SUMMERTIME... AND THE PUNDITRY IS EASY
Monday, August 10, 2009
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
OK... the cook has now finished his meal... while we're waiting for dessert and while the coffee is brewing, let's continue our discussion of the American political scene now, during this Summer of "aught-nine" (we're fast running out of days, weeks and months in which to use the old-fashioned phrase "aught-something" to describe the year, so I just had to do it this time round!):
We've already covered that, regardless of what happens in this Fall's New Jersey Gubernatorial Election, the key window into potential Republican Party US resurgence (or lack thereof) is the concomitant Gubernatorial Election in Virginia, which will be a far better barometer of GOP prospects (as well as Democrats' political control) going into the 2010 Midterm Elections. I also told you that, all things being equal (which, of course, they never ever are!-- which is precisely why I wrote, in the second part of this series of Commentaries, that I ever reserve the right, if only because of the ever-present potential for things in future that cannot now be at all foreseen, to tell you- say, a year from now- something completely different than what I am now typing!).
Now let's turn to President Barack Obama's Democrats and take a look at the 2010 prospects of the Party of the People (a sobriquet which, to most Democrats and liberals in general, is a badge of honor and, to most Republicans and conservatives overall, one that- frankly- smacks of so called "People's Republic"s):
Put another way, we have to address the question 'What could possibly really trip up the Democrats?'
No, it's not Sonia Sotomayor, regardless of her eventual jurisprudential position as it emerges from her future written opinions as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court! Just as was the case with then-President Bill Clinton's nomination of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, arguably the most "liberal" (if you will, though I personally disdain applying political labels to Jurisprudence, since doing so is so misleading [yet, largely because it is so misleading, it seems to work rather well as a tool in election campaigns]) Supreme Court Justice, the Republicans in the United States Senate pretty much withheld their most vehement political obstructionism (that is, Bill Clinton got one-- but the message from the Grand Old Party- then, as now, the minority in the Senate- was that he had better be most careful with any further Supreme Court appointments [thus, Clinton nominated the somewhat more moderate Stephen Breyer next time round]), President Obama has, in essence, gotten his one "pass"- his one clear chance to put onto the Nation's High Court a judge he feels most strongly reflects his own constitutional philosophy...
should there be a next time for Obama to name someone to the Supreme Court, however-- well-- he best be most careful!... so say at least most of the Senate's Republicans.
No, as was also the case with Bill Clinton, the one issue- more than any other- that can give Republicans hope and provide them with more than a little "light at the end of the tunnel" going into 2010, not to also mention 2012, is...
yes, indeedy... HEALTH CARE!
Again, all we need do is look back at fairly recent history: in the Fall of 1993, President Clinton (who, like Barack Obama, had campaigned for the Presidency on the need for something at least approaching universal health care) spoke before a Joint Session of Congress- and, by extension, to the American People via television, of course- urging the national adoption of "health security, health care that can never be taken away, health care that is always there" in terms not all that different from those most recently intoned by President Obama, noting that it was time to "fix" the "badly broken" health care system and also noting (again, much like Obama) that the debate over Health Care in America was of long-standing and that this debate had gone on far too long with too little result.
So, what happened to such high-minded intentions on the part of the then-Administration? Even though a bill was introduced but some two months after Bill Clinton's speech, it was well fought over in the halls of Congress (as well as "out in the streets" during "town meetings" on the issue): while many liberals railed against it as not going nearly far enough, it was to be the strong opposition of conservatives and libertarians (not to mention the heavy weight of both the medical profession and commercial health insurers) that would end up defeating it.
In the late Summer of 1994, the Democratic leadership in the Senate attempted one last compromise version of the Clinton health care plan, one that delayed full implementation of many of its more controversial provisions, but it went nowhere (gutted, actually, by feuding Democrats in Congress [after all, that Party had the votes!]-- though, ever after, Democrats would try to pin the blame for failure on the Republicans alone). Ironically, for their part and at just about the same time, the Republicans- by then campaigning in the Midterm Elections of that year and led by Republican House whip Newt Gingrich- issued their famous "Contract with America" (indeed, now-former Speaker Gingrich has recently called upon Republicans to issue a second such "Contract with America" going into 2010): interestingly, nowhere in the original "Contract" was national health care at all emphasized, yet it is clear that opposition to the Clinton health care plan, in whatever form it was offered, further fueled an overarching fear, among the voters, of the lack of what the Contract with America itself called "fiscal responsibility" in "an out- of-control Congress".
And "fear" here is, indeed, the operative word!
For, although President Franklin Delano Roosevelt started off his Presidency telling a Nation he believed asks for action, and action now that the only thing we have to Fear itself, noted broadcast news commentator Edward R. Murrow would opine, less than two decades later, that [i]t seems the only way to induce action in this country is through the creation of fear and hysteria. Doubtless, the more usual political temperature of the United States most of the time lies somewhere in between "ask[ing] for action now" and "creating fear and hysteria": nevertheless, "Fear itself" is, often enough, a most effective political motivator!
In the first part of this series of Commentaries, I have already noted the following:
Truth be told, there are quite a lot of ticked-off, and frightened, Bible-readin' 'n' Gun-totin' White people out there in "Middle America" (indeed, conservative pundit, and former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Pat Buchanan has recently suggested that the GOP should utilize Racial Politics more, not less, in their efforts to rebuild the Party in the wake of 2008)
I, thereafter, added that it is not so beyond the realm of understanding to see why what we might term "the Buchanan option" may so prove attractive to at least some within today's Republican Party US (the current GOP chair being an African-American notwithstanding).
