A Note to My Fellow Americans

What the hell is the matter with us? When did we lose sight of who we are and what this country is about? When did being a Republican or a Democrat or a conservative or a liberal become more important than being an American? What do we have to do to stop the madness?

I was reading an article today on CNN about the threats that some of our elected leaders are receiving as a result of the recent health care vote. Bricks through windows. A gas line cut after someone PUBLISHED the address of the brother of a member of Congress. And when told that the member of Congress no longer lives there the response of the person who published the address, apparently, was, “Oh well, collateral damage.” Um, what?

Not, it was a mistake to publish that address. Not, thank God no one was hurt and the act didn’t put someone at risk of injury or death. “Oh, well, collateral damage.”

On that same article, there is a comments section. One of the comments read, “But it is well documented that we are far better armed and trained in weapons usage . Your people will be massacred at a rate greater than the first civil war. Im prepared , are you ?”

Have we really come to this? Is this where we are now? Are we really at the point where we believe a civil war is the only way to fix our problems? Really? Because if that’s the case, I’m not sure this is the country that I thought it was.

I know that I got involved in a discussion on Twitter with a person whose firm belief is that liberals/Democrats should leave the country and take our officials with us when we go. This is a variation on the thread I heard when we were preparing to go to war with Iraq: if you don’t agree with this action, then you should leave. You’re a traitor. You’re unAmerican if you question the president. You can’t disagree, openly, with the president because it weakens the office and makes us look weak in the face of terrorists.

I didn’t agree then, and I don’t agree now that we shouldn’t question our elected officials and that we shouldn’t disagree. That’s what makes this the United States of America. We have the right and even an obligation to speak up, to question, to argue. Heck, make fun of the president if you want. I know I made it through eight years of Bush by thinking of him as Shrub.

However, we do not have the right to threaten people who don’t agree with us. We should not be resorting to intimidation tactics or outright violence because we think it’s okay for us because we’re mad and we’re not going to take it anymore. What’s scaring me is that the radical element that has thought it was okay to bomb abortion clinics or to murder abortion doctors is part of the base of the group that is doing these things. So is it a stretch to believe that they could do the same things to elected officials or to people they find threatening in some way? I don’t think it is at all.

I know there are a lot of people unhappy about the new health care law, but I think a lot of those people haven’t actually read the law and don’t realize that it has its roots, in large part, in ideas that Republicans laid out back in the 90s as a counter-point to Hillary Clinton’s attempt to create national health care. Would that change opinions about it? I don’t think so. This country is so divided, so broken, that I don’t know if that would help things at all.

In his first inaugural address Thomas Jefferson said: “Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.” –Thomas Jefferson: 1st Inaugural Address, 1801. The point here is not, as some might take it, that Obama is a tyrant or a despot. The point is that if we allow intolerance of other political views to seep into our culture (the way that we have) we are in no better place than our founders were when they were trying to break away from religious persecution.

When I first started teaching twenty years ago, I used to assign students to research the positions of candidates for office. It’s an assignment I could NEVER use now. The first time I did it the candidates were Clinton, Perot, and Bush (the elder). I insisted that the research a candidate they didn’t think they would vote for and made this discuss each of the candidate’s policies in neutral language. It was a tough assignment then, but I think, given how rhetorically hot this country is now, it would be utterly impossible. I did this because I believed then, as I believe now, that the point of elections is to elect the most qualified people, the people whose beliefs and platforms most closely resemble what you hope for in the country.

I was shocked when I lived in Alabama to see two things at the top of the ballot: one said Republican; the other, Democrat. If you ticked one of those boxes, you could elect all Republican candidates on the ballot or, conversely, all Democratic candidates. It’s that kind of thinking that Jefferson spoke against. “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.” –Thomas Jefferson to Francis Hopkinson, 1789.

Wise words that we should perhaps consider before we rip this country apart.

Almost too Sick to Care

Please note that I said, almost. Two pieces appeared in the New York Times today that really cheesed me off. So, where to start. First, the mommy bloggers.

The article: Honey, Don’t Bother Mommy. I’m Too Busy Building My Brand.

The premise: Supposedly this is a report about a blogging “boot camp” that was held in Baltimore last weekend. A number of bloggers (well known and not as well known) attended and this reporter wrote an article about the bloggers, what they do, and the event itself.

The problem: The article carries a significant undercurrent of animosity toward women who have children and blogs. Apparently, one can have a successful blog or one can be a successful parent, but one cannot do both. I call bullshit. The thing that really bothers me about this article is the sense that mothers don’t care for their children in order to blog or build their brand. And you know that there’s a group of people right at this very second wondering if this is true. Do those of us who write about our kids, do we neglect them in order to write? The thing is the author of this piece is a mother of two. She writes for a living but as a “journalist” (I’m putting this in quotation marks because while she referenced many blogs in her piece, she only adequately identified a few of them), so does that make it less unseemly? Does that make it “okay?” I don’t think so.

