When colonists finally defeated the British Empire with the surrender by General Cornwallis, a British band at the ceremony is said to have played "The World Turned Upside Down." The bitterness displayed by the defeated British soldiers was matched by the residual anger of the colonists. That anger sometimes erupted in a cold fury as loyalists to the crown were confronted well after the guns had ceased firing. A few made it to England, more simply left belongings behind and fled to Canada. A century later, votes could still be won by politicians railing against British influence.
You can see the antagonism written in our founding documents. The Third Amendment, requiring the owner's permission for troops to be quartered in any house, is just one example. It represents about as useless a provision as can be imagined, but it came from a sore point. When American colonies did not provide enough housing for British troops, authorities were allowed to take over private dwellings. The Declaration of Independence, outlining grievances against the King of England, included "quartering large bodies of armed troops among us." So the amendment making that illegal was absolutely insisted upon by those ratifying the Constitution.
The separation of church and state is under assault today, but it was a serious requirement at the founding. It wasn't only the history of religious persecutions, although the Salem witch trials were still a recent event in colonial history. It was also a distaste for the British model of government support for an official church. The establishment clause is probably more famous now than ever, simply because of the comical reaction of Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell (R-CT) to hearing it, apparently for the first time. Her opponent, Chris Coons read it aloud. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". She answered in seeming disbelief, “That’s in the First Amendment?”
In 1801, a group of Baptists from Danbury, Connecticut wrote to President Thomas Jefferson demanding that he support a complete separation of church and state. He agreed with them. Some religious folks of today take issue with Jefferson's reply, insisting that James Madison was the real author of the Establishment clause and so Jefferson's interpretation is not authoritative. But Madison, in several writings, went as far as did Jefferson.
There was some later backlash against the Establishment clause. During the civil war, a group of Christian clerics proclaimed that the bloodshed was punishment for a godless Constitution. They proposed a substitute amendment embracing the idea of a Christian nation. It didn't go very far. The country was not ready to become officially Christian.
There are a variety of models for doing away with the wall of separation. Liberals, like me, are fond of bringing up theocracies along the lines of Iranian Ayatollahs or the former Taliban government of Afghanistan. But there are other models, ranging from European church supporting governments, with their official religions, or somewhat stricter theocracies that allow considerably more freedom than Iran or the Taliban. Saudi Arabia and Indonesia come to mind: Strict but allowing some freedom.
Those of us opposed to the establishment of an official Christian religion in the United States do not, for the most part, rely only on narrow legalisms or strict interpretation. We also regard it as immoral to require even indirect support that is not completely voluntary on matters of spiritual conscience. I do not want to be forced to support a religion with which I do not agree. Just as important, I oppose forcing others to support mine.
Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.
- - James Madison, July 10, 1822
Considered the chief architect of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights
We, the people of the United States recognizing the being and attributes of Almighty God, the Divine Authority of the Holy Scriptures, the law of God as the paramount rule, and Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior and Lord of all, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
- - Christian coalition of 11 denominations, February, 1863
Proposed Constitutional Amendment establishing a Christian Nation. The
group maintained that the bloodshed of the Civil War was God's
punishment on the United States for the omission of God from the
The Republican philosophy on Social Security varies from candidate to candidate. Rand Paul (R-KY) denies ever saying that Social Security is unconstitutional. He avoids directly saying it actually is constitutional. "I've never challenged constitutionality of Social Security" is as far as he will go. John Raese (R-WV) believes the minimum wage is unconstitutional but, like Rand Paul, refuses to say whether Social Security is also illegal.
Joe Miller (R-AK) is more direct. When asked by Bob Scieffer on CBS News' Face the Nation (pdf) if his attacks on Social Security are, perhaps, extreme, he began his answer with a constitutional observation.
... I would suggest to you that if one thing said the constitution is extreme then you would also think that the founders are extreme. We just simply want to get back to basics, get-- restore essentially the constitutional foundation of the country, and that means the federal government becoming less onerous, less involved in every-- basically every item of our lives.
Except for a few extreme ideologues, the constitutionality of Social Security has been considered settled. That has changed this year. Those who believe Social Security should be outlawed rest their case on the Tenth Amendment, which reserves to the states and to the people all powers not delegated to the federal government. Successive Supreme Courts have been reluctant to interpret the Tenth Amendment as expansively as do Tea Party candidates.