In general, Republicans have been far better at cultivating desire for security overall than Democrats: indeed, there is a political adage of long-standing, applicable to National Elections here in America, to the effect that "if the prevailing political issues involve Economic Progress, Democrats usually have the advantage; if the overriding issues affect Personal Security, however, advantage goes to the Republicans": this may not always be true, but it is true enough often enough! And, despite the 2008 Election seeming to have gone the way it did primarily because the American Economy seemed to be so badly tanking at the time voters went to the polls, Americans have become- throughout my own now over half a century on this planet- more and more obsessed with personal security, including security from interference in personal affairs (itself including health care decisions) by a seemingly distant government.
It is a concern as old as the American Republic itself; indeed, it is even somewhat older-- as one A.C. McLaughlin, writing a monograph entitled Some Important Aspects of the American Revolution just over a century ago now for the voluminous Historians' History of the World put it:
The British, while willing to admit the right of the colonial legislatures to exist on sufferance, and apparently not willing to snuff them out altogether, acted nevertheless as if the assemblies were at any moment subject to be prorogued, dissolved, chided or put out of existence altogether at the behest of the men at Westminster. The gist of the British statement- for it can hardly be called argument- was that the English empire was so constituted that all political power resided at the centre; if the colonial assemblies were to exist at all, they existed only at the sufferance of Parliament. In one way or another the colonists protested against this theory of the [British] imperial system; they did not at first deny the authority of Parliament over them, but they did deny that such authority included certain rights, and especially the right to tax them without their consent. According to the American theory, therefore, even at the beginning, the British Empire was composed of integral parts, and each had, in some respects at least, the right of self-control unaffected by the law of the central legislature; each had the right to tax itself.
Thus did the American colonists seek to throw (and were, ultimately, successful at so throwing) off the yoke of British rule; problem was, again to quote Mr. McLaughlin: American leaders- confronted continually by the British assertion that to deny the power to tax was in logic to deny the authority of Parliament itself- came to the point of so asserting that Parliament had no authority at all within the colonies, that the bond of connection between Great Britain and America was the King, and that the British Empire had at least fourteen "parliaments" , one in Europe and thirteen across the Atlantic.
Therefore, once the yoke had been thrown off, the thirteen now- "free and independent" "parliaments"-become-State legislatures on this side of the Atlantic were left to entreat with- or, for that matter, against- one another "higgledy-piggledy" with the Continental Congress left to be, under the Articles of Confederation, something of a "coordinating committee" with little power to so coordinate!
Thus, the need for a "more perfect Union" for the hitherto rather misnamed United States of America, embodied by the Federal Constitution of 1787. While much is made of the horizontal "Separation of Powers" betwixt Legislature, Executive and Judiciary enshrined within that document (here conveniently forgetting that such Separation of Powers was already found in at least some of the State Constitutions adopted in the aftermath of Independence more than a decade before the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia), little is said of the vertical what we might term "Separation of Sovereignties" that same document also so well enshrines.
The Framers of the Federal Constitution were confronted with answering a unique question: how to come up with what would, in effect, be an American-made version of the British imperial system without the resultant structure becoming a homegrown "British Empire" with all the "bad" against which the Americans had so recently fought?
The solution was to, among other things, legitimize three levels of Sovereignty: the Federal Government, the States (including, by extension, its local governments- which are creatures of the State and, therefore, not sovereign) and the People as the foundation (hence, for example, the establishment and ordination of the Federal Constitution by "We, the People"). Just as the three branches of Government were to- horizontally, within the same level of governance- "check and balance" one another, likewise the three levels of Sovereignty were to do the same: the States would, through whatever powers they did not give up to the Federal Government, rein in the Feds; the Feds, meanwhile, would- through the Federal Constitution (and its own laws and treaties with other Nations [States having given up the right to foreign policy]) being "the Supreme Law of the Land"- rein in the States; and the People, who would have dual citizenship (American citizenship, yes; but also the citizenship of their own respective States), would rein in both.
However, the Framers- however well intentioned- could not ever completely rid their new Federal system of the inherent tension inherited from the years of English-become-British governance. To restate McLaughlin- The British... acted... as if the [colonial] assemblies were at any moment subject to be prorogued, dissolved, chided or put out of existence altogether at the behest of the men at Westminster; while the Constitution of the United States specifically protects the very existence of State Legislatures, a concept which directly evolved out of the colonial assemblies (thus, these can be neither prorogued, dissolved or put out of existence altogether), these can be chided, and certainly run the risk of being outright ignored, by elements of the Federal Government: therefore, one can fairly replace the word "British" in McLaughlin as quoted in this paragraph with "Feds", replace the phrase "men at Westminster" with the phrase "men and women in Washington" and, subject to the caveats seen earlier in this very paragraph, one can fairly discern a situation ever lurking within American governance to this very day!
