Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr.

I see that there is some continuing furor about remarks said by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., the pastor for Barack Obama. (What does that mean that there is a "furor?" The word gives my imagination images of people red-faced and shouting.)

The minister said "God damn America" for its historical treatment of minorities.

That use of the phrase "God damn" may be a poor word choice, but the sentiment isn't all that wrong. Why, it's the same sentiment that Abraham Lincoln wondered about in his Second Inaugural Address.

...The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." ...

Abraham Lincoln was suggesting that perhaps we deserved our War Against the Rebellion of the Southern Slaveholders, a war that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Americans, and involved hundreds of thousands of casualties (my Hadley ancestors fought for the Union and lost brothers, uncles, sons, and friends in the war). "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." This sentiment that Providence was delivering to us something that indicated we were guilty, and both sides would suffer—should suffer, seems to have occurred to Lincoln shortly after visiting the still-bloodied fields of Antietam. That was a battle, fought on a single day, in which 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, or missing. All the death and much of the physical injury we've experienced in five years of war in Iraq was experienced in a matter of minutes in the Bloody Cornfield and the Sunken Road on that horrible September 17th.

If Abraham Lincoln could suggest to us during the last weeks of his life that perhaps we deserved a terrible and awful punishment for the injustice of slavery, I wonder if it is so bad for Rev. Wright to wish for God's terrible wrath ("God Damn America") to revisit us for our arrogance and all the mistreatment of minorities and non-Americans that has continued since 1865.

I think a poem by Kipling is worth considering here.

...Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet.
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law -
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And, guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!

I think another bit of bitter art that Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermon recalls to my mind is that Thanksgiving Prayer that William S. Burroughs recorded in 1986. Here's an excerpt:

...Thanks for a continent to despoil
and poison.

Thanks for Indians to provide a
modicum of challenge and

Thanks for vast herds of bison to
kill and skin leaving the
carcasses to rot.

Thanks for bounties on wolves
and coyotes.

Thanks for the American dream,
To vulgarize and to falsify until
the bare lies shine through.

Thanks for the KKK....

I think the point here is that sometimes people look at our history and our culture and the negative tendencies we Americans have, and they despair. That anger and bitterness can be a righteous anger that motivates action for progress and improvement. It can also be something people wallow in to no avail and for no benefit. I think it sounds as if Rev. Wright and Obama have harnessed the indignation at our nation's failures to motivate them toward helping us improve our culture and our country.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Politicians Are Sometimes Admirable.

I find in many of my students' papers a frequent dose of cynicism and disgust with politics and politicians. I remember one student, when we were discussing civic engagement and getting involved in the democratic processes, who told the class, "none of these people care about my issues or want to do what I think should be done." The student came from a poor family, and was African-American, but that sort of alienation from the political process seems strong even among my middle-class, European-American students. This is a problem.

I was thinking about politics over our Spring Break, and I thought I would create a list of some of my favorite politicians. I think if people would study the people I've listed here and considered their character and the sorts of policies they have advocated, they wouldn't be so cynical and alienated. Here are my favorite active politicians:

My favorite Democrat, Green, and Independent politicians on the left.
  • U.S. Representative John Conyers, representing the 14th district of Michigan.
  • U.S. Senator Bernard Sanders, representing Vermont.
  • U.S. Senator Barack Obama, representing Illinois. (later President)
  • U.S. Senator Richard Durbin, representing Illinois.
  • U.S. Representative George Miller, representing the 7th district of California.
  • U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton, representing New York. (later Secretary of State)
  • Illinois State Representative Naomi Jakobsson, representing the 103rd district in the Illinois General Assembly.
  • Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
  • Missouri State Senator Joan Bray, representing the 24th district in the Missouri General Assembly.

My favorite Republican, Conservative, and Independent politicians on the right.
  • U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, representing Indiana. (best Republican in national government since John Danforth retired in 1995)
  • Illinois State Senator Christine Radogno, representing the 41st district in the Illinois General Assembly.
  • Missouri State Representative Kathlyn Fares, representing the 91st district in the Missouri general Assembly
Making a list of my favorite politicians active now leads me to consider my favorite historical figures from the world of politics. Here are some more lists along these lines:

Top five favorite Republicans in history:
  1. Abraham Lincoln
  2. John B. Anderson (Republican congressman from the Rockford area of Illinois, ran as an independent in the 1980 election, and endorsed Barack Obama for president in January of 2008)
  3. Herbert Hoover (not really such a bad president, and if you take his whole life and career into consideration he was one of the better men to serve as president)
  4. Theodore Roosevelt (would have been much higher had he been less imperialistic and racist)
  5. Dwight David Eisenhower (yeah, Adlai Stevenson certainly would have been a much better president, but I think Eisenhower did a reasonable job as president, and was an outstanding leader in many other ways. His farewell address is one of the best in the history of the American presidency.)

