“On July 4, A Message For Patriots Of All Persuasions”: We Need To Remind Ourselves, There Is No Monoply On Patriotism
When the flags fly proudly on the Fourth of July, I always remember what my late father taught me about love of country. He was a deeply patriotic man, much as he despised the scoundrels and pretenders he liked to mock as “jelly-bellied flag flappers.” It is a phrase from a Rudyard Kipling story that aptly describes the belligerent chicken-hawk who never stops squawking – someone like Dick Cheney or Rush Limbaugh.
Like many who volunteered for the U.S. Army in World War II, my dad never spoke much about his four tough years of military service, which brought him under Japanese bombardment in the Pacific theatre. But eventually there came a time when he attached to his lapel a small, eagle-shaped pin, known as a “ruptured duck” – a memento given to every veteran. With this proof of service, he demonstrated that as a lifelong liberal, he loved his country as much as any conservative.
Would such a gesture resonate today? Right-wingers have long sought to establish a monopoly on patriotic expression. On this holiday, when we celebrate the nation’s revolutionary founding, we need to remind ourselves just how hollow that right-wing tactic is and always has been. Only our historical amnesia permits the right – infested with neo-Confederates and other dubious types — to assert an exclusive franchise on the flag, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the whole panoply of national symbols. In the light of history, it should be plain that progressives are fully entitled to a share of America’s heritage; indeed, perhaps even more than their right-wing rivals.
Let’s begin at the official beginning. Although “right” and “left” didn’t define political combat at that time on these shores, there isn’t much doubt that behind the American Revolution, and in particular the Declaration of Independence, was not only a colonial elite but a cabal of left-wing radicals as well.
How else to describe Samuel Adams and Thomas Paine, the revolutionary idealists who declared their contempt for monarchy and aristocracy? It is true that many of their wealthier and more cautious comrades in the Continental Congress disdained Adams as a reckless adventurer “of bankrupt fortune,” and Paine as a rabble-rousing scribbler. Of course popular democracy was a wildly radical doctrine in colonial times, only tamed in the writing of the Constitution by the new nation’s land-owning elites and slaveholders.
The right-wingers of that era were the Tories — colonists who remained loyal to the British crown, opposed to change, and, in their assistance to George III’s occupying army, exactly the opposite of patriots. Only after two centuries of ideological shifting can Tea Party “constitutionalists” claim that the republican faith of the Founding Fathers is “conservative.”
The Civil War was just as plainly a struggle between left and right, between patriots and … well, in those days the Confederate leaders were deemed traitors (a term avoided since then out of a decent concern for Southern sensibilities). Academics dispute the war’s economic and social basis, but there is no doubt that the 19th-century left sought to abolish slavery and preserve the Union, while its right-wing contemporaries fought to extend slavery and destroy the Union.
Reverence for the Confederacy remains an emotional touchstone for right-wing Southern politicians and intellectuals (not to mention the Ku Klux Klan, assorted neo-Nazis, and many activists in the Tea Party). All of these disreputable elements denigrate Lincoln, our greatest president, and promote nostalgia for the plantation, sometimes known as “the Southern way of life.” The latest example is Chris McDaniel, the defeated Tea Party candidate for the Senate in Mississippi, a flag-waver if ever there was one – except when he was delivering fiery speeches to the secessionist Sons of Confederate Veterans. At the risk of offending every “conservative” who runs around with a Stars and Bars bumper sticker, it is hard to see how his conduct qualifies as American patriotism.
Still another inglorious episode in the annals of the right preceded World War II. The “America First” movement that opposed U.S. intervention against Hitler camouflaged itself with red, white and blue but proved to be a haven for foreign agents who were plotting against the United States. (Philip Roth brilliantly depicted this sinister campaign in The Plot Against America.)
Although Communists and pacifists had opposed American entry into the war for their own reasons, the broad-based left of the New Deal coalition understood the threat from the Axis very early. After Pearl Harbor most conservatives honorably joined the war effort, but some continued to promote defeatism and appeasement. And the historical roots of postwar conservatism — the “Old Right” of Joseph McCarthy and Pat Buchanan, the Buckley family and yes, the Koch brothers — can be traced to those prewar Nazi sympathizers.
