Friday, April 8, 2011

Tea Party Aims, Fires, Yet Misses their Shots at Fort Sumter

I'm not making this up! Sometimes life and history just roll around each other to try to teach us something. So, what is it? It looks like we have a budget deal. So our Union remains purple instead of fragmented into red and blue.

One of the things that would be affected next Tuesday if there is were to be a government shut-down is the commemoration of the first shots at Ft. Sumter that opened the Civil War 150 years ago. Before the right wingers out there go all crazy on me trying to argue the Civil War was not about slavery but the tariff and tax tyranny of Lincoln and his invading armies, read this excellent post by a fellow blogger. Yes, the Civil War was principally about the preservation and expansion of slavery. And the first shots were fired by individuals in the State of South Carolina at a United States Fort in the middle of Charleston Harbor. Principally due to Abraham Lincoln, this nation was able to have a "new birth of freedom" as it abolished slavery and strengthened the Constitutional Union that has helped us all to be free as we still, for the most part, enjoy our liberty and prosper in the greatest nation on earth!

So what's the connection between the tea party and the firing on Ft. Sumter? I don't think the tea partiers are racist. And they certainly aren't interested in re-instituting slavery. And I hope they don't really want to start a new Civil War or Revolution against taxation and the Constitutional Union. But there is a very clear cultural conflict going on right now. And it is not new. I think it is part of the same issue that Lincoln identified in the debates with Douglas. That is, the divine right of Kings. The doctrine that says, "you work and I'll eat the bread." Lincoln related it to slavery in the sense that any man could be a king of his own plantation controlling lives, creating wealth, exercising, ahem, droit du seigneur with his African women, etc. It is nice and may be tempting to have that one-up-manship on a whole class of people.

Note the word "divine" in that "divine right of kings." And that truly was a justification for the tyranny of royalty throughout the ages relying on the power of a church or priests with money and power. It was a scratch-my-royal-purple-robes, I'll scratch your cassock-to-get-you-red-robes mutual relationship.  Religion was also used as a justification for slavery relying on some of the neutral statements about slavery in the Bible. One of the most beautiful things about our Constitution is that it prohibits a state sponsored or supported religion. Rather, there is separation between the two and freedom of conscience for all.

Now, the big leap. And I know I'll probably get in trouble for this, but it is undisputed history that the Republican and Democratic Parties had a clear and intentional geographic switch in the 1960s. Before Nixon implemented the Southern Strategy, the whites in the South were overwhelmingly of the Democratic Party. And they used their senatorial prerogatives to prevent change to their culture and laws of segregation. Also, the Democratic Party switched to become a champion of African Americans following the idealism built by the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr., and pushed forward with their tragic deaths and the amazing leadership of Lyndon Johnson in going against his southern senatorial colleagues to promote civil rights.

This civil rights switch set off a cultural war on the right, now shifting from Democratic to Republican power, to fight - not on race, because after the Kennedy and King martyrdoms and the progress of the Civil Rights Movement, it became overwhelmingly politically and culturally prohibited to be considered a racist. (Well, once people and even George Wallace himself, got over his segregationist grand-standing). The new issues shifted from race to basic cultural issues. The "freedoms" in life-styles, many of which included a "freer" view and practice of sex, drugs (and yeah, rock & roll), were not comfortable to the political right. So they didn't have to blame it on race, but in very general terms, the American culture and generations split on these issues. And there were some hedonistic excesses on the left. And sometimes, the Democrats got a little carried away too, pushing quotas at least in party influence in the 1970s of every conceivable progressively identified "minority" interest. (I'm reminded of a vivid scene described in one of the books on the Kennedys I read with a surviving, yet inebriated Teddy in the aisle of a plane back from Alaska, with raised fist shouting, "Eskimo Power!" as he in self-parody was looking for some cause to champion).

And this is where it gets a little odd. I have been making broad, general characterizations, but I think they hold true for the most part with lots of variety and even incongruent exceptions. The reason why I concede that so readily is because I'm a prime example of incongruencies. Here I am faithfully committed to a fairly conservative religious tradition and cultural practices, yet I seem, somehow, to have sympathies for those on the "blue state" side of the culture and political wars.

