America is a compact, a bargain, a contract. It says that all of us are connected: our fates are intertwined. 50 States, one Nation. Our Constitution binds us together. Yet, in our own time, there are those who seek to divide us: one community against another. Urban against Rural, City against Suburb, Whites against Blacks, Men against Women, Straights against Gays, Americans against Americans. In these challenging times for our country, in these fateful times for the world, America needs a genuine uniter- not a divider who only claims to be a uniter. We have seen how they rule: they divide and try to conquer- they know the power of the People is weaker when our house is divided. They believe they can't win unless the rest of us lose. We reject that shameful view.
U.S. Sen. TED KENNEDY (D-Massachusetts) at the 2004 Democratic National Convention
John Kerry believes that government can spend our money better than we can- but most Americans don't share this view. That's why John Kerry has to preach the politics of division, of envy and resentment- that's why they talk so much about two Americas. But class warfare is not an economic policy and the politics of division will not make America stronger and it will not lead to prosperity. I say to them: Anger is not a governing philosophy.
U.S. Rep. PAUL RYAN (R-Wisconsin) at the 2004 Republican National Convention
War. I've been there- so has John Kerry. I've heard the thump of enemy mortars, I've seen the tracers fly. Bled on the battlefield, recovered in hospital. Received and obeyed orders, sent men and women into battle. Awarded medals, comforted families, attended funerals. And this soldier has news for you: anyone who tells you that one political Party has a monopoly on the best defense of our Nation is committing a fraud on the American People... That flag. We saluted this flag. We rose up in the morning and stood Reveille to this flag. We fought for that flag. We've seen brave men and women buried under that flag. That flag is ours- and nobody, nobody is going to take it away from us!
Gen. WESLEY CLARK, U.S. Army (Ret.) at the 2004 Democratic National Convention
Never in the History of the World has any soldier sacrificed more for the Freedom and Liberty of total strangers than the American soldier- and our soldiers don't just give Freedom abroad, they preserve it for us here at home: for it has been said so truthfully that it is the soldier, not the reporter, that has given us Freedom of the Press; it is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us Freedom of Speech; it is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest; it is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag, who gives that protester the freedom he abuses to burn that flag!
U.S. Sen. ZELL MILLER (D-Georgia) speaking on behalf of President George W. Bush's re-election at the 2004 Republican National Convention
I am sorry that the thought of two women who are in love seeking, in Florida, to solemnize that love in a Marriage so disorganized my Republican colleagues that they decided to put aside the business of America, that they decided a couple weeks ago that we couldn't deal with homeland security or a highway bill or education or health care, and they had to try and knock a big hole in the U.S. Constitution, so I guess I want to try to calm them down- I'm going to come clean. You hear them talk about the Gay Agenda- and I'm going to be honest with you now: the fact is, we who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered- we do have an agenda and here it is:... we even believe- it's true- that, when two people are in love and they are willing to be morally and legally committed to each other and financially responsible to each other- if they are prepared to get married, it's a good thing for the stability of society- we believe that.
U.S. Rep. BARNEY FRANK (D-Massachusetts) at the 2004 Democratic National Convention
American values are under attack from within. Hard work, personal sacrifice, education, integrity and the foundation of Family have been, and always will be, the source of our strength... We step forward by expressing tolerance and respect for all of God's children, regardless of their differences in choices: at the same time, because every child deserves a mother and a father, we step forward by recognizing that Marriage is between a man and a woman.
Gov. MITT ROMNEY (R-Massachusetts) at the 2004 Republican National Convention
so what have we learned from the National Conventions of both Major Parties in this Presidential Election year of 2004? Well-- we've learned that each Party (according to the respective Parties themselves) is the only Party whose candidates for the two highest Offices in the Land are capable of healing the polarized Polity that is (the name here sounding altogether ironic, where not also sardonic) the United States of America. And we have also learned that the other Party (according to each Party respectively) is responsible for the political exploitation of the divisions within...
in other words, we are hearing- basically- that which we heard four years ago in the election that first made "Red state" and "Blue state" everyday terms of art in American political discourse. Small wonder the American voter who, not firmly committed to either Party's presidential nominee, actually holds the balance of power in this upcoming General Election remains- like Dan'l Boone himself- if not lost, at least "a mite bewildered"!
First of all, before I go any further, let me briefly answer a most basic question as to whether or not the Bush/Cheney ticket did what it had to do at their Convention, the very same question I asked in my "wrap-up" re: the Democratic Convention; let me start by noting that, when I answer this question, I do so- not in any relation to what my personal political views might be but, rather, in relation to just how efficaciously each candidate for the Presidency presented what my own political 'antennae' tell me they simply must well present in order to attract the voter I described in the previous paragraph- the voter either President Bush or Senator Kerry simply must attract in order to win this 2004 Election.
What President Bush and his supporters had to do at their fete was two-fold: they had to avoid "going negative"- as Kerry/Edwards had largely avoided doing at their Convention- and then, in direct answer to Kerry/Edwards, Bush/Cheney and their supporters had to very well explain the link between American military intervention in Iraq and the greater War on International Terrorism as well as Homeland Security- the very linkage that the Democrats do not see, do not accept and which they most strongly criticize. Failure to do both (as opposed to a failure to do either- as will be examined in a moment) would, in my opinion, cost the Republicans dearly. In the first case, negativity, the Republican Convention largely succeeded: although the keynote address of Senator Zell Miller was rather "over the top" in this regard and, because of its strident tone, I would have to here say that the Republicans were somewhat more negative than the Democrats were, though- by and large- the Republicans, like the Democrats before them, largely kept things to a positive tone- defined here as advancing their own message as opposed to worrying so much about the other guy. (Hard-core Kerry supporters will most likely disagree with that last statement, citing comments by Vice President Cheney and some of the other speakers at the GOP Convention in which Senator Kerry was "ripped" and not understanding how I could even write that last statement. To them, I say the following: 1. the Party in power in the White House- precisely because their Convention is always last- has far more leeway than the challenging Major Party when it comes to politically negative comments at its Convention because, after all, its people already know what the other Major Party has promoted: I said the same thing about the Democrats four years ago for precisely the same reason [this, by the way, is why a failure to do either of the two-fold equation cited at the beginning of this paragraph, so long as the "either" were the negativity issue, would not hurt the Republicans all that much, even if they had been far more negative than they actually were]; 2. it's simply not about you- you have already chosen your champion, you have already decided for whom to vote: the outcome of this Election, however, is now in the hands of those in the center who have not yet decided!)
Thus, now we must turn to the Iraq/War on Terror/Homeland Security portion of the two-fold equation and examine just how well President Bush and his supporters handled that--
In my Democratic Convention "wrap-up" Commentary of this past 31 July (to which this very piece is, of course, the equivalent re: the Republican Convention), I wrote the following about the contradictions in message- as regards the relationship (or lack thereof) of Iraq to Homeland Security- that seemed to come from the Democrats:
<<(here quoting myself) Simply compare the plaintiveness of a Reverend Jesse Jackson insisting that it's time to bring our troops home and send Bush back to Texas to a Senator Joe Lieberman arguing before the Convention that our brave troops... [in] Afghanistan and Iraq... [are] fighting tonight in both of those nations to defeat terrorists... John Kerry and John Edwards are committed to finishing that work.