Once again, allow me to restate McLaughlin, where he wrote that [a]ccording to the American theory... even at the beginning, the British Empire was composed of integral parts, and each had, in some respects at least, the right of self-control unaffected by the law of the central legislature; each had the right to tax itself. Change "the British Empire" in the italicized to "the United States of America" and, once again, one can easily discern an inherent tension within the American system of government not so easily gotten away from, even now nearly two and a quarter centuries after the Federal Constitution was originally drafted!
Hence, the popularity of so called "Tea Parties" across the country- where organized protests (most allegedly nonpartisan, though they clearly so benefit the Republicans) of ordinary citizens gather to decry what the protesters see as the overreach of the Federal Government. Beyond a State's "right to tax itself", however, and despite the discrediting of the more old-fashioned premises of "State's Rights" in the wake of the now-more than half century old battle over Civil Rights for persons of color that culminated in Federal legislation against Racial Discrimination in many corners of American society, there is still the innate sense that the States (and even their Civil Divisions: counties or equivalent and administrative units below the county level [such as townships and municipalities]) are the very "integral parts" of the United States, indeed, having "in some respects at least, the right of self-control unaffected by the law of the central legislature".
The very key to the Framers' vertical Separation of Sovereignties (as I have termed it) was the office of President of the United States- effectively, an (indirectly) elected (British-style) "King" (or, perhaps someday now, "Queen") functioning as his (or her) own "prime Minister"-- that is, the President would be the political, as well as the ceremonial, Executive. The President was to be- and still is- principally ultimately answerable to the American People as a whole, as opposed to directly to Congress (thus, even when Congress and the Presidency is controlled by the same political Party, the relationship between the two can become adversarial but, absent the next Presidential Election, Congress cannot control the Administration: in a parliamentary system, on the other hand, once the political executive has lost the "confidence" of the Legislature, the Government [that is, the Administration] "falls" and either a new Government is put together that can gain the support of the current Legislature or, more usually, it is time for elections for a whole new Legislature, the political makeup of which will thereafter determine the new Government/Administration... not so here in America, however!)
But, as a result, where it is the President him(or her)self- whose office includes being (as many politicians during the early days of the Federal Republic themselves so strongly felt) "the Guarantor and Protector of the Liberties" of the People- who is seen as so overreaching, the fear of such "overreach" amongst those who so see becomes personalized and eventually, yes, simply personal. The controversies over Health Care are, therefore, merely symptoms of an underlying fear (as was also the case 16 years ago, during the first several months of Bill Clinton's Administration).
This fear is that the Federal Government in general- and the Obama Administration in particular- is, in fact, now on the verge of, for all intents and purposes, reducing the States of the American Union to mere administrative units (Federal Constitution [Tenth Amendment of same] or no): Health Care "Reform", Bailouts of financial institutions and the automotive industry, etc. only serve to both fuel and focus this fear-- a fear, no matter how unreasonable it may actually be, which the Democrats underestimate at their own potential political peril, just as they had so underestimated back in 1993 into 1994, leading directly to the victory of the "Contract with America" Republicans. Such an underestimation could very well cause a significant shift in the political balance of Congress come the 2010 Midterm Elections, especially in the U.S. House of Representatives which (pretty much by very constitutional design), far more than the U.S. Senate, reflects what the Founding Fathers' generation referred to as "the passions of the People" (which is why I, for one, won't even hazard so much as the slightest guess- at this time- as to how that might turn out in a little less than a year and a quarter now!)
But all of this depends mostly on how well the Republican Party US walks a political "tightrope" and, to understand this "tightrope", one has to also look at the "infrastructure" of the fear the GOP might yet so exploit (where the "superstructure" is disagreement over specific issues related to such "Federal overreach"- health care, etc.): for beneath this fear, however much justified or not, of an adverse impact adoption of various and sundry Obama Administration policies might yet have upon the political and legal- even the constitutional- prerogatives (that is to say: powers) of the States and local governments there is also a concomitant fear of adverse impact upon personal prerogatives (meaning: rights and privileges).
As I've already opined: the People have the constitutional responsibility to keep the Federal Government from adversely impacting upon their respective States, yes (just as they also have the concomitant responsibility to keep the governments of their States- and its localities- from adversely impinging upon whatever rights and privileges they might have as United States citizens, thereby keeping the States themselves from too much interfering with the rightful powers of the Federal Government)- but the People also have the responsibility, as the ultimate Sovereign here in America, to keep Government (whether State or Federal) from adversely impacting upon themselves! But different persons, with differing political philosophies and objectives, will- obviously- differ when it comes to whether and when to do so and, if so, just how this is to actually be done (it's all called Politics, baby!), yet this does not alter the fact that one has to take a good, hard look at deeper, personal "Fear itself" that has prevailed amongst a rather large proportion of the American population ever since Barack Obama's election to the Presidency now more than nine months ago.
For instance, I have been receiving- over the past few months- numerous e-mails containing an "Open Letter to President Obama": most of these e-mails have this letter as having originated with a 4th grade teacher in the Midwest (though my check of reliable sources as to such things suggest that, while she had forwarded to quite a number of people, she herself was not the author and had merely forwarded something which had been forwarded to her); I have also seen it as having been attributed to a registered nurse in the South (likewise, and for the same reason, likely not the original author). The wording of this "Open Letter" is exactly the same in all of these forwardings I have received and the wide variety of persons from whom I have received this suggests it not only has wide circulation via the Internet but also quite a bit of support (ever keeping in mind the caveat that, just because someone forwards something with which they agree in general, it does not necessarily mean that they agree with every particular: unless someone writes something under their own name [as I myself do in these Commentaries for The Green Papers], one cannot be completely certain that someone else deciding to, in effect, do the cyberspace version of 'Hey! You should read this!' has, thereby, signified agreement with every single jot and tittle of what has been written).