In 1937, the Supreme Court considered Roosevelt's Social Security program, still new and vigorously opposed by Republicans. It adopted an approach that intertwined the Tenth Amendment to the "promote the General Welfare" preamble to the Constitution and Article I allowing for "necessary and proper" laws. If the welfare being promoted was specific, it would not be allowed. Social Security was considered to be general enough to be part of "the general welfare." That is where it stood until this year.
The differences between those who say the program is a violation of the Tenth Amendment and those who will not say does not translate into a policy conflict. Both adopt a more moderate approach of phasing the program. Rand Paul joins Paul Ryan (R-WI) and others in pushing for private accounts. Sharron Angle (R-NV) prefers "personal accounts." Even constitutional opponents want to end an illegal program in an orderly way. Joe Miller agrees with this gradual approach: a transition rather than an immediate end. "... there does have to be some transition," he said to Schieffer, later adding:
We have to look at all the options that are out there, including privatization. It's something certainly that Bush championed in his first administration, something that Representative Ryan is looking at.
With this election, the transition from Social Security may finally be at hand.
A viral video making the rounds shows a Republican congressional candidate, Jesse Kelly (R-AZ), explaining the libertarian position on regulation that has become standard Republican policy. He is asked about a salmonella outbreak that led to a local recall of half a billion eggs. Two farms were involved, owned by the same family. Violations went back 2 decades.
Kelly actually gives as capable a defense of the anti-regulatory approach as can be made. Regulations are ineffective. Regulations are oppressive. Regulations are unneeded. "I know this, every portion of our economy that is heavily regulated doesn’t have fewer disasters, it has more," he says at one point. Earlier in the video, he explains the pervasive drag regulation impose. "You could literally go spit on the grass and get arrested by the federal government if you wanted to right now."
The traditional GOP theory has been that industries have a lot of incentive for self-regulation. If consumers find out a corporation is producing bad food and putting it on the market, they will stop purchasing from that corporation. If people die, profits will be hurt. So corporations, if left alone, will have all the incentive they need for public safety. As Senate candidate Rand Paul (R-KY) put it, "You'd try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don't, I'm thinking that no one will apply for those jobs."
If gigantic mining corporations start disconnecting methane detectors or if safety ladders are not installed, recruitment of workers will be more costly. If miners die, profits will be hurt. Same with other industries. So corporations, if left alone, will have all the incentive they need for safe working conditions.
That approach has been enforced by Republican administrations for a long time. As the Nixon administration to office, Alaska Governor Wally Hickel was nominated as Secretary of the Interior because of his pro-business, anti-environment stance, opposing “conservation for conservation’s sake.” He got in trouble for public statements on the virtues of sensible regulation of business. He put cleanup requirements on oil companies and was looking at more regulation of polluters. He told one oil group, “The right to produce is not the right to pollute.” He was fired over a letter to the President dissenting over the Vietnam war, but he was widely seen as already on his way out.
The self regulation of business reached its zenith during the last Bush administration. The hostility of regulators toward regulation became their primary job qualification. It was the perfect laboratory in which to test corporate self-regulation. Little kids following the instructions of mothers and the advice of Popeye, dutifully ate their spinach and then died. The administration had slashed food inspections by three quarters and the Dole Food Company did not experience a sufficient market incentive in the place of regulation. Company inspectors at the Peanut Corporation of America found batches of contaminated Peanut Butter in time to prevent people from getting ill. It was shipped anyway. 8 people died. Nestle was told they could refuse to allow FDA inspectors to examine their safety records. They did refuse, and 69 people got sick. The FDA warned parents to keep kids away from cookie dough. When Bush left office, 5000 people a year were dying.
On the video, would be Representative Jesse Kelly is asked how we are to be protected from contaminated food, since he wants to do away with regulation. He speaks for Republicans across the board. "That’s the thing, ma’am, it’s our job to protect ourselves. Because no one else is going to look out for your best interests except for you."
GOP policy on food safety: You and your kids are on your own.
I recognized the voice right away. She was someone I had been seriously interested in several months before, but she had backed off after a few dates. Now she was calling with bad news. Her son had just been killed in some sort of street dispute. Would I talk at his funeral?
That is how I came to face the crowded church. He and I had met as I was visiting his mom. He came home early and we began talking. It became quickly apparent this was not to be a friendly encounter. He had met people like me before and he made certain I knew he was not impressed.