Well, it can't possibly- at least so immediately after next 20 January- be both!
Senator Kerry himself offered no clear answer, for he himself said to his Convention: I know what we have to do in Iraq. We need a President who has the credibility to bring our allies to our side and share the burden... that's the right way to get the job done and bring our troops home. Here is the reality: that won't happen until we have a President who restores America's respect and leadership so we don't have to go it alone in the world and we need to rebuild our alliances so we can get the terrorists before they get us. But this statement does not make a clear choice between the 'Jacksonesque' or 'Liebermanian' position on this issue-- if the Kerry position is neither (certainly the actual case), we have not yet been told by the Democratic presidential nominee precisely how it is neither, nor have we been told just what "neither" implies.
This is something that the Kerry/Edwards campaign is going to have to clearly and articulately address this coming Fall if they expect to win this election. Simply saying that Senator Kerry will have better judgment than President Bush doesn't necessarily make it so... such well-intentioned belief about Kerry on the part of hard-core Democrats is not going to help win over the Independents and Undecideds that Kerry/Edwards is going to need to best Bush/Cheney come 2 November!
So, now that the 44th quadrennial Democratic National Convention has fully passed into History, what are we left with? Clearly, a Kerry/Edwards campaign that- while it has raised the bar and made it at least a bit more difficult for Bush/Cheney to all-out "go negative" at their Convention a month from now without turning off more than a few Independent and Undecided voters- also, at the same time, has- at least as far as the important issues of War and Peace (and the concomitant issue of Terrorism) are concerned- not really given all that much to the neutral observer from which said observer can then clearly discern just why a President John F. Kerry would be a significant improvement over a President George W. Bush. (end of my quoting my own words REB~A)>>
That which I noted in the quotation above has, in the month since the Democratic Convention ended, merely served to have given President Bush an "out"- that is, if he and his supporters at his own Party's Convention could now logically link Iraq to the overall War on Terror and concomitant issues of Homeland Security. So, the basic question of moment, then, is: did the Republicans actually do just that?--
Answer: most emphatically Yes!
John McCain most certainly made the best defense of the President's Iraq policy at this latest Convention, when he said that After years of failed diplomacy and limited military pressure to restrain Saddam Hussein, President Bush made the difficult decision to liberate Iraq. Those who criticize that decision would have us believe that the choice was between a status quo that was well enough left alone and war- but there was no status quo to be left alone! The years of keeping Saddam in a box were coming to a close: the international consensus that he be kept isolated and unarmed had eroded to the point that many critics of military action had decided the time had come again to do business with Saddam, despite his near daily attacks on our pilots and his refusal- until his last day in power- to allow the unrestricted inspection of his arsenal. Our choice wasn't between a benign status quo and the bloodshed of war- it was between war and a graver threat: don't let anyone tell you otherwise... We couldn't afford the risk posed by an unconstrained Saddam in these dangerous times. By destroying his regime we gave hope to a people long oppressed that if they have the courage to fight for it, they may live in Peace and Freedom. Most importantly, our efforts may encourage the people of a region that has never known Peace or Freedom or lasting stability that they may someday possess these rights. I believe as strongly today as ever, the mission was necessary, achievable and noble. For his determination to undertake it, and for his unflagging resolve to see it through to a just end, President Bush deserves not only our support but our admiration.
In addition, Vice President Dick Cheney noted- in his Acceptance Speech- that in Iraq, we dealt with a gathering threat and removed the regime of Saddam Hussein: 17 months ago, he controlled the lives and the fortunes of 25 million people- tonight, he sits in jail. President Bush does not deal in empty threats and halfway measures and his determination has sent a clear message- just five days after Saddam was captured, the government of Libya agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons program and turn the materials over to the United States: tonight, the uranium, the centrifuges and plans and designs for nuclear weapons that were once hidden in Libya are locked up and stored away in Oak Ridge, Tennessee- never again to threaten America.
New York Governor George Pataki would also declare that With supreme guts and rightness, President Bush went into Iraq. The U.S. had asked for peace, went to the UN time and again, asked Saddam to step aside. But Saddam would not be moved- so President Bush moved him. [this last comment, by the way, clearly being an historical link to the famous statement about Confederate soldiers from Texas during the Civil War: "Texans always move them" REB~A ] Our American troops, our citizen-soldiers and the Coalition of the Willing moved him and, soon, a dictator who had used poison gas on his own people was found cowering in the earth. Some people have called this an abuse of power: I call it progress! There are those who still say that there was no reason to liberate Iraq- they ask about weapons of mass destruction. On September 11th, in New York, we learned that, in the hands of a monster, a box cutter is a weapon of mass destruction. And Saddam Hussein was a monster- a walking, talking weapon of mass destruction. It is good for the world that he is gone.
Those of you reading this who so strongly disagree with America's military intervention in Iraq will, no doubt, be able to parse at least Cheney's and Pataki's- if not also McCain's- words and find at least some statements amongst them you would then argue are simplistic where even altogether untrue. But- again, in this piece- I am not writing about "who shot John?": that is, I'm not here going to take sides in the debate over the righteousness or wrongheadedness of the Bush Administration's policies re: Iraq. I am here only discussing the political ramifications of what each Party- and their candidates- did in relation to said policies and the cold, hard fact remains that, while John Kerry's Party and his supporters did well put forth their claim that these policies were and are wrong and why, John Kerry did not all that effectively explain why that alone should make the "bell curve" that is not so either pro-Kerry or pro-Bush to then choose him over the incumbent. In other words, Kerry did not hit a "home run" at his own Convention and this kept President Bush and the Republicans "in the game": as a result, it still remains Bush's election to lose, far more than it is Kerry's to win, and this is clearly something the Kerry/Edwards campaign is going to have to address, especially by the time we get to this Fall's Debates, if they want to win this coming November.
Put most simply, the Democrats are- and Senator Kerry's bid for the Presidency is- at least as of this typing, in no little political trouble as a result of what transpired at the Republican National Convention just completed.
I am right now reminded of a story from four years ago. Some three weeks or so before the 2000 Elections, I was having an Instant Message "conversation" with a close friend of mine who is a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, albeit a moderate one. I noted how, in the more trusted tracking polls at the time, Al Gore was projected to gain close to 300 Electoral Votes (give or take a dozen either way) with the Democrats just barely regaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives (the polls regarding the outcome of the United States Senate races at the time were suggesting a "dead heat" 50/50 split- which, unlike the other two indications, actually proved to be true!). I joked with him that (it being late at night in Missouri at the time I was typing this) "perhaps Dick Gephardt is, even right now, dreaming about soon being 'Speaker Gephardt' "- to which my friend tersely responded: "Less dreaming, more campaigning". If any Democrats out there honestly believe that all they pretty much have to do is point to what a Zell Miller, George Pataki, Dick Cheney- or anyone else at the Republican Convention- said in "ripping" Senators Kerry and Edwards and there will be this groundswell of anger and resentment that will fall upon the heads of Bush/Cheney and carry Kerry/Edwards to certain victory, they are very much mistaken!