One particular paragraph of what was written as part of the aforementioned "Open Letter" to our current President most struck me-- the text of this paragraph reads as follows:
Where do you get off telling a Muslim country that the United States does not consider itself a Christian country? Have you not read the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the United States?This country was founded on Judeo-Christian ethics and the principles governing this country, at least until you came along, come directly from this heritage.
The rhetorical question that makes up the first sentence quoted above is rather easily dispensed with by me (for instance, please see my Commentary of 9 February 2007): thus, I take out my fly swatter and-- WHAP!-- the fly now lies motionless.
Meanwhile, the second rhetorical question has, likewise, already been addressed by me on this very website, but I'll quickly summarize my own response to it rather than send the reader all over the place having to click too many links to other pages here on The Green Papers:
First of all, "God" (or, for that matter, any equivalent) is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution of the United States (and, contrary to popular belief, the phrase "So help me God" is not part of the requisite Oath of Office for President of the United States as stated in Article II, Section 1, clause 8); the only even quasi-religious reference in the entire Federal Constitution is in the final Attestation at the end of the document where it notes that the Constitution was "done" in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven but, here, the "year of our Lord" is merely a device differentiating the chronological system then in use from any and all other such systems (in other words: the Framers of the Constitution very well knew the date the final draft of the document was formally approved by the Convention in Philadelphia happened to be 17 September AD 1787 and not, say, the 4th day of Tishri of the year 5548 in the Jewish Calendar [and I dare say that the former would have been far more intelligible to the average American of the time, as a date to which he could easily relate, than the latter!]).
Secondly, as to the Declaration of Independence: yes, it does refer to Americans as being one people... assum[ing]... the separate and equal station to which the laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them and goes on to note, as one of its "self evident Truths" that all men... created equal... are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, but phrases such as these, referring to "Nature's God" and "their Creator" are clearly being stated in the general sense, and not at all in the particular.
For the document does not specifically claim that only men of, say, Anglo-Saxon descent or those who might be Americans (whatever that might have meant at the time, let alone what it might mean today) or men of Western Civilization (however defined, in either 1776 or 2009) alone are so "created equal"; rather, it claims (and as a self-evident Truth, no less!: that is, a fact that need not be placed in evidence [an axiom not requiring proof] simply because it is a truth, indeed, so self-evident- meaning, manifest or obvious) that all men (we today would say "all persons" without reference to gender, although it should be quite clear from a fair reading within context that the term "men" here was referring to all human beings in any event) everywhere are, in terms of their legal relationship to one another (and however much this might turn out to be more theory as opposed to actual practice, depending on where on Earth- and when in Time- a person might be), "equal" and that all peoples, therefore, have a right to a "separate and equal station" under "the laws of Nature and of Nature's God" (thus, all peoples are- if only in their legal relationship- also "equal"), the very right the American colonists themselves were so claiming through the very act of so declaring Independence!
Simply put: the 13 United Colonies- here declaring themselves to be "free and independent" States- were formally claiming they had just as much right as any other polity to assume their rightful place amongst the Nations of the World and, further, that they were doing so on the premise (presented as a "self-evident Truth") that equality of the individual required- nay, demanded- that a society made up of such individuals needed to be able to, themselves, determine how best to erect just such a "separate and equal" Nation-State (or- since, theoretically, it was the 13 original States for whom independence was here being declared- such "separate and equal" Nation-States). But there was absolutely no specific reference whatsoever in said passages within the Declaration to the One doing the "endowing of certain unalienable Rights" as being solely a Christian Creator; meanwhile, for instance, wouldn't the Allah of Islam be "Nature's God" as far as Muslims are concerned?
After all, the opening verse of Sura 96 of the Qur'an itself (in Muslim tradition, this is believed to be the very first revelation to the prophet Muhammad) commands one to
Read! in the name of your Lord who created, created Man from a clot.
Therefore, is not Allah a Muslim's Creator?- thus, that very One who has, thereby, endowed a Muslim here in America (or, for that matter, elsewhere) with these very same "unalienable Rights"? The answer to this question certainly must be "Yes" if this "truth" of Creator-endowed Rights is, indeed, so "self-evident"; any other interpretation of such a self-evident Truth is completely devoid of logical sense--
put another way: "what's good for the goose is good for the gander"!
And, by the way, how many of those who so vehemently profess that the United States of America is, indeed, a "Christian Nation" and who, as the author of the piece from which I quoted earlier (whoever it might really be) has done, so regularly cite something called "Judeo-Christian" ethics as the "heritage" from which "come directly" the "principles governing this country", know (let alone even care) that mainstream Islam teaches that the Holy Bible itself is divinely inspired?
