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“Celebrating The Nation That Can’t Stay Still”: The Purpose Of The Past Is To Serve The Present And Future

It is the birthright of all Americans to be patriotic in their own way, something worth remembering at a moment of great political division. Instead of challenging each other’s love of country, we should accept that deep affection can take different forms.

There is, of course, the option of setting politics aside altogether on the Fourth of July. Anyone who loves baseball, hot dogs, barbecues, fireworks and beaches as much as I do has no problem with that. Still, I’m not a fan of papering over our disagreements. It is far better to face and discuss them with at least a degree of mutual respect.

When it comes to the varieties of patriotism, I’d make the case that some of us look more toward the past and others to the future. Some Americans speak of our nation’s manifest virtues as rooted in old values nurtured by a deposit of ideas that we must preserve against all challengers. Others focus on our country’s proven capacity for self-correction and change.

As a result, one stream of reverence for our founders flows from a belief that they have set down timeless truths. The alternative view lifts them up as political and intellectual adventurers willing to break with old systems and accepted ways of thinking.

These are broad categories, and many citizens are no doubt drawn simultaneously to aspects of being American that I have put on opposing sides of my past/future, continuity/change ledgers.

Nonetheless, most of us tilt in one direction or the other. Standing at either end of this continuum makes you no less of an American.

Eighty years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt went to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, to offer an Independence Day address insisting that the inventors of our experiment created a nation that would never fear change. He spoke nearly seven years after the onset of the Great Depression in the election year that would end with his biggest landslide victory. FDR was in the midst of the boldest and most radical wave of reform that the New Deal would produce, and you can hear this in his speech. It still serves as a rallying cry for those of us who see our founders as champions of repair, renewal and reform.

What, he asked, had the founders done? “They had broken away from a system of peasantry, away from indentured servitude,” Roosevelt explained. “They could build for themselves a new economic independence. Theirs were not the gods of things as they were, but the gods of things as they ought to be. And so, as Monticello itself so well proves, they used new means and new models to build new structures.”

Not the gods of things as they were, but the gods of things as they ought to be: Thus the creed of the reformer.

As for Jefferson himself, Roosevelt said, he “applied the culture of the past to the needs and the life of the America of his day. His knowledge of history spurred him to inquire into the reason and justice of laws, habits and institutions. His passion for liberty led him to interpret and adapt them in order to better the lot of mankind.”

Here again, the purpose of the past is to serve the present and future. History is about testing institutions against standards and adapting them, as Roosevelt put it, to “enlarge the freedom of the human mind and to destroy the bondage imposed on it by ignorance, poverty and political and religious intolerance.”

There is a straight line between Roosevelt’s understanding of our tradition and President Obama’s as he expressed it in his 2015 speech on the 50th anniversary of the voting rights march in Selma.

“What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished,” Obama declared, “that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?”

No doubt many Americans celebrate a narrative on our national holiday that has a more traditional ring than FDR’s or Obama’s. We can jointly honor our freedom to argue about this but perhaps agree on one proposition: If we had been unwilling in the past to embrace Lincoln’s call to “think anew and act anew” and to find FDR’s “new means” and “new models,” we might not have made it to our 240th birthday.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 3, 2016

July 4, 2016 Posted by | 4th of July, Independence Day, Patriotism | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“This Land Is Your Land”: A More Honest Look At What Patriotism Really Means

As we head into this July 4th weekend, I’m thinking about the fact that a lot of liberals struggle with the whole idea of patriotism. That’s because the word has often been associated with the air-brushed view of this country that omits the struggles and focuses mostly on symbolism. President Obama’s speech at the 50th anniversary of the Selma march gave us a more honest look at what patriotism really means.

And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place? What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people –- unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many, coming together to shape their country’s course?

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?

That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience. That’s why it’s not a museum or a static monument to behold from a distance. It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents: “We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.” “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

In honoring a true patriot, that is exactly how Bruce Springsteen described Pete Seeger at his 90th birthday celebration. Bruce used the occasion to recount the time he and Pete sang together at Obama’s first inauguration – when he took the opportunity to tell an overjoyed Seeger, “You outlasted the bastards, man.”

