pray about it, and also, good luck with that.”  Government isn’t your mom in the sense that it is responsible for patching up your fuck-ups and kissing your boo-boos.  But government should lend itself to creating an environment that both grows and nurtures opportunity, and pumps the breaks when greed seduces us into getting ahead of ourselves.

The only candidate in this 2012 Republican field worth a dalliance with the red side is John Huntsman.  He speaks thoughtfully, with  slightest hint of pragmatism and moderation.  But harboring those qualities as a Republican in 2011-2012 doesn’t get you nominated.  Mitt “Corporations are people, my friend” Romney will likely take home the trophy.  If he does, please never forget this perspective when he and Obama go head to head.

Romney knows this is misleading.  Corporations are comprised of people — people who, like himself, have made millions, billions of dollars while the majority of Americans who happen not to be corporations saw their incomes dwindle and their prosperity wane.

I don’t trust Republicans and Conservatives in this election cycle.  The U.S. Census report on poverty was released just a couple days ago, and the details are sobering.  By way of address, I need a President who gives a fuck.  We all do.

Like it or not, “We sink, we swim, we rise, we fall.  We meet our fate together!”