Allah! There is no God but Him- the Living, the Eternal;
The above-quoted passage opens with what can easily be discerned to be an Islamic version of the Sh'ma (the words that every devout Jew is expected to say as death finally comes upon him or her)- Hear O Israel! The LORD is one God, only the LORD (Deuteronomy 6:4)- and ends with something rather akin to that portion of the 6th Article of the Anglican (Episcopalian) 39 ARTICLES OF RELIGION which treats of what Protestant Christians refer to as the "Apocrypha", those "extra books" outside the Protestants' Old Testament which- per this particular Article of Religion- the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners but yet doth not apply them to establish any doctrine.
Therefore, a fair- not to mention logical (that is, altogether reasonable)- reading of the passage from the Qur'an I have just quoted implies that the Old and New Testaments are to be considered, by Muslims, to be as godly as the Qu'ran itself, save for the fact that the Qur'an (along with such as the Hadith- meaning "traditions"- which guide the form[s] of Muslim worship and associated ritual, etc.)- again: only for Muslims, of course- trumps what can properly be referred to as the Judeo-Christian Scriptures (meaning, the Christian Holy Bible). This, however, is not, in its essentials, all that different in kind from the Christian notion that the New Testament trumps the Old!
In his book (written a decade before the Turn of the Last Century) The Seat of Authority in Religion, James Martineau noted that it was reserved for the Apostle [Martineau is here referring to Paul] to treat the ancient "oracles of God" as by no means final, to assume that the Revelation of one age might be the superstition of another... The Apostle was accused of apostasy from revealed religion, because he put the whole Mosaic economy into a parenthesis and resumed the world's History as if it were not there. He was denounced as a latitudinarian, because he let the Pagan come to the living God without asking leave of the Jew and taking Zion by the way. He was set down as a "mere Theist", because he said that Abraham and the pious men of old times had direct relations with the Most High, and so might we have. And he was charged with bare negative thinking, because this was the chief burthen of his Gospel- that the divine light was impartial. the divine worship spiritual, and regenerate humanity the inmost resort of the divine glory.
Martineau's point is that the Apostle Paul- originally a devout Jew, after all- felt perfectly free to, where necessary, outright ignore the dictates of Torah (Jewish Law = Martineau's "Mosaic economy") in the course of promoting his Gospel on the very grounds that "the Revelation of one age might be the superstition of another": and the very essence of that Free Exercise of Religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is ever thus! Therefore, as per those portions of Sura 3 of the Qur'an I have quoted above, Islam (for "these Scriptures" referred therein is clearly the Qur'an itself) has, on the very same basis, chosen to, where necessary, ignore both Torah and Gospel... yet, at the same time: just as the Christian believes the New Testament is the very "fulfillment" of the Jewish Scriptures that is his or her Old Testament, the Muslim is to see the Qur'an as "confirming" both Torah and Gospel. Meanwhile, the Christian is certainly free to demur from the Muslim's position and to not at all accept the Qur'an as divine Writ just as the Jew is free to demur from Christian doctrine and not at all accept the New Testament as such.
None of this, however, at all precludes a Muslim here in America from claiming the same "unalienable Rights" "endowed by [his or her] Creator" that may be claimed by any Jew or Christian (or, for that matter, Hindu or Buddhist, Atheist or Agnostic). Liberty, indeed, knows no Religion, regardless of what those who drafted these fundamental "charters of American Liberty" might- or might not- have been actually thinking at the time; instead, Liberty is merely what is always has been: "ordered Freedom" (simply, the ability of a human being to be free within reasonable, and as minimal as possible, parameters so as not to adversely impinge upon the Liberty of others) or, as the U.S. Supreme Court Opinion in the case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey [505 U.S. 833 (1992)] put it: [a]t the heart of Liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.
Moral Absolutists (so called and largely self-proclaimed), on either side of the ideological divide (and, by the way [and despite the co-opting of Moralism here in America by those on the Right]: yes, there are such self-proclaimed "Moral Absolutists" on the Left as well), don't much like this position: they derisively (if various blogs and other Internet sources are any fair sampling) refer to the passage from the Casey Opinion as "the Mystery passage" and they speak, and write, of such a sentiment as one denying a higher standard that should ever apply: a transcendent "law beyond the Law".
But the province of the Judiciary- as well as, for that matter, the other two branches of Government here in the United States (and on whatever level)- is, most assuredly, not the Declaration's "laws of Nature and of Nature's God" but rather "the Law"-- meaning, ordinary secular Law: whatever such "law beyond the Law" might be, it is certainly not to be adjudicated through the political system!
So where exactly is "law beyond the Law" to be adjudicated?
Back to Martineau:
If either Church or Scripture could for a moment be constituted a sacrarium for secluding all that is simply divine, the first movement of historical change, through the play of finite powers, would break the holy bounds, and interfuse the thoughts of God and man. Nothing can arise on the field of History that is not the product of them both; nor can they be shut up, apart from each other, in any portion whether of space or time. Are the beginnings human? The divine will not be wanting in their ends. Are the beginnings divine? There will be plenty of human outgrowth ere the end, it may be of strength and beauty, or of sickly and degenerate development... Whatever is "born of God" simply because it lives, is ever on the move: be it a light for thought or a rule for will, it may be given to a rudimentary intelligence, on purpose to be outgrown; or, it may fall into unfaithful custody, to be turned to corrupt account; or it may be genially received, and quickened, as a seed of grace, into ulterior truth and good. which transcend and supersede it.