Bruce’s description of Pete tells us what a true patriotic hero looks like:

Despite Pete’s somewhat benign grandfatherly appearance, he’s a creature of stubborn, defiant and nasty optimism. Inside him he carries a steely toughness that belies that grandfatherly facade and it won’t let him take a step back from the things he believes in. At 90, he remains a stealth dagger to the heart of our country’s illusions about itself…He reminds us of our immense failures as well as shinning a light towards our better angels on the horizon where the country we’ve imagined and hold dear we hope awaits us.

So as you enjoy your holiday weekend, take a few minutes to enjoy this patriotic song (all 4 verses).

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 1, 2016

July 3, 2016 Posted by | 4th of July, American Values, Patriotism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We’re Not There Yet”: On This Martin Luther King Day, How Far Have We Really Come?

Martin Luther King Day honors the birthday of our nation’s 20th century conscience. MLK Day also serves as a benchmark against which to measure the extent to which three plagues cited by King — racism, poverty and war — have been eradicated.

Some judgments come easy. George Wallace’s cry, “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” is a sound of the past.

The Martin Luther King-led civil rights movement changed the political landscape of the United States. When the landmark Voting Rights Act was enacted in 1965, seven months after King launched the Selma march that spurred its passage, African American political office holders in southern states were near zero. By 2013, the number of southern black elected officials had blossomed to more than 300.

Since January 2010, a president who is African American has delivered the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress.

Without question, there has been change and forward movement in the political arena. But we’re not there yet. Yes, Wallace, is off the scene. However, today we have Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

There have been other achievements in the uphill struggle for equality. More African American students are graduating from high school and college since King’s assassination. The black middle class has grown. African American professionals are contributing to virtually every aspect of society.

Progress against racial oppression, however, does not equal victory over the inequalities that prevent African Americans from assuming a rightful place in this country. Glaring disparities exist. Academic achievement, graduation rates, health-care status, employment, incarceration — vast racial gulfs persist.

Then there’s war.

Vietnam broke King’s heart.

What would he think of the more than 6,000 U.S. military personnel and hundreds of U.S. civilians dying due to direct war violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan between October 2001 and April 2015? How would he view our 21st century flooded with millions of war refugees? Could he come to terms with an Iraq war federal price tag of $4.4 trillion?

But I believe that man of peace would be most troubled by the extent to which our scientifically advanced world has outdistanced our moral values.

Sixty-two years ago, in a sermon at his uncle’s church in Detroit, King delivered a sermon in which he said the great danger facing us was not so much the nuclear bomb created by physical science, but “that atomic bomb which lies in the hearts and souls … capable of exploding into the vilest of hate and into the most damaging selfishness.” A perfect reference to the toxic violence of Islamic terrorists such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda — and haters here at home.

How far have we really come?

 

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 18, 2016

January 18, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Martin Luther King Jr, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Jeb Bush Balks At Voting Rights Push”: The More Salient Question Is Whether Voting Rights Have Improved Since 2008

In March, President Obama delivered a powerful speech in Selma, Alabama, where he, among other things, called for Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act. Former President George W. Bush was on hand for the event, and to his credit, the Republican president who last reauthorized the VRA stood and applauded Obama’s call.

If we’re looking for areas in which Jeb Bush disagrees with his brother, we appear to have a new addition to the short list.

The former Florida governor appeared yesterday in Iowa and was asked by an audience member about the Voting Rights Act. Jeb Bush responded:

“I think if that it’s to reauthorize it to continue to provide regulations on top of states, as though we were living in 1960, because those were basically when many of those rules were put in place, I don’t believe that we should do that. There’s been dramatic improvement in access to voting – I mean exponentially better improvement.

 “And I don’t think there’s a role for the federal government to play in most places – could be some, but in most places – where they did have a constructive role in the ‘60s. So I don’t support reauthorizing it as is.”

It’s safe to say that’s not quite what voting-rights advocates hoped to hear from the Republican presidential hopeful.

