“. . . a pulse of thought, To memory of Him . . .” (Walt Whitman)

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Abraham Lincoln, born February 12, 1809
“The proponents of states’ rights may have arguments, but they have lost their force, in courts as well as in the popular mind” (Garry Wills).

The Declaration of Independence was only the “proposition” that all men are created equal, not a statement of the reality of the time.

The 13th Amendment making slavery illegal was passed in Congress January 31, 1865, under President Lincoln and ratified December 6, 1865. The Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing equal protection under the law by which Brown v. Board of Education and all of the cases declaring same-sex marriage un-Constitutional –and many other draconian laws–was ratified July 9, 1868. These two Amendments are Abraham Lincoln’s chief legacy, making real the possibility that “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish.” Today is the day we should commemorate, not some arbitrary weekend designed for the moneyed interests in the United States to hold “President’s Day Sales.”

I quote Garry Wills at some length:

Lincoln did not argue law or history, as Daniel Webster had. He made history. He came not to 060present a theory but to impose a symbol, one tested in experience and appealing to national values, expressing emotional urgency in calm abstractions. He came to change the world, to effect an intellectual revolution. No other words could have done it. The miracle is that these words did. In his brief time before the crowd at Gettysburg he wove a spell that has not yet been broken—he called up a new nation out of the blood and trauma.

[Lincoln] not only presented the Declaration of Independence in a new light, as a matter of founding law, but put its central proposition, equality, in a newly favored position as a principle of the Constitution … What had been mere theory. . . —that the nation preceded the states, in time and importance—now became a lived reality of the American tradition. The results of this were seen almost at once. Up to the Civil War “the United States” was invariably a plural noun: “The United States are a free country.” After Gettysburg it became a singular: “The United States is a free country.” This was a result of the whole mode of thinking that Lincoln expressed in his acts as well as his words, making union not a mystical hope but a constitutional reality. When, at the end of the address, he referred to government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” he was not . . . just praising popular government . . . he was saying that America was a people accepting as its great assignment what was addressed in the Declaration. This people was “conceived” in 1776, was “brought forth” as an entity whose birth was datable (“four score and seven years” before) and placeable (“on this continent”), and was capable of receiving a “new birth of freedom.”

Thus Abraham Lincoln changed the way people thought about the Constitution …

The Gettysburg Address has become an authoritative expression of the American spirit—as authoritative as the Declaration itself, and perhaps even more influential, since it determines how we read the Declaration. For most people now, the Declaration means what Lincoln told us it means, as he did to correct the Constitution without overthrowing it … By accepting the Gettysburg Address, and its concept of a single people dedicated to a proposition, we have been changed. Because of it, we live in a different America.

(This passage is from The Atlantic, November 23, 2011. It is abbreviated from pages 145-147 of Garry Wills’ Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992. I discovered this book four years ago when I was teaching my seminar based on the rhetoric of three Presidential speeches. “The Gettysburg Address,” Roosevelt’s “A Date Which Will Live in Infamy,” and Ronald Reagan’s “Challenger” speech. The book is an extended discussion of Lincoln’s “rhetoric” at Gettysburg.)
gettysburgIn a rare image of President Lincoln at Gettysburg, he is shown hatless at the center of a crowd on the orators’ platform. (Library of Congress)

One of Walt Whitman’s five Lincoln poems:
“ABRAHAM LINCOLN (BORN FEB. 12, 1809).”
To-day from each and all, a breath of prayer, a
pulse of thought,
To memory of Him—to birth of Him.

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“. . . the States were NOT strangers to each other; there was a bond of union already. . . ” (Daniel Webster)

We hold these truths to be self evident. . .

We hold these truths to be self evident. . .

Many semesters in teaching “discourse” at SMU, the opening subject matter of my classes was the Gettysburg Address. Everyone reading this knows, and nearly every student to whom I assigned it over the years knew who wrote it and vaguely (some more vaguely than others) why it was written.