Certainly those who crafted the Declaration of Independence (primarily Thomas Jefferson, yes-- but his original draft was shored up somewhat by the others on Jefferson's committee before presentation to the Continental Congress which, in turn, made several changes before formally adopting the Declaration as it now stands) pretty much thought so: hence, the references- in that document- to "the protection of Divine Providence", upon which they were depending as much as that very human "Prudence, indeed", along with their appeal "to the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our intentions". At the same time, however, those so declaring Independence for the United States of America understood that, however much or little their project might be godly in at least its spirit, if not also its letter, it would be humans who would ultimately determine the efficacy of what they were, back then, putting in ink upon parchment and it would be the hearts and minds of persons in America- those yet unborn as much as, if not more, than those then living through the American Revolution- which would the more determine the fate of the new Nation (as it does to this very day!).
Politics- not to also mention Social History- here in America is, then, the cumulative effect of a sequence of decisions, each growing out of argument within the community (whether that "community" be a family, a small town or a neighborhood of a large city, a County [or equivalent], a State of the Union or even the entire Nation) over just what said parameters of Liberty should actually be, as well as how these parameters are best to be maintained and what sanctions might thereafter accrue against those who transgress them. You, for instance, get to freely argue in favor of that which you might accept as being that which the Declaration of Independence calls the laws of Nature and of Nature's God while I get to, just as freely (as well as fervently) argue in favor of my own-- but, should you prevail over me in a particular struggle or other, you had best be prepared, for-- well-- to paraphrase good ol' Andy Jackson: you've made your morals, ethics and values known to me, now let's see you enforce them!
In essence: Persons (so long as they are adults capable of informed consent) are free- within their own Liberty- to determine what is right or wrong for themselves, subject to reasonable borders under, yes, the rule of Law... but we are here speaking of secular Law, not that which might be divine: for secular Law is all that can be so bordered by mere human endeavor. Thus is the adjudication of "law beyond the Law" ever left solely to Conscience and, indeed, the opening clauses of the Federal Constitution's First Amendment, those mandating non-Establishment of Religion yet guaranteeing Free Exercise of same, are themselves clearest recognition of this.
But, instead, the term "Judeo-Christian" has been- in the third and final sentence of the paragraph with which I began this piece- taken out of its normal context (one in which it is altogether proper- within the sphere of Comparative Religion- to refer to Judeo-Christian Scriptures) in order to misleadingly designate a system of morals, values and ethics that is, in reality, not the least bit "Judeo-Christian" at all! For said morals, ethics and values as are here being professed are wholly Christian: after all, Jews do not follow so called "Judeo-Christian" ethics; instead, they apply Jewish ethics to their everyday lives: for Christianity has nothing at all to do with what Jews themselves might believe any more than Islam has anything to do with what Christians may profess! Thus, any and all Jewish morals and values as might be found within so-called "Judeo-Christian" ethics (as these might actually be utilized by those who most profess said "Judeo-Christian" ethics) have been thoroughly Christianized with no real possibility of compromise with the "Judeo-" component of same: as a result, the very term "Judeo-Christian", when used in this way, is totally nonsensical!
And there is no "Judeo-Christian" system of ethics precisely because there is no such thing as "Judeo-Christian" tradition!
One particularly glaring example of this is to be seen in Isaiah 7:14, the Jewish rendering of which is ever along the lines of Behold, a young woman is with child and will bear a son and name him Immanuel while the traditional Christian version of same states that, instead, it is to be a virgin who will do so (this itself dovetailing with the passage in Matthew 1:23- itself not a part of Jewish Scripture, obviously- specifically stating that the Virgin Birth of Jesus was a "fulfillment" of the aforementioned passage from the Book of Isaiah: indeed, it is altogether interesting that, even in Modernist Christian translations of the Bible which render the Isaiah passage as referring to a "young woman", the concomitant passage in Matthew is always translated as specifically referring to a "virgin").
While this "discrepancy" re: Isaiah 7:14 has, historically and over the centuries, engendered no little "finger-pointing" (at minimum!) between Christians and Jews as regards the issue of "who's most responsible for the 'change' from 'young woman' to 'virgin'-- or is it vice versa?", the barest "technical" reason for the difference is simply to be found in the fact that the Masoretic Text on which the Hebrew of the Old Testament (and, therefore, the Jewish Bible itself) is based contains- in Isaiah 7:14- the Hebrew word almah (which can be fairly translated as "lass", without any direct reference to her virginity or lack thereof), as opposed to bethulah (which simply means "an unmarried woman" in Hebrew, but this from an ancient time when a woman being unmarried included- or at least one would have hoped!- a presumption of virginity: thus, bethulah became the word for "virgin", specifically, Biblical Hebrew-- whereas almah did not), while the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), which became the de facto "official Bible" of the earliest (Koine Greek-speaking) Christians, utilizes the Greek word parthenos (which can be rendered as either "young woman" or "virgin", though it is clear that- as regards the New Testament- it has ever meant the latter and, indeed, is the very word that appears in the Greek text of Matthew 1:23 as well as that of Isaiah 7:14).