However, there is another potential problem now lurking in the shadows, one that is waiting for the Bush/Cheney political bandwagon to come around the corner before jumping out and confronting it like a highway robber and it is this which I will, in the remainder of this admittedly already long piece, now address because I don't think it will otherwise be much discussed- and should be.
For, had John Kerry hit a "home run" against President Bush's policies in Iraq: that is, had the Massachusetts Senator been able to say (in effect- because, presumably, his words in front of his Party's Convention would not have been this blunt) "Look- I respect Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton's concern that we bring the troops home now but I'm not going to be able to abandon the new Iraqi regime, at least for some time to come, anymore than President Bush would, and I certainly can't now allow Iraq to become a quagmire simply because our usual friends and allies in Europe might, in the end, not help even my Administration; yet, I have to apologize to my good friend and Senate colleague Joe Lieberman, but the only reason our troops are fighting terrorists in Iraq right now is because the Bush Administration did not deal effectively with the disorder following the fall of Saddam, a regime we shouldn't have been toppling in the first place in a war which, had we not fought it, we might have better brought our military and intelligence resources- now forced to be used in Iraq so long after the regime change has been made- to bear on capturing and neutralizing Osama bin Laden and the terrorists around him who still pose the most immediate threat"- President Bush would now have a far bigger fight on his hands for the votes of the at least some moderates and centrists who themselves believe this very thing and who might well have then held the balance of power in this upcoming General Election-- which they don't any more, if only for the duration (depending on just how well Senators Kerry and Edwards might now be promoting something along the lines I am here suggesting and then how well President Bush and Vice President Cheney might respond).
But, of course, John Kerry said nothing of the kind- even less than bluntly- at his Convention. The Massachusetts Senator was, instead, there saying to the voters, in effect, "Just trust me: I'll be a President who will get it right". That attitude, however, does not now have much force against Vice President Cheney's assertion that a Senator can be wrong for 20 years without consequence to the Nation but a President always casts the deciding vote and, in this time of challenge, America needs- and America has- a President we can count on to get it right- especially concerning the battle for the center that will, as in almost all Presidential Elections, ultimately determine the outcome. John Kerry's "when the time comes, whatever my previous positions might have been, you know I'll then tell you what I'm going to do" approach regarding military matters might well "preach to the choir" but it will not at all lead him to the White House, as far as issues of National Security and Protecting the Homeland are concerned.
Yet the supporters of President Bush have themselves now appeared to have overreached, at least a bit. Precisely because Senator Kerry did not "knock the ball out of the park" as regards Iraq and Homeland Security (though Kerry certainly didn't "strike out" either), the Republicans- who did hit a "home run" (as any fair reading of President George W. Bush's Acceptance Speech will show)- seemingly feel perfectly free now to abandon any large-scale attempt to attract the moderate on sociocultural issues that the Grand Old Party had promised they would go after going into their Convention (although, to be fair, there were smaller-scale appeals to such moderates and centrists, primarily based on economic and tax issues)- and the "quote comparison" which opens this very piece alone well illustrates my point: for it reads like a "tit-for-tat" extreme position vs. extreme position dossier culled from the Conventions of both Major Parties!
Now, I have been following Major Party National Conventions with ever-growing knowledge and experience for the past 32 years and, by now, well know that not every speaker who addresses a particular Convention necessarily reflects the views which that Party's nominees for President and Vice President might most wish to promote in their own General Election campaign. There was a reason, after all, why Congressman Frank was scheduled to say that which I quoted of his words above at around 6 o'clock in the evening, Boston time, on the final day of his Party's Convention, rather than under the klieg lights of Prime Time during, say, an earlier Convention session; likewise, there is a reason Mississippi Congressional candidate Clinton LeSeuer could say that The very foundation of this great Nation is Christianity and a firm belief in Jesus Christ, but only during the sole Morning Session of his Party's Convention. However, this does not mean that the other Party will not at all exploit what speakers such as these might, indeed, have said! And this is not altogether wrong, by the way: for one simply must hold a Party's nominees- along with those running their campaigns- responsible for what is said on that Party's Convention floor.
In modern-day Conventions, where the nominees (for both offices now) are long since predetermined, there is nothing said in front of the delegates that these nominees and their campaign retinue do not already (or certainly should) know about ahead of time. Therefore, I have to assume that- while, again, a given speaker might not be fully "on message" re: the upcoming presidential campaign (for instance, we know for sure that Senator Kerry opposes institutionalizing homosexual marriage no less than President Bush [though Kerry, unlike Bush, does not favor the so-called "Marriage Amendment"]- despite what Barney Frank might have said and we saw that the President's own Convention had the quite visible participation of Jews and Muslims- no matter what Mr. LeSeuer might have declaimed)- what such a speaker might have said on the floor of a given Convention certainly reflects the views of no little chunk of the political coalition a Party's presidential nominee feels he needs to attract in order to win in November.
I will let the apparent lack of moderation in the quotes from speakers at this year's Republican National Convention at the head of this Commentary speak for themselves as regards what I have already written in the previous five paragraphs and herein address only one particular area where I feel the Bush/Cheney campaign is getting more than a little cocksure as a result of their Party's having dampened said moderation:
One reading my synopses of the activities which took place on the floor of the Republican Convention this past week no doubt saw my parenthetical comment to the effect that Senator Elizabeth Dole, in the course of her remarks, forgot "that a sitting United States Senator denying a fellow American the Right to be free from Religion is, in and of itself, merely another form of the very discrimination and intervention she herself has just decried" when she repeated an oft-heard conservative "mantra" that, to quote Mrs. Dole directly, The Constitution guarantees Freedom of Religion, not freedom from Religion.
Now, before I go on here, let me make it as crystal clear as I possibly can: there is no doubt whatsoever that Senator Dole is a devout Christian woman- to, again, quote what she said before her Party's Convention: 2,000 years ago, a man said "I have come to give life, and to give it in full". In America, I have the freedom to call that man "Lord"- and I do. I most fully respect Mrs. Dole's exercising- and, as in the statement I just quoted, even publicly affirming- her right to worship her Creator and the man she so fervently believes is that Creator's Only Begotten Son in her own way- a basic Right, after all, that is- indeed- so basic and so fundamental to that very Liberty which, as Republicans themselves argued at their Convention this past week, is the birthright of all Americans (and, frankly [since "all... are created equal", so says our country's Declaration of Independence], all of Humankind, for that matter [as President Bush himself noted in his Acceptance Speech, where he declared that Freedom is not America's gift to the world, it is the Almighty God's gift to every man and woman in this world ]). And no reasonable person can well argue that the North Carolina Senator's so obviously and so deeply held faith has not well served her own service to our Nation- as a government official, a Cabinet officer and, now, as one of her native State's U.S. Senators. I most strongly reject the notion, all too often held on the Left, that one cannot at all be a Christian (or, for that matter, a person of the devoutest belief of any religion) and also be a conservative in general or a Republican in particular as strongly as I, at the same time, likewise reject the notion, all too often held on the Right, that one cannot be a liberal in general or a Democrat in particular and also be a Patriot! Such sentiments as I here decry are the stuff of fools and, as anyone who reads that which I write for this website should know, I- although I try my utmost to be fair and see all sides of an issue and fairly weigh the pros and the cons re: my own opinions- unapologetically do not suffer fools gladly! (Although this attitude of mine does not at all give me license to look down on those who might access that which I write for this website: indeed, I ever assume- unless and until shown otherwise- that a user of 'The Green Papers' is intelligent and reasonable and try my best to treat them accordingly).