The first lecture/discussion I led in those classes began with the question, “Can you finish this sentence in a way that most Americans would know? ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that. . .’” Always there were 1 or 2 students in a class of 15 who could not, but everyone else chimed in, “all men are created equal.”

Then I would ask where the sentence came from, and we usually had a difference of opinion about equally divided in the class. Half would say the Constitution, and half would timidly say the Declaration of Independence. Often one lonely student would insist that the words came from the Bible.

The Constitution, of course, in its original form says something quite different. All men are not created equal. For starters, a black man who happened to be a slave, by the calculation of the Constitution, was only 3/5ths of a person (Article 1, section 2). And women were not part of the political process. The equality of the Constitution is for free white males.

So where did this “all men are created equal” nonsense come from—and, more importantly, why do about half of the students (not a scientific sampling, to be sure) at a major exclusive/expensive university think the words are in the Constitution?

That so many Americans assume the phrase about equality is in the Constitution derives from the thinking of men like Daniel Webster and others before him.

At least as far back as the meeting of the first Congress, in 1774, [the states] had been in some measure, and for some national purposes, united together. Before the Confederation of 1781, they had declared independence jointly, and had carried on the war jointly, both by sea and land; and this not as separate States, but as one people. When, therefore, they formed that Confederation . . . the States were not strangers to each other; there was a bond of union already subsisting between them; they were associated, united States; and the object of the Confederation was to make a stronger and better bond of union.
(Webster, Daniel. “The Constitution Not a Compact between Sovereign States.” U.S. Senate, February 16, 1833. Web. Gutenberg.org).

The purpose of the Continental Congress in 1787 was to make a “more perfect union,” not to create one. We simply assume—or we would not celebrate this holiday—that the Declaration of Independence is the founding document of the nation.

A nation so conceived and so dedicated

A nation so conceived and so dedicated

[The Declaration of Independence] was “a declaration by the representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled”—“by the delegates of the good people of the colonies. . .” It was not an act done by the State governments . . . It was emphatically the act of the whole people of the united colonies. . . From the moment of the Declaration of Independence . . . the united colonies must be considered as being a nation de facto, having a general government over it, created and acting by the general consent of the people of all the colonies. (Story, Joseph. Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, Bk. II, Ch. 1, “The History of the Revolution,” pp 157-158).

Abraham Lincoln, in the Gettysburg Address, secured the concept of one nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” and interpreted it for all time.

Abraham Lincoln, despite what some current “conservative” and “original intent” authors and film makers (Willmoore Kendall, Robert Bork, Antonin Scalia, and Dinesh D’Sousa, for example) want us to believe, did not redefine the Constitution. He simply restated so that all Americans understood the founding principle of the nation—the nation that already existed on July 4, 1776—that “all men are created equal.”

The Gettysburg Address has become an authoritative expression of the American spirit—as authoritative as the Declaration itself, and perhaps even more influential, since it determines how we read the Declaration. For most people now, the Declaration means what Lincoln told us it means, as a way of correcting the Constitution without overthrowing it. It is this correction of the spirit, this intellectual revolution, that makes attempts to go back beyond Lincoln to some earlier time so feckless . . . By accepting the Gettysburg Address, its concept of a single people dedicated to a [single] proposition, we have been changed. Because of it, we live in a different America.
(Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992. Page 147.)

All children are not created equal.

All children are not created equal.

“. . . historical events exchange glances with nothingness.”

I have been disturbed—shall I be the gay drama queen I sometimes can’t control?—shaken to the core by actions by two governments half a world apart that seem to me to be identical in nature and in scope.

Al Melvin: does his god say "hate?"

Al Melvin: does his god say “hate?”

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Both are actions that deny full citizenship in the society in which they were taken, and both are despicable instances of the “tyranny of the majority” which all Americans ought to abhor.

The Arizona Legislature passed a measure on Thursday that allows business owners asserting their religious beliefs to refuse service to gays and others . . .
(“Bill Viewed as Anti-Gay Is Passed in Arizona.” Associated Press. The New York Times. nytimes.com. FEB. 20, 2014. Web.)