But the point illustrated by all the otherwise rather arcane biblical textual criticism noted above most germane to this piece is that there is not- nor can there ever be- any so called "Judeo-Christian" version of Isaiah 7:14; that is, if one is wholly rational and, thereby, recognizes that it is impossible to ever reconcile what have become the respective traditional Jewish and Christian renderings of same... or, rather: yes, there is a "Judeo-Christian" reading (if only to those who profess the existence of so called "Judeo-Christian" tradition)- but it is, in reality, one that, obviously, reads Isaiah 7:14 as referring to a "virgin" which, in turns, makes said "Judeo-Christian" tradition, in fact, wholly Christian and, therefore, renders any notion of a "Judeo-Christian" element behind same a logical nullity!
Basic 'Christianity 101' teaches (as is well noted within the passages from Martineau I quoted earlier in this piece) that Christians were freed from adherence to Mosaic Law- meaning, Torah- by the Gospel per se (the flip side of this particular coin, however, is that this also means that referring to any provision of Mosaic Law/Torah as justification for any moral or ethical position taken by a Christian is, in and of itself, wholly illogical: thus, a Christian quoting Leviticus 18:22 as the basis for the sinfulness of Homosexuality on the same day he or she might have eaten a cheeseburger in violation of Exodus 34:26b is, at best, a contradiction and, at worst, abject hypocrisy; as is the case with secular Law, you cannot pick and choose just which portions of a religious legal code under which you live might, or might not, apply to you [well-- actually, you can-- but only, and always, at your own risk: in both civil and moral law, "When in doubt, don't; if you do anyway, don't get caught!"]... a religious, Torah-observant Jew, on the other hand, would not be placing him[or her]self into this kind of conundrum since, to this said person, all of Mosaic Law applies).
Thus, once again, there can be no "Judeo-Christian" ethic: the Christian does not have to follow Torah; the observant Jew does. Tell me, then- just which contradicting moral/ethical position [to Torah or not to Torah? ;-)] is, in fact, the "Judeo-Christian" one?
In short: "Judeo-Christian", as applied in the manner in which it is in the "Open Letter", is a term that appears to be inclusive but, instead, is actually nothing of the sort (for, when push most comes to shove, Jews need not apply: note also, gentle reader, that it is specifically exclusive, for it purposely leaves out Islam and, if only by implication, thereby renders Islam as not at all being one of the major forms of Monotheism as practiced in the World today [the notion that Allah is not the same as the God of Christians and Jews is also clearly implied]). But such "Judeo-Christian" ethics and tradition, as I've herein demonstrated, do not actually exist as such- although, as [simply] Christian ethics, yes they do: just as Jewish ethics also exist, as also do Muslim ethics, and all of these within a broader concept of Monotheism (itself simply a general belief in a singular "Nature's God"); these systems of ethics may or may not be complementary- they may even, at times, be hostile to one another!- but my making this particular observation does nothing at all to alter the fact- indeed, the Truth: yes, one itself so self-evident- that non-Christians (whether Muslim or even, say, Atheist) have the very same "unalienable Rights" endowed to them as Christians themselves enjoy and that, therefore, the complaint about President Obama so publicly opining the United States is not a Christian Nation falls (as it should) on deaf ears.
However, the fear that is engendered among many who do not agree with that with which I have concluded the preceding paragraph flows from the simple fact that President Obama's full name is, after all, Barack Hussein Obama... it sounds Islamic, precisely because it is: though only because he carries his father's name and his father happened to have been a Muslim from Kenya... more to the point, it is so different from the names of all of President Obama's predecessors (even Irish-American John Fitzgerald Kennedy's name isn't so jolting, nor is that of German-American Dwight David Eisenhower)... the first African-American President in American History doesn't, as it turns out, have a name like, say, "Jesse Jackson" or "Al Sharpton" (say what you will about the politics of either man, their names are each very American); instead, our President has a name that is-- well-- so freakin' African!... so foreign... strange... so weird even frightening... yet, truth be told, it didn't at all prevent most Americans from voting for him this past November!
But the African-ness (not to also mention the Islam-ness, especially in a post-9/11 context) of the President's name, when combined with the African-ness of his ethnic heritage, still scares the bejeezis out of many Americans (though this next would, to be fair, be an issue no matter who might have become the very first African-American President of the United States, no matter his or her actual name-- it would have been an issue for a Republican in Obama's unique historical position- say, a "Condoleeza Rice" or a "Colin Powell"): therefore, much along these same lines as the fear over Federal encroachments upon "Judeo-Christian" values is, sadly, a concomitant fear of President Obama's potential adverse impact upon something widely referred to as "White culture".
But whatever in hell is this so called "White culture"?
Is it, say, a culture derived from the folkways of the mostly Scots-Irish who settled the frontier of what constituted the "Old West" of the early Federal period immediately following the American Revolution (what we Americans now call "Appalachia")?-- folkways which over time would, eventually, bring us such things as Country music-- folkways which are the backbone of much of a now-Republican "Solid South" that was- and remains- not all that politically friendly to President Obama's bid for the Presidency. If this be so, however, then this "White culture" certainly has nothing whatsoever directly to do with me, a White middle-aged American man of the earliest 21st Century!
For I was born in a portion of Connecticut that, during my infancy in that area, was something of a "borderland" between the Metropolitan New York/Tri-State region and New England proper; I was raised (and have ever resided, as an adult) in the aforementioned Metro New York area, although I attended college in New England and am a frequent visitor to same, between many a vacation- not to also mention family gatherings (for both of my brothers, as well as my parents, now live in New Hampshire). Basically, while I have visited other parts of the United States of America, I've spent- and continue to spend- the vast majority of my life in the Northeastern portion of the USofA (as well as generally close to its old-line port cities founded in the Colonial period, as opposed to the upland "frontier" of that time that, again, has become today's Appalachia).