And I don't want to be contentious with either side as I also readily admit that my "blue" sympathies are in large part a result of my rebellion against the negative side of the "red." I guess putting up an example might help unless I get accused of setting up a "straw woman." And that example is none other than tea party darling, Sarah Palin. Yeah. She really bothers me for the reasons I set out in that link on her name.

My basic political philosophy is that the purpose of government is to allow humans to work together for the common good providing equal opportunities and treatment for all. While we cannot guarantee equal results, we can promote equal rights. I fall far short of my religious and political ideas, but those are the stars I have tried to hitch to.

I am well aware that on the conservative side many feel that liberalism in its idealistic effort to equalize opportunity for the benefit of all, may trample on individual rights of those who simply want to be left alone - "forced" to do good, instead of being "free" to do so. But we live in an imperfect world. And we live in a world where those with power have tended to want to continue their power. Thus, the Southern Strategy switch of the white southerners to the Republican Party was a clear reaction not just to the cultural changes, but the Civil Rights Act and that liberal "forcing" to be good that they perceived. Some may have felt that by raising formerly subordinate African Americans to equal status, the African Americans could even, somehow, jump ahead and then there would be attempts of role-reversal and the former subordinate culture taking power from and repressing the former white, more powerful culture. And a lot of this had buzz words of political philosophy attached as evidenced by the conspiracy theorists on the far right who equated civil rights with communist infiltration. (See, Skousen, Glenn Beck's philosophical hero).

I also worry that the fear of that kind may now be directed towards Hispanics and other minorities. Our immigration laws and policies are severely flawed. Traditionally in our history, the Hispanics have been the cheap labor Like "Pancho" who worked at the lumber company with me doing general work in 1976. He would disappear for a time, only to reappear some weeks later. The bosses figured "La Migra" was after him but he kept coming back. And they did nothing. Anyway, in more recent times with more immigration, legal and otherwise, and a high birth rate, the Hispanic community is so much more prevalent and engaged in commerce and society. Some who worry about them becoming more dominant in political and economic power might fear that they could end up as a disadvantaged minority as the Hispanics once were. And we hear about people fearing for "American" culture being overrun and how immigrants should adapt language and culture  to conform to "us" (whoever "we" are) in language and culture. (Maybe it's those "real Americans" Palin keeps talking about.)

And now we have a President who is so different than any we have had before. While it is not outright racism, I think there is a sense, that those who "want their country back" are afraid of the change they see when a moderate progressive like the President has power that had always been held by someone more like those people who gather in those rallies. We all know that the tea party rise was in part clear animosity towards the President. They can say all they want that it was to fight the evil of healthcare socialism, but he ended up with nothing more than the same framework Romney had in Massachusetts and many conservatives and Republicans had proposed over the years, some in response to Hillarycare. And they can say all they want about the need for reigning in government spending and how much Obama has spent. (But they made not a peep during W Bush's fiscal extravagance.) And TARP made money, the auto bailout saved American industry and almost paid for itself, and we survived the worst economic threat since the Great Depression.

In this last election the Democratic supporters were demoralized and suppressed by the President's inability to solve all the problems and fulfill all the promises, even with some movement in the right direction in nearly every area. So the motivated tea party base went all out for a new Republican House. And here we are on the verge of a deal on the budget. There has been much movement and compromise coming from the Democratic side slashing at spending. But something much more important is coming from the tea party side. An actual agreement - with the enemy! And by the common ground of Compromise - one of their most feared and detested words. Maybe they will learn the principle by which our government of, by, and for the people operates. Maybe they will learn that they can't always be or aspire to be the top group to eat the bread of another's labor. Maybe they'll understand that all that most on the progressive side of middle want is a fair chance for everybody. Maybe they'll stop firing the shots that break apart our purple union to the red and blue fringes. Maybe they won't learn anything. But that's OK. A lot more of us are willing to work on finding the common ground and preserving our Union. God Bless these United States!

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