Brushing aside Western threats and outrage, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda significantly strengthened Africa’s antigay movement on Monday, signing into law a bill imposing harsh sentences for homosexual acts, including life imprisonment in some cases, according to government officials.
(Cowell, Alan. “Uganda’s President Signs Anti-Gay Bill.” The New York Times. nytimes.com. Feb 24, 2014. Web.)

Both laws were passed at the behest of, the instigation of people who claim to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth who said, “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:35, NRSV).

Jesus used the parable of the Good Samaritan to show that faggots can possibly be better neighbors and better understand the Gospel he was trying to preach than Southern Baptists of Arizona.

President Yoweri Museve: does his god say "search and destroy?"

President Yoweri Museve: does his god say “search and destroy?”

“Love your neighbor as yourself” is the basis of all of the ritual law and the ethical underpinning of the social code by which Jesus of Nazareth lived.

Of course, Arizonans are not living under that law or ethical code. The christianists of Arizona will tell you that their state’s legal code and constitution are based on the book from which Jesus’s words come—because they want to accrue to themselves the moral authority that would result from that basis and thus the political power of that authority—but they don’t understand the historical working of Constitutional rights and legal structures in Arizona or any other of the United States.

Constitutional Law scholar Kenji Yoshino discussed the erroneous assumption that American jurisprudence is based on the bible yesterday in a conversation with Arizona State Senator and gubernatorial candidate Al Melvin, one of the proponents of the idea that the Constitution allows for the discrimination the Arizona law prescribes. Practicing hatred and discrimination, by Al Melvin’s reckoning, is a guarantee of the religious freedom outlined in the First Amendment.

I frankly don’t give a damn who wins that argument. I simply want to ask the question, “Even though christianists in this country have the right, by the First Amendment to our Constitution, to practice their religion of discrimination  against gays—or anyone else (African Americans not so long ago, and Native American Comanches before that, and immigrants who speak Spanish now)—does not their own religion, which they are so desperate to practice, preclude them from that kind of hatred and discrimination?

Fortunately, neither the Constitution nor federal law allows for the kind of hatred they want to practice through discrimination in the name of their religion, and even if Governor Brewer signs the despicably irreligious law, it will almost certainly be struck down by the courts.

When I was a gay boy growing up in Nebraska, I was discriminated against daily. Not through a law giving Mr. Devor, owner of the shoe store where we bought all of our shoes in Scottsbluff and a member of our Baptist church, the right to refuse to sell my mother shoes for me because I was a budding little faggot but through the horror with which our Baptist religion looked upon me (and I did myself, trying to follow the Baptist thought of all of the adults in my life).

I’m not singling the Baptists out here. That is simply the version of Christianity I grew up with and understood as a child. The Methodists and Seventh Day Adventists and Catholics (although we did not really consider them Christians) all looked upon me the same way, in accordance with their religion.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways (I Corinthians 13:11—there, see, I did learn the Baptist religion; I can quote scripture with the best of them—most likely better than Al Melvin).

I am not saying that religion is childish. Neither am I saying Mr. Devor was childish. When I became an adult, I put an end to my own self-hatred learned from Al Melvin’s religion.

I’m sick of explanations.

Life is not a thing, but the way things behave.

Life is not Al Melvin’s hatred, it’s the way his hatred behaves toward me. And African Americans. And Native Americans. And immigrant Americans. It’s also the way my hatred behaves, to make things clear.

The older I get, the less tolerance I have for hatred, for ignorance, and for bullying in the name of Jesus (or anything or anyone else).

Costumes Exchanging Glances, by Mary Jo Bang

The rhinestone lights blink off and on.
Pretend stars.
I’m sick of explanations. A life is like Russell said
of electricity, not a thing but the way things behave.
A science of motion toward some flat surface,
some heat, some cold. Some light
can leave some after-image but it doesn’t last.
Isn’t that what they say? That and that
historical events exchange glances with nothingness.
 

