Monday, July 23, 2007

Come Together

From nowhere in particular:*
The writer concludes that the "antigovernment activists of the right and the antiwar activists of the left" may have "irreconcilable" differences. But "their numbers -- and anger -- are of considerable magnitude. Ron Paul will not be the next president of the United States. But his candidacy gives us a good hint about the country the next president is going to have to knit back together."
I've been following this meme for sometime now, and it's a curious one: the idea that we should all "come together" (wasn't that John Lennon's idea first?) over some particular Presidential candidate who will "heal our wounds" and end our "bipartianship" and otherwise "knit" our country "back together."

Did we start a civil war recently, and nobody came?

Whence comes this nonsense? Even former Sen. Danforth has told written a book advising us that the "moral values" debate was "dividing America" and how we could "move forward together," as if history were a progression towards a goal and our failure to agree on that goal or how to get there was how civilizations fell or something. It is all, of course, balderdash.

First, as Lennon sang, come together, but over who? Over me? Over you? Over Sen. John Danforth, whose most memorable public achievement was seeing Clarence Thomas placed on the Supreme Court? Over Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney? Please.

But whence comes this vision of America as a "united country"? Pre-Civil War? Post Civil War? We only lasted 100 years before we had a war to determine the state and cohesion of the republic. It took that to make us decide we were "united," and even then the "unification" didn't really take hold (I grew up hearing "The South will rise again!," and it wasn't always a parochial joke). We didn't really see ourselves as a country, rather than a confederation of states, until the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Even then, the attitude displayed by the fictional Corleone brothers toward Micheal's decision to join the military is not an aberration peculiar to Italian Americans, but a statement a lot of people would have agreed with. Even in my youth people saw themselves more as citizens of a state or a region (the "South") than a nation. Notice now that the common justification for a state of permanent war is that "they" are fighting for "our" freedom. This is reasoning and an argument for unification that only makes sense coming out of the Cold War, when we were told relentlessly that not only could the USSR attack us on 30 minutes notice, but that they would. It's been, of course, a very small shift from "Commies" to "terrorists," as NPR found out last night.

But does anyone outside the Beltway truly look for the President to "unite us?" Are we anxiously awaiting the resurrection of Abe Lincoln (who didn't unite us at all)? Did Democratic primary voters choose John Kerry because "most electable"="most likely to unite us?" As infantile as the "they are fighting for our freedom" slogan is (my freedom depends on someone else? It isn't my inalienable right?), does the majority of the country really think that way?

I don't think so; but this is the story we keep telling ourselves. And the end result, primarily, is a military-industrial complex that has to justify its existence and the massive government expenditures maintaining it; a complete inability to concede that, as a "united people," we might owe a duty to the healthcare of everyone in the country, and a determination (per Jack Cafferty's commentary yesterday) that only citizens are allowed to partake of public services like education (Cafferty noted that Utah, IIRC, had calculated the "cost" of providing education to "illegal immigrants," per the Plyler v. Doe decision of the US Supreme Court of nearly 3 decades ago. This argument, of course, presumes that "illegal immigrants" are ethereal beings who somehow manage to live in a state without renting an apartment, buy goods without ever paying sales tax, earn money not subject to taxation, and otherwise manage the neat trick of existing without paying a dime to any government entity. Presumably this is because they are "illegal." If it were possible to live anywhere in the US without paying taxes on any economic transaction, including wages, we'd have all figured out how to do that by now. So I have no idea what "costs" the state of Utah is talking about, but Cafferty seemed to; which is why he's on TeeVee, and I'm not.). Such is the state of our public discourse today: "illegal immigrants" manage to live better than the rest of us, and at our expense; "Muslims" want to take away our freedoms; and only the right President can heal our national "soul."

More and more, Harry Potter seems wiser and more sane than the national discourse.


I had set this aside, having decided not to publish it, and then I came across this:

Floyd left the State Department on April 1, after 17 years. He said he was fed up with the relentless partisanship and the unwillingness to consider other points of view. His supervisor, a political appointee, kept "telling me to shut up," he said. Nothing like that had occurred under Presidents Bill Clinton or George H.W. Bush. "They just wanted us to be Bush automatons."

Does that sound familiar? Earlier this month, former Surgeon General Richard Carmona told Congress that Bush administration officials had repeatedly tried to weaken or suppress important public health reports because they clashed with administration dogma. He said he was ordered to mention Bush three times on every page of his speeches. Floyd's experience shows that the same close-minded zealotry afflicting many departments of government under Bush has descended on the State Department, too. In effect, as Rice's power and influence has waned along with Bush's, intolerance and monomania have taken its place.
And yet the complaints about "partisnship!" grow ever more shrill. Gee, I wonder if there's a correlation there?

*i.e., no where particularly relevant to my line of thought here.

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