Moreover, not one direct ancestor of mine was physically on the continent of North America before the dawn of the 20th Century (although, yes, there were a relative handful of my collateral relatives- cousins of one or more of my eight great-grandparents- already ensconced here in America [Minnesota, mostly] by the late 19th Century [indeed, I have third and fourth cousins in Minnesota, persons of Norwegian-American descent to whom I am related through my paternal grandfather-- but I have never ever met them nor even attempted to contact them: thus, they remain merely names on a rather extensive family tree in my possession).
To my great-grandmother from Finland, Anna, goes the honor of being my very first direct ancestor on this side of "the Pond"- she first "stepped off the boat" in August 1900 followed, about a year later, by her son and daughter-in-law whose daughter would eventually be my maternal grandmother ; my maternal grandmother, meanwhile, was the only one of my four grandparents who was actually born in the United States (though she would not begin to speak fluent English until she began attending public school at the age of 7 [that is, if you consider a rather thick, then-rural North Central Massachusetts accent to actually be "fluent English": as a young child, I often wondered if my first name was really spelled "Ritch-huhd"!
"... and to the Republic for 'Ritch-huhd' stands"-- as, indeed, I was standing, right hand over heart, whilst reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in Kindergarten at good ol' Dunbar Hill School ;-)])
In short, a so-called "White culture" originating amongst the hills and hollows of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee as well as the uplands of the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi is not at all my culture, either by location or genealogy!
(Though, yes, I do acknowledge the debt that American culture of my time owes to such as the aforementioned Scots-Irish of Appalachia... but, by being so American, it is not at all wholly a White culture! [for example (and please keep in mind that, despite what I tend to do here on The Green Papers, the baccalaureate degree conferred upon me by my alma mater happens to be one in the field of Music): it is no accident that the Blues, as a musical form, reached its apex pre-electrification (that is, before the Blues moved with its practitioners into the industrialized urbanity of the Northeast and Midwest) within that flood plain known as "the Delta" of Mississippi; nor is it mere happenstance that Elvis Presley, for one, emerged from the womb in upland Lee County in that same State (albeit not within "the Delta" itself)-- I have listened to, enjoyed and been musically influenced by the Blues, Rhythm and Blues-become Soul-become Funk and Rock throughout most of my life, going well back into at least my pre-Adolescence and, as a listener, as much as (if not more than) an admittedly amateur (albeit with some formal schooling in the field) musicologist, I am quite cognizant of the contribution to said musical genres made by musical strands which themselves emerged from White communities... but please well note that I listen to, enjoy and am influenced by these musical genres as an American, not as a White person... nor as a White person who, somehow, wants to be identified with Blacks... Music is music is music... if I didn't like it, I wouldn't listen to it- or dance to it- or whatever: Race has nothing at all to do with it, either directly or indirectly!])
In fact, I myself am White (and have that race appear on, say, my driver's license) only because others say I am... not at all because I necessarily have chosen to be!
For it is through my maternal grandmother's mother who was herself at least part Karelian that I have at least a small percentage of long-ago ancestors who themselves were part and parcel of the Mongolic peoples who once roamed the steppes of Central and Eastern Asia: I dare say that I, by very definition, must have no small number of male ancestors who, were one to be able to bring them into this era and also put them into a suit and a tie, would most closely resemble the President of Kazakhstan (and I don't mean Borat! [;-)])... but whatever small Asiatic element there might be within my gene pool as a result, it is certainly not enough to nowadays have people looking at me as I pass them on the street thinking 'Hey! There goes an Asian guy!'
Likewise, President Obama- the product of a Black father and a White mother- had no choice but to be Black: certainly, no one looked at him, as he was growing up, and said "Hey! There goes a White boy!" So, assuming here that President Obama might identify more with African-Americans than with Whites (despite having spent at least a significant portion of his childhood being raised by Whites), this would not be at all beyond ordinary understanding.
Yet it seems to be well beyond the understanding of a very large proportion of the voting population of the United States of America and their lack of such understanding- combined with the perceived threat to (again, so called) "Judeo Christian" values- leads to "Fear itself", fear that all too many within the Republican Party are not above exploiting come election time... once again, the Democrats ignore this reality (however unreal its underlying basis) at their own political peril!
Meanwhile, the Republicans- as I've said- must walk a "political tightrope" as they might so exploit this "Fear itself" for the benefit of their own political and electoral gain. This "tightrope" exists precisely because relying too much upon emotions and feelings underlying racial and religious differences here in America risks a serious backlash from the more moderate within the GOP (though, as I've already said in the previous two parts of this series, the Republican Party US as national political institution doesn't seem to really much care- at least right now- about the views of its own moderates [again: "Thank you, sir, I'll have another!"]); certainly far too heavy a reliance on racial and religious fears can well drive into the arms of the Democrats droves of voters who might otherwise vote Republican but find such talk as I've already discussed above most unseemly to say the least.
But, wait!... there's more!!
OK, OK... I know... time (finally) for dessert and coffee... I'll get them for you... Be right back!
to be continued...