The solution: Stop acting like women don’t have the right to earn a living in whatever way they choose. Stop acting as if a woman writing is something that should be hidden or writing about family isn’t important. We do a lot of powerful things with our blogs. Liz at Mom101 wrote a great piece with a wonderful list of bloggers doing important things, big things, with their “lowly” little blogs. I would add one blog to her list: Kristine Brite McCormick’s Cora’s Story. I defy anyone to read that story and suggest that Kristine didn’t love her daughter or that blogging can’t move mountains.

Okay, the second article in the times is about the Texas Board of Education and Jefferson. The article is entitled Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change.

The premise: Every ten years the Texas Board of Education meets and adjusts the “academic standards” for the state curriculum. The board is elected, and unsurprisingly dominated by conservative Republicans. In this decade’s modifications, they have done some lovely twisting of science and evolution, but more interestingly, they’ve REMOVED THOMAS JEFFERSON from the discussion of writers who spurred revolutions in favor of St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and William Blackstone.

The problem: Jefferson not only helped spur the revolution in the good old US of A, he also helped foment revolution in France. To say that he was not influential is to deny history and to pretend that one of the greatest figures of that time had little more than the role of scribe. Dunbar’s argument is that Jefferson used the ideas of others to formulate his own so he wasn’t the originator of the ideas. Interesting argument, not entirely untrue, but there is tremendous value in synthesis. Without synthesis, you don’t find connections and you don’t create a complete picture. The US is based on a complex web of ideas that draw on most of the major philosophical thinkers of the eighteenth century. But Jefferson also added to this by recognizing the danger of theocracy and THAT is what the Texas Board of Education is actually afraid of.

See, they want to teach that the US was founded as a Christian nation. Being founded by Christians and being a Christian nation are different things and it seems to be beyond them to understand the differences. Were some of the framers religious men? Yes. Were some of them not? Also, yes. Why is it important to make this distinction founded by rather being? Pull up a chair, and I’ll explain it to you.

The solution (to make the structure parallel, though realistically, this is me teaching a history lesson): It starts with the first settlers coming to this continent. Those settlers were coming here to escape religious persecution at the hands of the theocratic British government. During that time frame, England was being thrust back and forth between being Catholic and Protestant at the literal whim of the monarch. Mary, Queen of Scots (Catholic), Elizabeth (Protestant), James (Catholic), and so on and so forth to Oliver Cromwell and the Reformation where it became downright dangerous to be anything but Anglican in England.

So the settlers came, and each little group set up their own religious enclaves in various parts of the northeast and south. Some colonies were closely identified with their religions (Pennsylvania was Quaker country, for example), others were less so. There were different levels of observance and strictness and there was persecution in communities where people did not fit in (think Salem witch trials).

And then we have this pesky revolution and the revolutionary language and the fervor to break free from the monarchy and strike out on our own. And we accomplished it. Now, if you look at how we accomplished it, there are some points that don’t make us look great, but overall, we did what we set out to do and got out from under British rule.

Then we had to set up a government of our own, and this is where things get sticky, and where the problems arise for Texas and all those who want to rewrite history. Religion wasn’t what we think of today in the eighteenth century. In the eighteenth century, religion was more about rules, the elect, and the chosen (no, not the Jews, the chosen people that Isaiah talks about, among others). This is already turning into a novella, so I’m going to skip the religious history lesson, but let’s suffice to say that most of the framers of the Constitution would be flat out horrified by our concept of religion.

When the constitution was being developed, Jefferson was approached by a small religious group from Virginia who were extremely concerned about the possibility that the nation would be governed as a theocracy. We’d already seen how badly that can go, and they wanted to make sure they weren’t just going to have to move again. Jefferson agreed and convinced the rest of the framers that the language “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” made it into the first amendment of the Constitution.

For that group, this clause was exceptionally important because it meant they would have the freedom to practice their religion without government interference and that the government couldn’t create a law that would make their religion illegal.

Wonder who this little group was? I bet you’re going to be surprised: the Anabaptists. Also known as the precursor to the modern day Southern Baptists and also the Northern Baptists. How’s that for irony?

So, where does all of this get us? Well, it gets us to a place where I can now easily explain why I’m homeschooling my kids. I don’t want them to think that Jefferson was anything less (or more) than what he was. So while my children’s relatives are going to miss out on learning about Jefferson and his role in the American and French revolution, my children will know. Hopefully, they’ll be able to share their knowledge and feel good about it, but my guess is that kids educated in the public schools will be like all of us who came before them . . . unable to question what we’re taught until we meet someone in college who forces us to think. That’s when education begins.

*Also, Roger Ebert has pointed out that Texas buys 7% of the nation’s textbooks. Hardly the monopoly implied in the above article. Also? I wonder what happens if the textbook companies just refuse to play ball with these new standards. Something to think about.