Therefore, I don't want anyone to come away from reading the rest of this piece (although I have no doubt that, whatever I might write, more than a few who might read what is written herein will do so anyway- which, of course, they are perfectly free to do) thinking that I am here at all attacking Religion in general or the personal religious beliefs of a particular political officeholder, though I am also willing to admit that what I have just written might be altogether cold comfort to that same officeholder and her supporters. I sincerely hope that, should Senator Dole- or a member of her staff- happen upon this piece, she- and they- will understand that I am only using her own words as a "lead in" to the following comments on something that I, as a political pundit, see as potentially affecting her own Party's electoral fortunes in the coming November national General Election, as *I* am perfectly free to do.
For the concept that "Freedom from Religion" is at all part and parcel of the First Amendment's guaranteeing Freedom of Religion is fraught with political difficulty in a free Society such as ours. Now, I myself every day willingly- and without reservation (or, for that matter, consternation)- use legal tender, in both currency and coin, embossed with the words IN GOD WE TRUST; in addition, back when I was still resident in New York City- a city that is often viewed, by outsiders, as one of the more politically liberal cities in our Nation (though, as one who had lived therein for a significant length of time, my own feeling is that this outsider's view is largely mistaken: one familiar with the City is, often as not, left to beg the question "liberal, compared to what?")- I twice served as a juror hearing testimony in courtrooms in that very city with those same four words on their walls and don't recall ever having had a problem doing so. Yes, it's true that I do rather strongly oppose the inclusion of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance (this already being public knowledge, since I've addressed this very issue in a Commentary on this very website dated 5 July 2002): I fully recognize and accept (if only for the time being [;-)]) that I am in the minority among my fellow countrymen on this particular issue (though anyone who might make even the quickest perusal of what I have written in my Commentaries, as well as in my responses to 'vox Populi', on this website should thereby learn that I don't ever take any polls before posting my own opinions herein) and, further, I strongly support the decision of the United States Supreme Court to not have accepted the appeal of the atheist father of the "little girl in a California classroom" to whom I referred at the end of my 5 July 2002 piece, on perfectly acceptable legal grounds that- because he did not have legal custody over the child- he therefore lacked judicial standing to bring his case before the courts: that is, his case was not at all a justiciable "case or controversy", as clearly required by the language in Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States in order to have a case heard in Federal court.
I have at least a few reasons for having taken this position re: the Pledge of Allegiance, but my principal (as well as- or so *I* would argue- principled) objection to the "under God" clause- which, but some two years before I myself first emerged from the womb in the very same maternity ward in which President George W. Bush himself had been born nearly a decade before, Congress had added to the phrase in the Pledge which originally read as one pledging allegiance "to the Republic, for which [the American flag] stands: one Nation, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all"- is that, so it has been my own observation and experience throughout my lifetime, "one Nation under God" has seemingly become more and more important- through all this time- than the equally, if not even more, important concepts of "one Nation, indivisible" and "Liberty and Justice for all" which follow it and, indeed, which were the very essence of that Pledge in its original form, not to say also the very essence of the Constitution of the United States and the political philosophy of the Declaration of Independence which, like its own Preamble, colors that very Constitution. There are many in America who, frankly, don't seem to much mind traditionalist belief in a Judeo-Christian God potentially dividing our Nation, so long as it is the atheist and the agnostic who is kept on the other side of the "barbed wire fence of Politics" that might thereby so divide us: some of these among my fellow countrymen- though, or so I hope, a tiny minority- also would willingly keep the Muslim (especially in these post-9/11 times), the Hindu, the Buddhist and even the non-orthodox (as defined by those so feeling) Christian and Jew likewise on the other side of that same "political fence". This is wholly unacceptable in America.
To quote from my own 5 July 2002 piece on this website: "back in the mid-1780s, [Thomas] Jefferson had encouraged [James] Madison to put together a Memorial and Remonstrance against the law [requiring Virginia's state support for established churches]. Madison had well argued therein that true religion did not need the support of secular law (simply put, if people willingly believe something, they don't need government to tell them to believe it: implying that, if government has to pass laws to support religion, it is likely that it is precisely because people are not so willing to so believe!), that a free society required that men's minds be free and that, to force either believer or non-believer to support a religious institution, was wrong." Thus- throughout all the years of the half century since Congress formally added the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance- the lover and supporter of Liberty, of Freedom and Justice, has been left to wonder just exactly why the addition of these words by the national legislature were even necessary in the first place and whether there was, in fact, intended a rather coercive effect against those who might, indeed, most freely wish to have that "Freedom from Religion" Senator Dole herself decried at this past week's Convention.
Take the recent controversy- one that emerged most fully just a little over a year before I am typing these very words- involving the display of the Ten Commandments of Judeo-Christian tradition ordered by the then-Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of Alabama (in his capacity as the chief administrator of that State's court system) to be placed in the lobby of the State of Alabama's main judicial building, a controversy I have also already publicly addressed on this website as one half of my Commentary dated 28 August 2003, one in which I noted that "here the intent of so placing this same Decalogue in the courthouse is so clearly to promote its words as a basis for a religious code of conduct, as opposed to illustrating its place as part of the foundation of Law in and of itself, and- as a result- a bright line has been crossed that should not have been", that this was a case of "a State's highest-ranking jurist openly defying the order of a superior court (not to mention the decisions of his own colleagues on the Alabama Supreme Court!), truly a slap in the face to the concept of a government of laws and not of men" and that, as for supporters of the then-embattled Chief Justice of Alabama, one of whom claimed this was "really about Judicial Tyranny", they- for the most part- were, so I wrote, "conveniently forgetting the religious Tyranny fomented by those who, for whatever reason, have come to feel that the best way to make people accept Religious Truth (which is ever defined as their "religious truth", of course) is to forcibly shove it down people's throats", that "a force-fed diet does rather little to at all enamor the person who has been so forced to the product thus being fed to him or her" and that "it also has to be acknowledged that this is pretty much the same kind of theocratic thinking that- in a different cultural context, to be sure- well motivates the actions of such groups as al-Qa'eda!"