What does true patriotism mean today? Do you truly love your country if you are a corporate leader hiding billions of dollars in profits offshore or insisting on the declining wages that have ruined the American dream? Do you love your country if you demand the right to pollute its air and water and despoil its countryside, no matter the cost to future generations? Do you love your country when you scheme to deprive your fellow citizens of the right to vote, which so many died to preserve?
Somehow the wingers righteously wrap themselves in Old Glory, as if our heritage belongs to them alone. On this holiday, and every other day, it surely does not.
By: Joe Conason, Featured Post, The National Memo, July 4, 2014
“Fighting Back With Common Sense”: No More Liberal Apologies As Elizabeth Warren Takes The offensive
Elizabeth Warren is cast as many things: a populist, a left-winger, the paladin against the bankers and the rich, the Democrats’ alternative to Hillary Clinton, the policy wonk with a heart.
The senior senator from Massachusetts is certainly a populist and her heart is with those foreclosed upon and exploited by shady financial practices. But she is not nearly as left-wing as many say — she can offer a strong defense of capitalism that’s usually overlooked. And here’s betting that she won’t run against Clinton.
What all the descriptions miss is Warren’s most important contribution to the progressive cause. She is, above all, a lawyer who knows how to make arguments. From the time she first came to public attention, Warren has been challenging conservative presumptions embedded so deeply in our discourse that we barely notice them. Where others equivocate, she fights back with common sense.
Since the Reagan era, Democrats have been so determined to show how pro-market and pro-business they are that they’ve shied away from pointing out that markets could not exist without government, that the well-off depend on the state to keep their wealth secure and that participants in the economy rely on government to keep the marketplace on the level and to temper the business cycle’s gyrations.
Warren doesn’t back away from any of these facts. In her new book, “A Fighting Chance,” she recalls the answer she gave to a voter during a living-room gathering in Andover, Mass., that quickly went viral. She was in the early days of her Senate campaign, in the fall of 2011, and had been asked about the deficit. Characteristically, she pushed the boundaries beyond a narrow fiscal discussion to explain how government helped create wealth.
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own,” she said. “Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.” It was all part of “the underlying social contract,” she said, a phrase politicians don’t typically use.
Warren’s book tells her personal story in a folksy way and documents her major public battles, including her successful effort to establish a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But the book is most striking for the way in which her confident tone parallels Ronald Reagan’s upbeat proclamations on behalf of his own creed. Conservatives loved the Gipper for using straightforward and understandable arguments to make the case for less government. Warren turns the master’s method against the ideology he rhapsodized. Even former treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, who tangled with Warren, acknowledges in his new book “Stress Test” that she has “a gift for explanation.”
Warren tells of meeting with Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), a former FBI agent, to talk about the consumer agency. “After a bit,” she reports, “he cut me off so he could make one thing clear: He didn’t believe in government.”
That seemed strange coming from the graduate of a public university and a veteran of both the military and a government agency, though Warren didn’t press him then. “But someday I hoped to get a chance to ask him: Would you rather fly an airplane without the Federal Aviation Administration checking air traffic control? Would you rather swallow a pill without the Food and Drug Administration testing drug safety? Would you rather defend our nation without a military and fight our fires without our firefighters?”
How often are our anti-government warriors asked such basic questions?
But doesn’t being pro-government mean you’re anti-business? Well, no, Warren says, quite the opposite. “There’s nothing pro-business about crumbling roads and bridges or a power grid that can’t keep up,” she writes. “There’s nothing pro-business about cutting back on scientific research at a time when our businesses need innovation more than ever. There’s nothing pro-business about chopping education opportunities when workers need better training.”
Oh yes, and it really bugs her when people assert that “corporate” and “labor” are “somehow two sides of the same coin.” She asks: “Does anyone think that for every billionaire executive who can afford to write a check for $10 million to get his candidate elected to office, there is a union guy who can do the same? Give me a break.”