Bush’s answer, at a certain level, was confusing, though it wasn’t entirely his fault. He was responding to a questioner who specifically asked about “reauthorizing” the VRA, though that’s not what’s on the table – George W. Bush already reauthorized the VRA through 2031. When Jeb said he doesn’t support “reauthorizing it as is,” that didn’t really make substantive sense.

What is on the table is a bipartisan bill to help restore some of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act that were gutted by conservative Supreme Court justices. We can’t say with certainty what Bush thinks about the legislation – that’s not what he was asked – though in context it was obvious that Jeb is comfortable with the high court’s ruling from two years ago.

MSNBC’s Zach Roth tried to flesh out the implications of Bush’s position.

[Bush argued] that he doesn’t see a role for the federal government on voting issues in most places. That seems to suggest that he opposes the parts of the VRA left in tact by the Supreme Court – most prominently, the provision that continues to bar racial discrimination in voting and applies nationwide. It would also mean that Bush opposes other important federal voting laws, like the National Voter Registration Act, also known as the “Motor Voter” law, which requires states to offer voter registration opportunities at the DMV and public assistance agencies.

 That’s a position that some on the right hold. The platform of the Texas Republican Party, for instance, calls for repeal of the VRA and Motor Voter, and calls another important federal voting law, the Help America Vote Act of 2002, unconstitutional. But it would put Bush way out of the mainstream on the issue, even among most conservatives, who accept that there’s still a role for the federal government to play in protecting access to the ballot.

As for Jeb’s assertion that access to the polls has improved over the last 65 years, there’s no denying the accuracy of the claim. Perhaps the more salient question, however, isn’t whether or not conditions are better than they were in 1960, but rather, whether voting rights have improved since 2008.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 9, 2015

October 12, 2015 Posted by | Jeb Bush, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Lots Of Minority People Are Already Voting”: Top Senate Republican Rejects Call For Voting-Rights Fix

It was just last month when much of the nation’s attention turned to Selma, Alabama, where Americans saw former President George W. Bush stand and applaud a call for Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act with a bipartisan bill. Many wondered if, maybe sometime soon, Congress’ Republican majority might agree to tackle the issue.

Voting-rights advocates probably shouldn’t hold their breath. Soon after the event honoring those who marched at the Edmund Pettus Bridge a half-century ago, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) dismissed the very idea of working on the issue. “I think Eric Holder and this administration have trumped up and created an issue where there really isn’t one,” the Texas Republican said.

Asked if Congress should repair the Voting Rights Act formula struck down by the Supreme Court, Cornyn replied, simply, “No.”

Yesterday at the National Press Club, another key GOP senator echoed the sentiment.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Monday he doesn’t expect to bring up legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act, because lots of minority people are already voting. […]

“It depends on what you want to fix,” he said. “If you want to fix more minorities voting, more minorities are already voting.”

The Iowa Republican said the “original intent” of the Voting Rights Act is no longer applicable because “in the last 50 years, it’s made great progress.”

As a factual matter, it’s true that lots of voters from minority communities vote. It’s also true that the nation has made “great progress” as compared to a half-century ago.

But given every relevant detail, Grassley’s posture is tough to defend.

Between the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act and a coordinated Republican campaign, half the nation’s states “have adopted measures making it harder to vote” since 2011. Ari Berman recently added that from 2011 to 2015, “395 new voting restrictions have been introduced” in 49 states.

To see the Voting Rights Act as some kind of quaint relic, no longer needed or valuable in today’s society, is to deny the basics of recent events. The organized assault on voting rights in recent years is unlike anything Americans have seen since the Jim Crow era, making the Voting Rights Act critically important.

What’s more, the Supreme Court’s ruling on the VRA came with a call from the majority justices for lawmakers to craft a new formula for federal scrutiny. There was, in other words, an expectation that Congress, which reauthorized the VRA repeatedly and easily over the decades, would respond to the court ruling with a revised policy.

And yet, here are leading Senate Republicans effectively responding, two years later, “Nah, let’s not bother to do anything at all.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 28, 2015

April 29, 2015 Posted by | Chuck Grassley, John Cornyn, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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