Now, there is nothing at all inherently wrong with our governmental institutions publicly acknowledging the Decalogue as an important historical influence on our legal system and our political and social culture here in the United States. The earliest colonists- whether those settling at Jamestown in 1607, or New Plymouth in 1620 or on the Shawmut Peninsula that is now the "City Proper" of Boston in 1630- had two primary sources of law and governance: the Holy Bible and the Common Law of England and there is no doubt whatsoever the Ten Commandments were one of the principal elements of the Bible applied to the colonial laws of English North America well into the 18th Century that would eventually produce American Independence. Moreover, the Ten Commandments (in both its original Israelite, let alone its later Jewish and Christian, interpretation and context) were an obvious influence on the development of Law and Politics throughout the course of Western Civilization in general and long before there ever was such a thing as the United States of America, even long before White Europeans ever set foot in North America.
As a native-born New Englander who has, although I no longer actually lived in that region after having moved away from it as a young boy, so often returned to it over the course of my entire life (I would stay with my grandparents in Connecticut at regular intervals throughout my childhood, so often visit my mother's kinfolk in Massachusetts; my family would, more often than not, vacation in coastal Maine, or on New Hampshire's Lake Winnepesaukee or on Cape Cod as I was growing up; I attended college for four years in the very "hub of New England", the city of Boston itself; both of my brothers now live in New Hampshire and, indeed, my nieces and nephew were born, and are yet being raised, in the Granite State ["Live Free or Die!" ;-)]; and I have, over recent years, so often vacationed on New Hampshire's Lake Sunapee), I love the region's food (a steaming Lobster Roll and bona fide Clam Chowder [best when made with Quahogs, by the way!]- neither of which is so easy to come by when I'm back home in New Jersey) and its places of great natural, scenic beauty (the gorge- Quechee Gulf- along the Outtaquechee River in Vermont; the Sun coming up between the twin lighthouses on Thacher Island off of Massachusetts' Cape Ann; an equally glorious sunset seen from Cape Cod's Race Point); its folklore (the legends of Joe English- for whom a hill in the small New Hampshire town of New Boston is named- and Massasecum, for whom a lake "just up the road" [which, in New England-speak, means "some several miles away"] in Bradford is named; the mysteries of the so-called "Moodus Noises" in Connecticut; the stories of the giant Maushop, whose sleeping form [or so they say ;-)] created Cape Cod, with the sand emptied from each of his mocassins once he had awakened forming both Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, respectively) and I especially love its rich History (the cannon captured at Fort Ticonderoga being hauled over the snowy "Great Road" into Cambridge, Massachusetts during the Winter of 1775/76; Shays' Rebellion in Western Massachusetts; Dorr's Rebellion in Rhode Island).
That History tells me just how much of New England Society and Culture, to this very day, was shaped by institutions first established by the Pilgrims and Puritans who were the first Whites to firmly settle the region. I often jokingly refer to New England as "God's Country" (a rather delicious irony, that- considering what I am now writing about!)- but, to 17th and 18th Century New Englanders, their region actually was God's Country! And there is nothing at all wrong with understanding and appreciating this- even though I might prefer to spend my own Sunday afternoons in the Fall watching Tom Brady on TV hurl passes down a football field on behalf of a far different group of "New England Patriots" than those who stood on Lexington Green, at Concord Bridge or on Bunker (OK-- Breed's!) Hill, or who mounted what were once Ticonderoga's guns atop the Heights of Dorchester the following Spring, thereby causing the British to "git", rather than, as a Pilgrim or Puritan of three centuries ago would almost certainly have preferred, intensely studying Scripture- and there is nothing at all wrong with acknowledging that, for instance, New England Town Meeting- which still remains an active and important political tradition in much of the region- is a direct, lineal descendant of the Pilgrim or Puritan religious Parish Meeting, once held in- re: some Towns- the very same Meetinghouse today used for far more secular purpose. There is, therefore, also nothing at all wrong with America in general acknowledging Moses as one of the principal lawgivers in History, even though he be a figure within Holy Scriptures sacred to Monotheistic religious tradition: for even the wider secular world has been strongly affected by the principles of the Decalogue, especially the second half of same. But there is a big difference between a neutral and altogether balanced recognition of this fact, one that does not at all violate the Separation of Church and State in a Free Society, and the actions of a governmental official which so clearly tips a State (or, for that matter, the Federal Government) toward overtly advancing the cause of Church!
Senator Dole, before this past week's Convention, took on- again, to quote her directly- activist judges trying to strip the Name of God from the Pledge of Allegiance, from the money in our pockets and from the walls of our courthouses. What Mrs. Dole forgot to add before the word "activist" was the word "liberal", for it is clear- given the examples she herself cited- that it was so-called "liberal judicial activism" which she was here confronting; she was evidently not at all confronting "conservative" judicial activism! Yet, a Chief Justice of a State who did what Alabama's Roy Moore did last year is, in fact, no less "activist" than a "liberal" judge rendering decisions and opinions Moore's own most conservative supporters would likely most strongly condemn and- if only to show just how out of touch with the mainstream Moore's actions, indeed, actually were- we must remember that the entirety of the rest of his own State's highest court disagreed with him!
Keep in mind that those who serve on the Supreme Court of Alabama are elected by the People of that State (although, yes, vacancies on that bench are filled by gubernatorial appointment pending election). At the Republican Convention this past week, Congressional candidate Clinton LeSeuer of Mississippi declared that the people of his State were, by and large, men and women who believe in God and Mr. LeSeuer's comments immediately following also suggest to me that, in addition, the vast majority of these same people, at the same time, also evince a firm belief in Jesus Christ: from everything I myself have read about Politics and Society in the State of Alabama, I would find it hard to believe that God-fearing People in that State would so willingly play "second fiddle" to their neighbors in Mississippi in these respects. Yet, the duly sworn members of the Alabama Supreme Court themselves found their then-Chief Justice to have gone rather "over the top"! In addition, I rather purposely quoted- in my 28 August 2003 Commentary- Alabama native U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black- a legal, political and judicial product of an Alabama far different, in many ways, from that of today (an Alabama that was certainly far more conservative in his day than it is nowadays)- who, in the case of People of the State of Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education of Champaign, wrote that- where "the State's tax-supported... buildings" are "used for the dissemination of religious doctrines"- "[t]his is not separation of Church and State"!!