At the end of a long liberal era, Reagan electrified conservatives by telling them they didn’t have to apologize anymore for what they believed. Now, Warren insists, it’s the era of liberal apologies that’s over.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 18, 2014
Until not long ago, we tended to think of Republicans as unified and focused, and Democrats as inherently fractious (see, for instance, the evergreen “Dems In Disarray” headline). These days the opposite is true—or at least it’s the case that Republicans have become just as divided as Democrats. But how much of that is about Washington infighting and intraparty struggles for power, and how much is actually substantive and matters to voters? This post from The Upshot at the New York Times has some provocative hints. Using polling data from February that tested opinions on a range of issues, they found that Republicans are much less unified than Democrats when it comes to their opinions on policy:
On these seven issues, 47 percent of self-identified Democrats agree with the party’s stance on at least six of them. And 66 percent agree with at least five. Republicans were less cohesive, with just 25 percent agreeing on six or more issues, and 48 percent agreeing on five.
Piling on more issues showed similar results. To check our results, we also created an 11-issue index that added four topics: federal funding for universal pre-kindergarten, the distribution of wealth in the United States, the minimum wage and abortion. A majority of Democrats—61 percent—agreed with at least eight Democratic positions, compared with 42 percent of Republicans who agreed with eight or more Republican positions.
Even though you have a relatively large number of issues being tested, it could be a function of the particular ones we’re talking about. For instance, minimum wage increases are hugely popular and always have been, so it isn’t surprising that plenty of Republicans break with their party on that, and it doesn’t necessarily signify a fundamental and meaningful fracture. So I went over to the original poll, which has a nice interactive graphic you can use to see crosstabs on each question, and there are some interesting signs of dissent within the GOP. For instance:
20 percent of Republicans say their party is nominating candidates who are too conservative, compared to only 9 percent of Democrats who say their party’s candidates are too liberal. At the same time, 32 percent of Republicans say their party’s candidates aren’t conservative enough, compared to 18 percent of Democrats who say their party’s candidates aren’t liberal enough.
29 percent of Republicans say they have an unfavorable view of the Republican party, compared to 14 percent of Democrats who have an unfavorable view of the Democratic party.
On many issues, there are between a quarter and two-fifths of Republicans who disagree with the party’s position. 34 percent think marijuana should be legal, 33 percent think gun laws should be more strict, 28 percent support federally funded universal pre-K, 24 percent think global warming is caused mostly by human activity, 36 percent support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, 40 percent support same-sex marriage, and 37 percent think the distribution of wealth should be more fair.
The Tea Party gets all the press, and not without reason, but there is obviously a significant bloc of Republicans who are displeased with their party’s right turn in the last few years. We’re talking about more than just a few disgruntled Rockefeller Republicans bemoaning it after 18 holes at the Greenwich country club. We’re talking about as much as a third of the party’s voters.
Of course, issues aren’t everything, and these days, conservatism is defined in many ways. It’s a set of policy positions, but it can also be measured by the depth of your loathing for Democrats in general and Barack Obama in particular, or by the kinds of political tactics you embrace. But this is a good reminder that there are significant numbers of Republicans out there who, if you just look at what they think about issues, actually look pretty liberal.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 15, 2014
Wouldn’t you figure it would be Adam Nagourney of the New York Times who would ruin the splendid living theater of patriotism being acted out in Nevada by quoting everybody’s hero Cliven Bundy as having views about black folks that might embarrass your local Grand Dragon:
[I]f the federal government has moved on, Mr. Bundy — a father of 14 and a registered Republican — has not.
He said he would continue holding a daily news conference; on Saturday, it drew one reporter and one photographer, so Mr. Bundy used the time to officiate at what was in effect a town meeting with supporters, discussing, in a long, loping discourse, the prevalence of abortion, the abuses of welfare and his views on race.
“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.
“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”
Since Nagourney’s story came out late yesterday, you can imagine the consternation in conservative-land, which has for the most part adopted Bundy as a sort of sage-brush counterpart to Duck Dynasty‘s Phil Robertson. What to say? Dean Heller’s staff was smart enough to immediately distance The Boss from Bundy’s racist rant. It took Rand Paul a bit longer to get there. Texas GOP gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott’s people also disavowed an earlier effort to link his cause to Bundy’s. It’s probably a matter of moments before someone accuses Nagourney of inventing the quote about “the Negro,” and it’s probably crossed more than a few minds that Bundy is an agent provocateur. Seems to me the old cowboy really, really wanted to say what he said; he had to understand he was blowing up his own game.