Neither was I. I was not all that worried about any view of me held by an obvious street thug. I told the congregation, "I guess he had heard a little about me, just as I had about him. Because he asked about the recent break up of my family. Although his question did not seem to me to be a friendly one, I did tell him that the breakup had been sudden and unexpected, and had left me in an ocean of pain. Then suddenly he seemed to reach out to me in his own very blunt way, and I found myself being counseled in the painful process of acceptance and guided by this young man in the ways of personal responsibility for the future." He and I talked until dawn, about me then about him and his dreams of changing the direction of his life.
I spoke at his funeral about my initial impression. "We live in a universe that seems filled with racial prejudice and assumptions about youth and age. It is hard not to be affected. So perhaps it was because of some ugliness hidden within me. Or maybe it was because of our initial unfriendliness..." Later, I overheard two fellows talking, walking ahead of me. "He did too say he was a bigot. Said it right out loud." They were talking about me.
I thought about that conversation from years ago as I heard about Juan Williams and his sudden departure from NPR. Most of us, when we catch ourselves taking racial, religious, or other shortcuts in judging others, are a little ashamed. Inside, we know that attempting to color code evil is evil itself. Dialogue about our differences becomes difficult when we push into the same bucket those who are apologetic, those who are questioning, and those who are justifying and advancing the cause of bigotry.
Taken by itself, Williams' statement to Bill O'Reilly seems to fit in that last, evil, category. A very wise young woman says to me, "When a sentence starts with 'I'm not a bigot, but' you pretty much know it's going to end with something ugly." But context should rule, unless we want to endorse Peter Beinart's (and Fox's) shameful treatment of Shirley Sherrod. Williams says he had just corrected his O'Reilly for smearing all Muslims. Video is more ambiguous, and moments later he implied the defense used by bigots who will not own up. They are simply realistic. The hated group really IS evil.
He came closer soon after. "Yesterday NPR fired me for telling the truth." But he elaborated on that truth. "I revealed my fears to set up the case for not making rash judgments about people of any faith." He now works full time serving those who labor hard to advance faith based bigotry.
Racism is a lazy man's substitute for using good judgment ... Common sense becomes racism when skin color becomes a formula for figuring out who is a danger to me.
- - Juan Williams, in The New Republic, 1986
Well, actually, I hate to say this to you because I don’t want to get your ego going. But I think you’re right. I think, look, political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality.
I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous. Now, I remember also that when the Times Square bomber was at court, I think this was just last week. He said the war with Muslims, America's war is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don't think there's any way to get away from these facts.
- - Juan Williams on Fox News, October 18, 2010
Manifesto Joe of Texas Blues notes Christine O'Donnell's denial of consorting with Satan ("I am not a witch"), but is concerned that she consorts with Sharron Angle, sharing a similar level of familiarity with the Constitution of the United States..
- Extreme conservative FUNGAZI.COM is convinced that opinion polls are precisely accurate in measuring the opinions of those who are willing to devote time to answering the questions of polls.
To hear the Republicans tell it, from the second President Obama took his hand off the Bible taking the oath of office, everything that happened after that was his fault.
I'd like to see any of you get behind a locomotive going straight downhill at 200 miles an hour and stop it in 10 seconds.
- - President Bill Clinton, Oct 18, 2010
What we’re doing there is trying to be sensitive to Canadians ... We have an enormous amount of … Canadians wintering here in Florida. … That language is comfort language.
- - William Snyder (R-FL), October 10, 2010
On a bill to require immigrants to carry papers but primarily exempting
Canadians and Western Europeans. The bill to exempt mostly white,
non-Hispanic immigrants, is sponsored by Snyder and backed by
Rick Scott, Republican candidate for Florida governor
What I don't like from the president's administration is this sort of, "I'll put my boot heel on the throat of BP." I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business. I've heard nothing from BP about not paying for the spill. And I think it's part of this sort of blame game society in the sense that it's always got to be someone's fault instead of the fact that sometimes accidents happen.
- - Rand Paul (R-KY), candidate for US Senate, May 20, 2010
Carbon regulation, cap and trade, it's all just a money-control avenue. Some people say I'm extreme, but they said the John Birch Society was extreme, too.
- - Kelly Khuri, Tea Party activist, Indiana, October 21, 2010
It's a human foible, I suppose, this tendency to forget that the sensibilities of those we are used to being around may not be universal.
A decade and a half ago, Dick Armey, then a leader in the majority party of the House of Representatives, was having a taped conversation with reporters when the discussion turned to a prominent member of the opposition, an openly gay man. Armey called his colleague "Barney Fag."
