As many of you know, especially since I basically begged for Chips to give a FLOTUS birthday present, I turned 65 this past week. Although birthdays as a whole don’t mean much to me, this particular one does. After all, from now on I know that I will be able to afford excellent medical care, even if I am still under private insurance.
But this particular birthday also presents me with an opportunity for reflection, but not just about where I have been, where I am and where I may be going. With all the important things this country is facing, it also gives me an opportunity to reflect on where this country has been, particularly in my life time, where it is and where it may go in the future. And this last is particularly important this year because a Republican victory may result in an America that won’t be able to be turned around for many years. Just like in terms of climate change there is talk of a tipping point, beyond which we may never recover, the same is true for this country politically this year. This is indeed a tipping point election.
Before I go into the results of my reflecting, I want to bring out two statements that I have seen and heard. Both of these have a bearing on my further discussion so bear with me.
Last year John Boehner said, “All I want to see if the United States I grew up in.”
Just in the past couple weeks, P. M. Carpenter has been making the point that in this current climate, progressives are really conservatives and what passes for conservatism is really radicalism, and that it might be important to start calling ourselves conservatives because we really do want to conserve things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, women’s rights, freedom of and from religion, etc.
I want to look at Boehner’s statement first. I would like also to return this country (to some degree) to the country I grew up in. I was born in the 40’s, truly came to awareness in the 50’s, grew to adulthood in the 60’s, married and started a family in the 70’s. Which brings to the 80’s, Reagan, and the start of the decline of the middle class, the initial feelers put out concerning Social Security, and even a rather obvious attack on the civil rights gains of the 60’ and 70’s. I suddenly found myself in a country that was turning away from what I always was taught were some of its main principles.
I am not going to bore you with all of the beliefs that I really believed were basic underpinnings of this country I loved then and still love today. I am really only to focus on two. The first was something that I was taught was the critical difference between us and those godless communists. Simply stated, Americans did not believe in the principle that “The end justifies the means.” We believed there were right and wrong ways to go about trying to achieve goals. MLK was a perfect personification of this. The main thrust of the Civil Rights movement was peaceful resistance. Sure, I suppose breaking into armories and having a violent revolution was an option, but not really.
The second principle was a statement, basically, about our justice system. I was taught our system was predicated on the principle that it was better to let 10 guilty men go free than to have one innocent man punished. We realized a jury system was, by its very nature, open to mistakes, but the mistakes were to be made, if anything, on the side of leniency.
As I look at things now, I see that both of those principles have either been ignored or simply thrown out by many Americans, and not just Republicans (although very few of those believe in them any more). We see in the Romney campaign and in the Citizens United decision and in the decision to use torture, to name a few, the basic believe that to achieve a goal I can and will use any means available to me, no matter how wrong, how immoral, how it makes other people less than human. And in Congress we see how the one goal, to make President Obama a one term President, anything goes. If the economy goes down the toilet and takes millions of people with it, if thousands of people die because they don’t have access to affordable health care, too bad. There is no moral compass anymore, especially on the right. There is no regard for real human beings. The citizens of this country have become chattel to the self-defined lords of the manors.
The second principle, that of letting 10 guilty men go free to avoid punishing one innocent one has a slightly different counterpart today. The motto of the current Republican/conservative/Tea Party is “Better to keep a thousand legitimate voters from being able to cast a ballot than to let one maybe, possibly, if we imagine hard enough, illegitimate voter cast a ballot.” This is, of course, part of the reduction of the first principle as well, but it goes further than that. It is a total denial of one of the basic ideals of this country when it was founded. And yes I know all the classes of people that weren’t allowed to vote originally, but it still is an affront to the founding fathers who wanted a representative democracy based upon an educated public.
This is already getting longer than I anticipated, but I wanted to touch on Carpenter’s point about liberals and progressives being the true conservatives today. And we are. Unfortunately the purists don’t see that. We are in a battle to save what has gone before and avoid turning back the clock like the Republicans would like us to do. Believe me, the Republicans would like nothing more than to have the President and the Democrats push for single payor right now, because they can then point to us and call us the true radicals. And then they win the power to wipe out decades of accomplishments.
First we must make safe that which has been gained from the assault it is under. The Republicans know if they can’t do it now, they never will be able to. This is their last chance. If we get distracted by what we would like to do going forward, we can easily lose the really important battles right now. However, if we can turn back the Republican assault on what most Americans really consider holy, then we can move forward.
Back to Boehner. Like him I too want to see more of the country I grew up in. Not all of it. Not the periods of times before the Civil Rights movement or even the struggles since then. But I do want to see a country again where those two principles had meaning. Oh, I know they were never totally pure, but they were there and people did believe in them. So Mr. Boehner, if you want to see the country you grew up in stop trampling those principles into the dirt.