Mary Jo Bang is one year younger than I—another old fart who is tired of explanations.
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About this poem, by Mary Jo Bang.
Bertrand Russell said, ‘Electricity is not a thing like St. Paul’s Cathedral; it is a way in which things behave.’ And it’s not ‘they’ who say, but Walter Benjamin who said, ‘Things are only mannequins and even the great world-historical events are only costumes beneath which they exchange glances with nothingness, with the base and the banal.’ In September, 1940, Benjamin died under ambiguous circumstances in the French-Spanish border town of Portbou, while attempting to flee the Nazis.
Copyright © 2014 by Mary Jo Bang. This poem [conveniently—synchronously] appeared in Poem-A-Day on February 26, 2014.
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The terrorists have won

John C. Calhoun, spiritual father of the first great insurrection.

John C. Calhoun, spiritual father of the first great insurrection.

While we strike (supposed) terrorists in Yemen with drones, and urge the NSA to spy on us relentlessly without constraint in order to prevent a “terrorist” attack, we have allowed a coup d’état to take place at the highest levels of our government. It is finished. It is over. The revolution is complete. We have knuckled under to a terrorist takeover of our democratic processes.

Terrorists use intimidation, sometimes military and violent, sometimes seemingly civil and non-violent, to force a family (kidnapping) or a nation (insurrection) to do their bidding. We have an entire ENORMOUS industry in the US devoted to keeping us safe from terrorism. But it has failed us. The Tea Party has brought about a successful insurrection—they have destroyed representative government as surely as if they had commandeered the Pentagon.

terrorism
1. the use of violence and threats TO INTIMIDATE or coerce, especially for political purposes.
2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
3. a TERRORISTIC METHOD of governing or of resisting a government.   (Dictionary.com)

The media in America understands the coup although no one seems to have connected the dots. (You can skip all of the short references and read the clearest statement of the facts, by E.J. Dionne–below all of the clips.)

“Congressman [Peter] King (R-N.Y.) claimed that Cruz has been trying to INTIMIDATE members of the GOP with ‘implicit threats of primaries’ if they don’t vote the right way” (1). 

“The danger is that the Republican leadership, held HOSTAGE by the Tea Party. . . “ (2).

“At an Illinois town hall meeting on Monday, Republican Congressman Aaron Schock said those threatening to hold the government budget HOSTAGE over health care were misguided, ‘beating their chests.’ Schock said, ‘If you’re going to take a hostage, you have to be willing to shoot it.’ To which an audience member gleefully said, ‘Kill it’ [the budget]” (3).

“We don’t always agree with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, but he was correct Tuesday when he called on the House to put federal workers back on the job — and then take the budget to conference committee without a “gun to the head.” To negotiate now would be to reward the HOSTAGE-TAKERS for their unreasonable behavior. The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, and Republicans need to give up their obsession with it unless, of course, they had something more productive to offer than a one-year delay” (4).

“. . . the Republican leadership seemed powerless to rein in the demands of its most conservative members, who would rather shut down the government or – – even worse — force a default in the government’s bond payments to bring an end to Obamacare. Such moves would be disastrous for the country, and ruinous for the Republican Party. Put aside, for a moment, the hope for a half-a-loaf compromise with Democrats. The people driving this government HOSTAGE-TAKING aren’t looking for half a loaf, and their tactics can’t be rewarded” (5).

“Democrats such as Senate majority leader Harry Reid have sought to paint themselves as willing to make responsible spending cuts, while tea party Republicans hold such a deal HOSTAGE to their own whims” (6).

“Yet yesterday the options for reaching a compromise appeared narrow, not least because of Republican attempts to HOLD THE GOVERNMENT HOSTAGE by crippling the so-called Obamacare reforms, hated by Tea Party conservatives and set to be rolled out on the same date” (7).

DIONNE, E.J.  “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: THE TEA PARTY SHUTDOWN.” Contra Costa Times (California). (October 2, 2013. Web. LexisNexis Academic.  4 Oct. 2013.