Armey tried to get hold of the tape before it aired, but the comment became famous. People who had never heard of the Republican leader quickly knew him as a laughably inept bigot. He tried to laugh it off himself, saying the comment was a slip of the tongue, a bit of unfortunate misarticulation, "trouble with alliteration" as he put it.
People often have fun with other people's names. It's a harmless pastime, usually as inoffensive as could be. If some descendant of Aaron Burr, in a fit of unwise admiration, named his first born after me, the young lad would go through life as Burr Burr. Ha ha ha. Okay, it's usually boring. "Burr, it's cold," says an occasional new acquaintance. I don't like to embarrass erstwhile friends, so I chuckle along. "Gosh, I've never heard that one." And I'm sure Barney Frank had heard the slippery misarticulated alliteration many times.
It was clearly unintended but it was not entirely innocent. Frank's speculation was that it was said out of habit, the result of hanging with the wrong crowd, folks who appreciated bigoted humor. "I turned to my own expert, my mother," said Frank, "who reports that in 59 years of marriage, no one ever introduced her as Elsie Fag."
Not every damaging slur is unintended. Everyone-will-know-it's-a-harmless-joke is a conditioned response. The "everyone" is our circle of friends, the folks we engage in conversation every day, the people whose reactions teach us by the minute what is acceptable. We project "everyone" onto the larger world. Everyone knows it's inoffensive.
And so it was that a local Republican chair emailed to dozens of friends the everyone-knows-it's-harmless message about putting his pet on welfare because "my Dog is black, unemployed, lazy, can't speak English and has no frigging clue who his Daddy is." He was genuinely surprised that at least one recipient didn't laugh. It's the latest in what has become a semi-monthly event, Republicans apologizing for innocently repeated racism.
Not all Republicans appreciated the humor. One publicly condemned it. But another official tells an interviewer the incident was blown out of proportion. Still another defends what happened. The GOP chair sent the message as "he was first getting familiar with the Internet." The defender assures the public the unfortunate comedian is "not a racist."
And one more innocent, bewildered, non-racist humorist resigns from the party that is about to take over both houses of Congress.
The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are.
- - Kevin Phillips, adviser to President Nixon, May 17, 1970
Witnesses sometimes plead the Fifth Amendment right on television. Boy do they ever look guilty! "On the advice of council I respectfully decline to answer on the grounds ..." all together now, "it may tend to incriminate me." Well, if your answer would incriminate you, doesn't that make you guilty? Common sense. Except, perhaps, not always.
Attorneys know any set of answers in a hostile environment can lead to contradictions making a witness legally vulnerable. One answer can waive the right for other questions. So lawyers tend to gently advice their clients that if they utter a single word, their heads will be blown clean off.
But now candidates for elective office are adopting the same standard. Prospective Senator Linda McMahon, (R-CN) promised to cut the federal budget deeply and irrevocably. That's a profound pledge, since a lot of the budget goes to defense and entitlements. "I can certainly tell you I'm not adverse (she probably meant averse) to talking in the right time or forum about what we need to do relative to our entitlements," she said. So she was asked about whether she would join with other Republicans to slash Social Security benefits. She went into hostile witness mode: "I just don't believe that the campaign trail is the right place to talk about that."
The idea that candidates must never talk about issues like how they plan to go about slashing Social Security is ... well ... novel.
Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ) has become well known for her weird meltdown during a televised debate. She paused for so long at her closing statement, viewers must have thought their cable companies had frozen the signal. After the debate, The Standard kicked in. She was asked about statements concerning Mexican immigrants. She had claimed Mexicans were prowling, looking for victims to take into the desert to behead. It was a startling way to promote tourism, especially since the desert beheadings were fictional. When asked about the hysterical statements, she fled into an empty room.
Would-be Governor Carl Paladino (R-NY) threatened a reporter for asking hard questions. Senatorial candidate Joe Miller (R-AK), after declaring his past indiscretions to be out of bounds, actually had his staff "arrest" a reporter, handcuffing the journalist until he was rescued by police.
Carly Fiorina (R-CA), who hopes to become Senator Fiorina was in presumably friendly territory on Fox News. But reporter Chris Wallace finally became frustrated at her non-answers on how she would slash Social Security and other programs. "Where are you going to cut entitlements? What benefits are you going to cut? What eligibilities are you going to change?" Her answer was to call it a "typical political question."
And there you have the key to interviewing candidates this year. If questions are not sufficiently non-political and adequately unusual, politicians will decline to answer on the grounds... you know the rest.