In that same 28 August Commentary, I also noted that "The Constitution of the United States never once mentions God, not even in its Preamble (though a number of State Constitutions, in their respective Preambles, cite gratitude to "Almighty God" or "the Supreme Being" for "blessings" such as "Liberty")." A fair number of my fellow Americans, I dare say, don't even realize that the four words "so help me God" it has become traditional, ever since George Washington himself first used them, to append to the Oath of Office for President of the United States are not at all actually part of that Oath as spelled out in Article II, Section 1, clause 8 of that document. There is, of course, nothing at all wrong with a religious man or woman elected, or otherwise succeeding, to our Nation's Highest Office adding the words "so help me God" to this Oath at the time of his or her swearing in: Mrs. Dole herself, for instance, is but 68 years old as I type this piece- it is, therefore, still possible that (despite her own failed bid for the Presidency four years ago) she could conceivably, one day soon, be standing with her left hand on the Holy Bible and her right hand upraised as she might be repeating the Presidential Oath of Office and, should that ever become the case, I would fully expect- as well as most fully respect- her so strongly stating those four extra words as fervently as she had publicly acknowledged Jesus of Nazareth (although, admittedly, not by name) as her Lord earlier this past week. But, for example, it is also quite possible (though, in the prevailing political and social climate found in today's America, rather unlikely) that an atheist could become President (after all, Article VI, clause 3 of the Constitution mandates that no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States [though, obviously, the People retain their inherent and sovereign Right to decide whether or not they would even want someone who, say, does not believe in God to serve in public office as they consider for whom to cast their votes in an election]) and that person would be perfectly free to not utter those four extra words as he or she took the Oath of Office. Put another way: an atheist being sworn in as President would, in fact, have "Freedom from Religion"!...
But only were it not for that very "prevailing political and social climate found in today's America":
I happen to now be in the midst of reading a most recently published book entitled FREETHINKERS: A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby. If only for more perfect clarity, I will here note that Ms. Jacoby defines the term Secularism as "a concept of public good based on human reason and human rights rather than divine authority". In her book, she notes that- as regards an ecumenical prayer service held at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC a few days after the terrible events of 11 September 2001- President Bush rightfully included representatives of non-Christian faiths as well as a number of different and diverse Christian denominations. But, so Ms. Jacoby attests, the President evidently "felt perfectly free to ignore Americans who adhere to no religious faith, whose outlook is predominantly secular, and who interpret history and tragedy as the work of man rather than God"-- and so he had-- as has also his Party, largely because there appears to be no real political price to be paid for having done so...
or is there?
The Republicans spent at least some of their Convention attacking the Kerry/Edwards ticket for their concept of "two Americas", primarily as expressed by Senator John Edwards as part of his Acceptance Speech at the Democratic National Convention the month before, where the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate said: I stand here tonight, ready to work with you and [Senator Kerry] to make America stronger. And we have much work to do, because the truth is: we still live in a country where there are two different 'America's- one for all those people who have lived the American Dream and don't have to worry and another for most Americans- everybody else- who struggle to make ends meet every single day. It doesn't have to be that way. We can build one America. The Republicans have derided this statement as evidence of class warfare on the parts of the Democrats, and so it is, but- so far as the GOP's own vision of "one America" in response might be concerned- unless you happen to have a religion, you don't really all that much count-- which, of course, means that- despite all their bright, shiny speeches- many Republicans, at least, also really believe in two Americas- one divided by that "barbed wire fence of Politics" I have earlier described in this piece. And that is the essence of religious warfare, which fairly puts pay to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's contention- also spoken before the Republican Convention just completed- that, while maybe, just maybe, you don't agree with this Party on every single issue, I say to you tonight that I believe that that is not only OK but that is what is great about this country: here we can respectfully disagree and still be patriotic, still be American and still be good Republicans-- unless, of course, you don't happen to necessarily be overtly religious. Thus, Schwarzenegger's exhortation re: the other Party says there are two Americas. Don't you believe that, either is, in the main, just so much empty rhetoric. Schwarznegger, a dyed-in-the-wool Republican who- nevertheless- easily walks in the ways of liberal Hollywood, clearly and most firmly believes that which he said-- but far too many in his Party evidently do not.
Now, I want to make it clear that I don't happen to share Susan Jacoby's evident notion that, somehow, "human reason and human rights" and "divine authority" are necessarily mutually exclusive; rather, I see them- and, more to the point, ever feel them- as complementary-- as so did our Nation's Founding Fathers:
In my 28 August 2003 Commentary already cited above, I noted that "Those in the First Congress who sent the Amendments to the U.S. Constitution which came to be known as "the Bill of Rights" to the States for ratification in 1789 were intelligent enough to realize that Free Society could not well survive the baser instincts engendered by Sectarianism. Yes, it is true that most of these same men were primarily thinking of the rights of Christians to worship as they so chose when they approved the notion that "Congress shall make no law respecting an Establishment of Religion, or prohibiting the Free Exercise thereof..." and it is equally true that the members of the First Congress did not much disapprove of a State establishing a religion- for these politicians were obviously products of their time and place; however, the later 14th Amendment's prohibiting a State from "depriv[ing] any person of... liberty... without due process of law" put the ol' "KI-bosh" on the latter concept (once "freedom of religion" was judicially recognized as just such a "liberty" covered by that Amendment)..."; in my 5 July 2002 Commentary also already cited above, I wrote that "In the 1870s, the U.S. Supreme Court- in the case of Watson v. Jones- opined that the clause mandating Non-Establishment was just as much a guarantor and protector of religious liberty as the Free Exercise clause and that the two clauses were, indeed, complementary: 'The structure of our government has, for the preservation of civil liberty, rescued the temporal institutions from religious interference. On the other hand, it has secured religious liberty from the invasions of the civil authority' ".
Therefore, religious warfare- no less than class warfare- should have no place at all in the United States of America and such religious warfare includes not only strife between faiths, denominations and sects but also strife between the religious and the non-religious- or even the religious and what we might call "the less than religious", a group to which- I dare say, given what I have already written herein- *I* might well be attached!-- but it is also a group to which many, if not most, Americans would also have to be attached:
Back in the 1950s in which I was born- a decade which those of my generation, first coming of age as young adolescents in the so-called "God is Dead"-era as the 1960s were turning into the 1970s (a brief period during which traditional Religion was being challenged by "Woodstock Nation"), looked upon as a period of conservatism and traditionalism as compared to the liberality and anti-orthodoxy that was then surrounding us- LOOK, one of the great weekly periodicals of that era (along with magazines such as LIFE and the Saturday Evening Post), published two-award winning series on Religion in America. The first- which appeared over the years 1952 through 1955- was entitled A Guide to the Religions of America and was edited by Leo Rosten, in which the respective beliefs of Rosten's own Judaism and 15 Christian denominations and sects were examined in "question-and-answer" format; this was followed by a similar series over the years 1957 through 1960, this time compiled by Hartzell Spence, entitled The Story of America's Religions, in which the histories of all but two of the groups covered by Rosten's series (the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Unitarians- seemingly ever controversial), along with one group that Rosten had not included (the Eastern Orthodox now lately accepted within the admittedly Judeo-Christian bias of the 1950s), were detailed.