The tea party Republicans should hang a “Mission Accomplished” banner across the House of Representatives. They could flank it with large portraits of Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who has in fact, if not in name, replaced John Boehner as speaker of the House. The right-wing extremists got exactly what they wanted. Now, what will the country do about it?

In blundering into a shutdown, Boehner has lost any claim to authority. Helpfully, the speaker-in-name-only underscored this fact himself on the House floor when he mocked the way President Barack Obama talked. Does anyone remember a real speaker going to the well of the House and making fun of a president of the United States? Can anyone now DOUBT WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR WASHINGTON’S DYSFUNCTION? THE REPUBLICAN RIGHT STILL DOES NOT ACCEPT THE LEGITIMACY OF OBAMA’S PRESIDENCY. THIS IS WHY MUCH OF THE GOVERNMENT SHUT DOWN. . . .

Making sure the government pays its debt is not a “concession.” It’s what we expect from A WELL-FUNCTIONING CONSTITUTIONAL SYSTEM.

A WELL-FUNCTIONING CONSTITUTIONAL SYSTEM

A WELL-FUNCTIONING CONSTITUTIONAL SYSTEM

It’s what we expect from decent stewards of our great experiment. THE EXTREMISTS WHO HAVE TAKEN OVER THE HOUSE DO NOT BELIEVE IN A NORMAL, CONSTITUTIONAL SYSTEM. THEY BELIEVE ONLY IN POWER. 

There’s a profound irony here, since no one talks more about the Constitution than the tea party. Before the Civil War, John C. Calhoun and a variety of nullifiers and future secessionists spoke incessantly about the Constitution, too. We know where that led.

In the course of things in a constitutional and democratic republic, parties win elections on the issues that matter to them. They pass laws or repeal them by majority vote. The tea party could not muster such a majority to repeal the Affordable Care Act because Democrats held the White House and the Senate in the 2012 elections. Lacking a majority, the extremists chose force. “Do what we want,” they said, “or we will render the country ungovernable.”

That’s what they have done. Everyone says Boehner knew better and did not want this outcome. But he was so fearful for his job that he let it happen.

120801_ted_cruz_win_ap_605My conservative colleague Michael Gerson had it exactly right Tuesday: “We are no longer seeing a revolt against the Republican leadership, or even against the Republican ‘establishment’; THIS REVOLT IS AGAINST ANYONE WHO ACCEPTS THE CONSTRAINTS OF POLITICAL REALITY.”
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(1) Howerton, Jason.  “GOP Rep. Goes Off on Ted Cruz: He’s a ‘Fraud’, ‘Kamikaze Pilot’ and ‘Those I’ve Spoken to Think He’s Crazy’.” The Blaze. Sep. 25, 2013. Web. 4 Oct. 2013.
(2) Ibbitson, John. “Americans held hostage by Tea Party.” The Globe and Mail (Canada). September 30, 2013. Web. LexisNexis Academic.  4 Oct. 2013.
(3) Jan, Tracy. “This time, Tea Party aims at GOP ; Activists call for risking government shutdown to stop health law.”  The Boston Globe. 9 August 2013. Web. 4 Oct. 2013.
(4) “The unproductive shutdown.” Editorial page. McClatchy – Tribune Business News. 2013, Oct 01. Web. 4 Oct. 2013
(5) “Moment of truth for GOP: Break away from Tea Party.” Editorial. The Boston Globe. 28 September 2013. Web. 4 Oct. 2013.
(6) Trumbull, Mark. “Government shutdown: How might this time be different from 1995?” The Christian Science Monitor.  2011, Apr 05. Web. 4 Oct. 2013.
(7) Usborne, David, US Editor. “Obamacare battle may trigger government shutdown; Republican attempts to derail planned healthcare reforms could provoke financial meltdown.” The Independent (London). September 21, 2013 Saturday. Web.  LexisNexis Academic. 4 Oct. 2013.