All I know for sure is that the next ten or a hundred conservative gabbers who claim the only racists in America are liberals who play the “race card” are going to have to deal with Bundy’s example. They, not liberals, made the man an icon. Let them explain how his racism is unconnected with all the other reactionary features of his world view, which are pure as ever.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 24, 2014
We are witnessing a reversion to tribalism around the world, away from nation states. The same pattern can be seen even in America – especially in American politics.
Before the rise of the nation-state, between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, the world was mostly tribal. Tribes were united by language, religion, blood, and belief. They feared other tribes and often warred against them. Kings and emperors imposed temporary truces, at most.
But in the past three hundred years the idea of nationhood took root in most of the world. Members of tribes started to become citizens, viewing themselves as a single people with patriotic sentiments and duties toward their homeland. Although nationalism never fully supplanted tribalism in some former colonial territories, the transition from tribe to nation was mostly completed by the mid twentieth century.
Over the last several decades, though, technology has whittled away the underpinnings of the nation state. National economies have become so intertwined that economic security depends less on national armies than on financial transactions around the world. Global corporations play nations off against each other to get the best deals on taxes and regulations.
News and images move so easily across borders that attitudes and aspirations are no longer especially national. Cyber-weapons, no longer the exclusive province of national governments, can originate in a hacker’s garage.
Nations are becoming less relevant in a world where everyone and everything is interconnected. The connections that matter most are again becoming more personal. Religious beliefs and affiliations, the nuances of one’s own language and culture, the daily realities of class, and the extensions of one’s family and its values – all are providing people with ever greater senses of identity.
The nation state, meanwhile, is coming apart. A single Europe – which seemed within reach a few years ago – is now succumbing to the centrifugal forces of its different languages and cultures. The Soviet Union is gone, replaced by nations split along tribal lines. Vladimir Putin can’t easily annex the whole of Ukraine, only the Russian-speaking part. The Balkans have been Balkanized.
Separatist movements have broken out all over — Czechs separating from Slovaks; Kurds wanting to separate from Iraq, Syria, and Turkey; even the Scots seeking separation from England.
The turmoil now consuming much of the Middle East stems less from democratic movements trying to topple dictatorships than from ancient tribal conflicts between the two major denominations of Isam – Sunni and Shia.
And what about America? The world’s “melting pot” is changing color. Between the 2000 and 2010 census the share of the U.S. population calling itself white dropped from 69 to 64 percent, and more than half of the nation’s population growth came from Hispanics.
It’s also becoming more divided by economic class. Increasingly, the rich seem to inhabit a different country than the rest.
But America’s new tribalism can be seen most distinctly in its politics. Nowadays the members of one tribe (calling themselves liberals, progressives, and Democrats) hold sharply different views and values than the members of the other (conservatives, Tea Partiers, and Republicans).
Each tribe has contrasting ideas about rights and freedoms (for liberals, reproductive rights and equal marriage rights; for conservatives, the right to own a gun and do what you want with your property).
Each has its own totems (social insurance versus smaller government) and taboos (cutting entitlements or raising taxes). Each, its own demons (the Tea Party and Ted Cruz; the Affordable Care Act and Barack Obama); its own version of truth (one believes in climate change and evolution; the other doesn’t); and its own media that confirm its beliefs.
The tribes even look different. One is becoming blacker, browner, and more feminine. The other, whiter and more male. (Only 2 percent of Mitt Romney’s voters were African-American, for example.)
Each tribe is headed by rival warlords whose fighting has almost brought the national government in Washington to a halt. Increasingly, the two tribes live separately in their own regions – blue or red state, coastal or mid-section, urban or rural – with state or local governments reflecting their contrasting values.
I’m not making a claim of moral equivalence. Personally, I think the Republican right has gone off the deep end, and if polls are to be believed a majority of Americans agree with me.
But the fact is, the two tribes are pulling America apart, often putting tribal goals over the national interest – which is not that different from what’s happening in the rest of the world.
By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, March 23, 2014