In Rosten's series, there also was examined three other questions about American Religion, for it was also asked "Can a SCIENTIST believe in God?", "What is an AGNOSTIC?" and, of the so-called "Unchurched" (those who do not claim membership, and certainly do not regularly attend, worship services in a religious institution), it was asked "What do THEY Believe?" At the time of this latter question, the United States was right smack dab in the middle of a decade when, by all accounts, church/synagogue (since we are, given the decade in question, discussing Judeo-Christian religion) attendance was at its highest peak, as a proportion of the population, to that point in time since American so-called "censuses of religion" were first compiled in the mid-19th Century- at just under 60 percent... of course, this meant that not all that much less than 40 percent (a healthy minority, by any definition) of the American population of the mid-1950s claimed no Judeo-Christian religious affiliation (at the time, the percentage of non-Judeo-Christian religious adherents in the United States was negligible, rising only to a rather small proportion of 1 percent of the population). The most fascinating part of all this, however, were the statistics indicating that 95 percent of Americans believed in God (with 2 percent not so believing- most of these were likely atheists but at least a relative handful of these must have been religious, only not in the Judeo-Christian tradition [a Muslim might, for example, answer "yes" to the question "Do you believe in God?" if he were convinced that "God"= Allah but, were he to feel the question solely referred to the Judeo-Christian concept of "God" (a not unreasonable feeling half a century ago), he would naturally answer "no"] and the remaining 3 percent answering "don't know"- the agnostics of that era), meaning that 7 out of every 8 of the Unchurched in America were, in fact, "religious"- in the sense that they believed in God- only also, at the same time, "less than religious"- in the sense that they professed no formal creed or, at the very least, did not at all attend formal worship services for whatever formal creed they did privately profess. In addition, this also meant that more than one-third of those who were God-believing, where not also God-fearing, were not at all attached to any formal religious group.
Jerome Nathanson, who wrote the article for Rosten's series about these Unchurched, rhetorically asked: "Is it bad for our country that so many Americans hold this independent attitude? The Founding Fathers did not think so: they created the First Amendment to the Constitution for the specific purpose of letting each man have the right to his own form of worship- or his own independence from religious groups. The very richness and creativity of American life rests on the fact that people can and do think different thoughts, hold different beliefs, live in different ways... Democracy means that people respect the rights of others, including the right to be different [emphasis in the original]. Only dictatorships want everybody to think, feel and act the same." Strong words, those- especially coming from a time when the defeat of one such dictatorship threatening to the West was still so relatively recent and the struggle with another, even more menacing, one had already well been joined.
The statistics I cited in the paragraph before the previous one also means that Susan Jacoby's "Secularists" (if we assume that all the atheists and all the agnostics could be so defined) were not quite 5 percent of the overall American population in the mid-1950s (although 5 percent- 1 out of 20- is certainly nothing to sneeze at!), this even in a decade that was- if all the statistics I have cited be believed- most highly religious within the United States. If modern surveys be believed, the numbers of atheists and agnostics together have dropped to a little over 3 percent of the overall American population (approximately 1 and 2 percent of the population, respectively)- some surveys have atheists and agnostics together numbered at as little as 1 percent of the total population but 3 percent is probably a better current "ballpark" for those who firmly profess atheism or agnosticism. However, some 10 percent (the numbers vary between 8 and 11 percent) today are identified as "nonreligious/no preference" and there is simply no way to know how many of these would have answered "yes" to the question "Do you believe in God?"-- the assumption is that the vast majority of these would be classified in the group called the Unchurched.
Clearly there aren't as many of the Unchurched as there were back in the mid-1950s. After a precipitous dip in the "God is Dead"-era, membership in Judeo-Christian denominations and sects rebounded in the late 1970s going into the 1980s and thereafter resumed the steady increase seen going back to the mid-19th Century, to the point where the number is now up to around 80 percent of the population (statistics I have seen vary from 78 to 84 percent). The issue, though, is just how many of these who claim membership in Judeo-Christian religious institutions are so firmly committed to them as to attend worship services on a regular, weekly basis and how many merely are identifying with a denomination or sect with which they only occasionally, or rarely, worship- if at all. By all accounts, there are still- even in the wake of a traumatic national calamity such as 9/11- a fairly large number of those who are colloquially referred to as 'Christmas and Easter Christians' and 'High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) Jews' out there: thus, it is highly likely that the percentage of the less than religious in the American population, even though almost certainly lower than it was half a century ago, is still a significant minority of the American population.
But the biggest relative increase seen has been in the non-Judeo-Christian numbers, from the negligible less than 1/2 of 1 percent of the U.S. population half a century ago to as high as 4 percent today: as the title and subtitle of a 2001 book by Diana L. Eck- A NEW RELIGIOUS AMERICA- How a "Christian Country" has become the World's most religiously diverse nation- indicates, this is a most extraordinary development. At the same time, before someone out there is jumping for joy at America's ever-increasing religious pluralism and diversity, it has to be noted that this celebrated pluralism and diversity- being, in fact, religious- certainly does not include the non-religious (Susan Jacoby's Secularists- that is, specifically atheists and agnostics) and very probably would not- at least as far as many Americans (and, to the point of this Commentary, Republicans) are concerned- include the less than religious.
One might then well wonder, especially considering that- as I have already noted- as I have already noted- I myself don't share in what appears to be a pretty good definition of Secularism provided by Ms. Jacoby, exactly why I would be here defending the views of those who, indeed, seek "Freedom from Religion". There are, basically, three reasons:
The first reason is that, again, the less than religious is a group to which, I dare say, I might well be attached-- OK, so maybe I'm a little defensive! ;-)
The second can be seen in my own explanation as to exactly why I happened to actually be allowed to pray in a public school that I offered in my 5 July 2002 Commentary: "Because I didn't at all force everyone else in my Geometry class or in Study Hall or wherever I happened to be at the time I uttered my prayers to actually sit there and listen to my prayers! Putting it as bluntly as I can so that even the least of my readers can understand: I did NOT seek to shove MY own deeply and strongly held religious beliefs down anyone else's throat without their having first indicated to me a willingness to hear them in the first place!!" In other words, I did not, back then, wear my religious, moral and ethical views on my sleeve-- as I do not now.
Which brings me to my third reason: The truest test of whether or not one is a true Son or Daughter of Liberty, whether or not one is the firmest lover of Freedom and Justice, is not when one is willing to defend the Rights and Liberties of those with whom one might agree. Defending others' views- whether political or religious (or, for that matter, about favorite Sports teams!)- that one happens to also share is easy, where it is not also quite cheap. No- the test is, rather, whether one is equally able to defend those same Rights and Liberties on behalf of those with whom one might- even most strongly- disagree, or even despise or disdain: and that is, admittedly, not always so easy- but, in order to maintain a truly free Society (now so critical, especially over these now nearly three years since the September 11th), it is ever so necessary. All the work I have done- over the past nearly five years so far- for this very website, the work I will continue to do for so long as I might be privileged- where not also even called upon- to do it, is fairly colored by this very concept.
