Wondering about the low level of political discourse in the USA.
Sunday, June 15, 2003
What happened to the Sixties? They’re waiting for the TwentyTens.
As much as the right crows about its ascendancy, and as much as the left frets and wrings its collective hands in a Woody Allan-ish manner, the civil rights movement, the environmental movement, and the peace movement (which should really be called the internationalist movement) can’t be stopped. Those genies can’t be put back in their bottles.
The civil rights debate isn’t about whether everyone deserves equal treatment under the law anymore. Now it’s about how it should be done: government intervention or the enlightened self-interest of individuals and commercial entities. Of course, there are still hate groups and victims of hate. Thankfully, however, these groups are receiving less and less support from the public at large. Respect for those different from you grows slowly, and sometimes must be measured over generations.
Like civil rights, the awareness and understanding of environmental issues increases with every generation. The more people know, the more they care about the future of our planet. Now the debates are between those who use the power of the courts to battle polluters verses those who want enlightened self-interest and public scrutiny to improve corporate behavior.
As the world gets smaller, more people are accepting the idea that the citizens of every nation deserve to live in peace and prosperity. There are two points of view about how that goal should be accomplished: the laissez-faire movement of goods and services between independent states through market forces, or carefully crafted international agreements and inter-governmental bodies with strong powers of adjudication.
The obvious answer is that the continued expansion of civil rights, environmental awareness, and international peace and justice are moving forward using all of these mechanisms. The power of both public policy and private initiative are being pressed into their service.
The thrashing and screaming coming from the throwbacks at the Eagle Forum, the Federalist Society, and other regressive groups is so intense because they know in their heart of hearts that their time has passed.
The Bush administration is interested in breaking down the barrier between government and religion -- specifically, the Christian religion. Much has been written about the separation of church and state, and I cannot improve on what Thomas Jefferson said:
"I am for freedom of religion, and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another."
--Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, 1799.
"To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical."
--Thomas Jefferson: Statute of Religious Freedom, 1779.
It should be clear to the strictest of strict constructionists that the intent of the establishment clause was that government should never fund the teaching of any religion. Unfortunately, that seems to be exactly the effect of the “Faith-based Initiative” that the current administration is supporting. The dangers of this practice were clearly seen by the Founding Fathers – again, no one says it better than Jefferson:
"The clergy, by getting themselves established by law, and grafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man."
--Thomas Jefferson to Jeremiah Moor, 1800.
Jefferson's point is that people whose primary goal is converting others to their religion will not hesitate to use government power to accomplish this purpose -- if they can get access to such power. That is why religious groups should never receive government funds. The purpose of many religious groups involved in education and social work is to promote their religion. The education or social work is secondary to that goal. There is nothing wrong with using schools and social programs to bring in converts, as long as it is funded by private donations. When the rest of society is required to support this activity through taxation, then the line has been crossed.
The question is, what do we do with Anton Scalia and John Ashcroft? They both seem intent on using the powers of government to promote a particular religion and reduce "our civil and religious rights" as Jefferson said.
The strange alliance between conservative Christians and the rich in the Republican Party makes me wonder if people are still reading the Bible at all. I seem to recall several comments by Jesus that do not square with current Republican attitudes, such as:
"Sell your possessions and give to the poor."
"Blessed are the peacemakers."
"If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone...."
In the current political climate, narrowing the gap between rich and poor isn't a topic even worthy of debate. The idea that the wealthy should provide a greater share of support for the public institutions and infrastructure that allowed them to build their fortunes is considered absurd.
War mongering is cast as patriotism.
Passing summary judgment on dissident voices passes for critical thinking.
Republicans talk about Jesus, but the Democrats seem to have incorporated more of his platform.