Put another way, the end result of the combination of these last two concepts is essentially this: I do not tell someone else what to do against their will, of course subject to reasonable and minimal restriction under Law-- because I would expect someone not to tell me what to do against my will, subject to the same exceptions. My own personal creed is rather simple, its basic commands but two: the moral imperative being "God gave me a brain and I should use it", the ethical value being "Treat people fairly; cut them some slack". So much for the religious aspect, but it dovetails with the political aspect of my beliefs: that, if I wish to be free, I cannot very well deny Freedom to someone else, even if they use it differently from the way I might use my own. In the particular context of the subject matter of this piece, if I want Freedom of Religion, I cannot deny another Freedom from Religion anymore than a person who is one of Ms. Jacoby's "Secularists" professing Freedom from Religion can deny Freedom of Religion to me or anyone else--
but neither should someone professing Freedom of Religion deny my- or anyone else's- Freedom from Religion! Again- to repeat, if only for emphasis- I do not tell someone else what to do against their will, of course subject to reasonable and minimal restriction under Law-- because I would expect someone not to tell me what to do against my will, subject to the same exceptions.
With all due respect to Senator Kennedy re: what he said at his Party's Convention in his hometown of Boston, this is America's real compact... bargain... contract: indeed, it is the very essence of that "government of laws, not of men" so essential to Liberty. But I also believe that, if you wish to have an effectively operating "government of laws, not of men", you have to also be willing to build a community- a society- "of laws, not of men": this is what the Founders of our Nation meant when they spoke of "the people" or "the body politic" (as in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts [Senator Kennedy himself noting: It was no accident that Massachusetts was founded as a Commonwealth- a place where authority belonged not to a single ruler but to the People themselves, joined together for the common good ]) or even "We, the People". Let me here give one brief example of just what such a "free common weal" (to use an ancient and honorable term) should consist of:
I am not a big fan of the prevalent view that what government is prevented from doing is necessarily still available to the private person (and I am going to here use the term "person", rather than "individual", because I specifically mean all legal persons, which would include corporations)- though it might be: then again, it might not be. This issue came to the fore here in America over the last quarter century or so when the issue of employers and other business management performing background checks on job applicants, or giving interviewees- where not also already hired employees- random polygraph examinations- or, later, such things as required pre-hiring psychological examinations, random drug testing or even such things as handwriting analysis or utilizing profilers was being widely discussed, where not also as widely implemented. I accept the fact that there are, of course, situations where such things are worthy of consideration, even altogether necessary. We wouldn't want to have airline pilots flying a passenger jet after having consuming large quantities of alcohol or illegal drugs (thus, job-related drug/alcohol testing must be mandated in this case); we wouldn't want to have a sex offender who has, in the past, preyed on children to be hired to drive a school bus or run a day care center (therefore, a background check here is surely in order). But, as regards the "bell curve" of ordinary workaday Americans, is random testing on Monday morning in order to find out if an employee might have been partying that past Friday night or Saturday afternoon really all that necessary?
This all begs the question: just how much of all this violates a person's right to Privacy?-- in other words, how far can a company go in detailing- or even controlling- the private behavior of its employees, even when they are "off the clock"? The response of the spokesmen for management (whether that of legal counsel or simply the public relations department) to this question tended to almost always be that a business enterprise, being a private concern, was not at all restrained by that which constrains government, in this case in the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But there is a major problem with this view:
The 4th Amendment prohibits "unreasonable searches and seizure" of "persons, houses, papers and effects" to the government unless certain conditions are met ("probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation", "Warrants"). In other words, the powers-that-be can't just- on their own volition- do the following eight things, where unreasonable: search a person, search a house, search papers, search effects, seize a person, seize a house, seize papers or seize effects---
but neither can a private person!
If, for example, an individual illegally seizes a person, we call that either Kidnapping or False Imprisonment- depending on whether or not the person is transported from the place where seized; if an individual illegally searches a house, we call that Burglary (since, presumably, one would have to enter a house in order to then search it!); if an individual illegally seizes effects, we call that either Robbery or Larceny- depending on whether or not the person whose effects are being seized was present or put in fear of bodily harm. I could go on- but every one of the eight things that government is prevented from doing in the 4th Amendment is either a Tort or a Crime, either at Common Law or by statute, and enforceable against the person who does so with civil sanctions or criminal penalties or both.
This is but one example of free private persons being expected to build a society of laws, not men, especially considering they themselves expect the protections and services of governments of laws, not men-- but enough about all this.
In the preface to the revised edition of his book The Price of Union, said revised edition coming out not all that long after the 1964 Presidential Election, Herbert Agar compared the failed campaigns of populist Democrat William Jennings Bryan and "choice, not an echo" Republican Barry Goldwater, noting that "they were both beaten for the same reason: they both, in their rash enthusiasm, forgot that a successful American political party must be a non-ideological affair, accommodating many points of view and speaking at times with many voices, a true federation and thus a true accommodator of all the interests of a continent. Such parties should never allow themselves to feel, and preach, that the opposition is not only mistaken but wicked"-- words for both Parties to well consider in this era of "Red states" and "Blue states"! But, since this is intended to be a "wrap-up" of my Commentaries on the Republican Convention, I will here note that that Party, in their zeal to pursue the evils of Terrorism- whether home or abroad- should keep themselves away from the political trap of also seeing evil in those who might disagree with their policies and methods simply because of said disagreement. It would be even worse if those who might be non-religious, or even less than religious (as defined by those who are defined, where they don't also define themselves, as religious), were to end up as being painted as being at least almost as wicked as those who would harm us with Terror simply because they don't happen to see the hand of God (or lack thereof) in most political decisions or in how this country should adopt and apply its laws.
So far, I see none of this as a major element within the Bush/Cheney '04 campaign and President Bush has certainly made an effort to include all sorts of religious groups (though, yes, as Ms. Jacoby has pointed out, secularists need not apply); however, given what was said by at least some of the speakers at this most recently completed Convention of their GOP, one cannot deny that it ever lurks in the background, ever ready to rear its ugly head and come to the fore in the pressure cooker of an all-out presidential campaign. If it should do so, Kerry's evident current weakness on Iraq (for the reasons expressed nearer the top of this piece and the fortunes of which, again, might well change before Election Day) would, as a result, be more than well offset by a Bush failure to allow for a path of spiritual moderation within his Party: then it would be the Republicans, not the Democrats, who would more be in political trouble- and with far less time than Kerry has right now to turn things around before this coming November 2nd.
I will now close this piece with an observation by then-Vice President John Nance Garner made around the time of the 1938 Midterm Elections. At the time, Garner was already turning against his boss, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and FDR's New Deal- indeed, the results of those Elections, for all intents and purposes, might well have marked the end of the original era of New Deal legislation, an era not to be revisited until Lyndon Baines Johnson's Great Society; Garner would eventually unsucessfully challenge FDR re: his President's bid for nomination for an unprecedented third term in 1940. Garner noted: "This talk about dividing the country into two political camps- one progressive, the other conservative- is all so much stuff... any Party to serve the country must be a Party of all sorts of views". More than 65 years later, this statement might well explain the "we're the uniters, the other guys are the dividers" public attitude of each Major Party nowadays-- but it might also serve as a warning to each Party to not at all be even seen as dividers if they each expect to contend for the center of the whole "red State" vs. "blue State" pie!
But, of course, a candidate for national office in a now-nationwide campaign (since the National Convention which has nominated him is now history) cannot control the attitudes and actions of his most ardent, where not also overzealous, supporters.