Worst five Republican Presidents (We’ve had many bad ones from this party. It’s difficult to narrow it down to five.)
  1. George W Bush
  2. William McKinley
  3. Warren Harding
  4. Calvin Coolidge
  5. Ronald Reagan (a nice guy, who was quite likable as a person, but I think he was an awful president, certainly one of the worst).

My five most strongly disliked Democratic Presidents.
  1. James Buchanan (A traitor) (note that John Tyler really was a rebel, who openly supported the Slaveholders Rebellion, but this was a fairly long time after his presidency, and his presidency wasn't especially horrible, whereas James Buchanan really was a failure. John Tyler also might be considered a "Whig" president since he was elected as William Henry Harrison's vice president, but Tyler was a Democrat).
  2. Andrew Jackson (Betrayed the constitution. Not as evil as generally supposed, but still pretty rotten.)
  3. Thomas Woodrow Wilson (He was very racist and had little respect for civil rights or human rights. These flaws outweigh his admirable idealism and his vision of a fair peace to end the Great War and his hopes for a League of Nation to end international conflict. In fact, most American statesmen would have proposed similarly fair peace treaties and rights for nations after the Great War; that was an American position more than a personal position of Wilson.)
  4. Andrew Johnson
  5. Martin Van Buren (Check out the Harrison-Tyler campaign song attacking Van Buren, A Miniature of Martin Van Buren. It has lyrics like these: Who like the wily serpent clings / Who like the pois'nous adder stings / Who is more base than basest Kings? / Van Buren! / Who rules us with an iron rod / Who moves and Satan's beck and nod / Who heeds not man who heeds not God? / Van Buren! ... and so forth.)

Top five favorite Democrats in history:
  1. Henry A. Wallace, vice president to Franklin Delano Roosevelt during Roosevelt’s third term, and also a Secretary of Commerce and Secretary of Agriculture. I wish high school students would read his The Century of the Common Man (1942) speech as part of their American civics courses.
  2. Harry Hopkins, the “deputy president” to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
  3. Thomas Jefferson. Flawed in so many ways, and yet still a great president and one of my personal heroes since I was a boy. He led the Democratic Republicans faction against the Federalist Republicans faction, and it was Jefferson’s faction that evolved into the Democratic Party, a political party that represented much of what was worst in American society from the 1830s to the 1910s, but slowly reformed itself, especially during the 1930s and 1960s, to become a better party.
  4. Paul Wellstone, Senator from Minnesota who served in the U.S. Senate from 1991 until his death in 2002.
  5. Eugene McCarthy, U.S. Congressman and Senator from Minnesota and unsuccessful presidential candidate in 1968 Democratic Party primaries.
FDR doesn’t make my list because he didn’t do enough to save the Jews before World War II and during World War II. If he had done more to give refuge to Jews fleeing Europe or had ordered the bombing of concentration camps or the rail lines leading to concentration camps he would be on the list. LBJ doesn’t make the list because of his responsibility for the Vietnam War. Without that war he would be on here.

Best and worst things about each party:
Democrats: Best thing is their emphasis on equality and policies that help equalize opportunity, including taxing and spending policies that reduce poverty and redistribute wealth. Worst thing was their historic racism and antagonism against immigration, especially in the 19th century and continuing up to the 1960s. For generations the Democratic party was “the white man’s party,” the party of lynch mobs and unabashed racism.
Republicans: Best thing is their progressive wing which advocated for environmentalism way back in the 19th century, regulation of industry (food safety and sanitation), government reforms to eliminate corruption in local politics, and has generally stood for the essential equality of human beings, including the equality of African-Americans and other immigrants compared to the native-born European-Americans. This progressive tendency was strong in the early days of the party and during Reconstruction, and it was sometimes expressed through political leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Robert M. LaFollette, Jr., and Fiorello LaGuardia, but this aspect of the Party has been in decline and weakening. Worst thing is their anti-labor prejudice in favor of capitalists and the wealthy. For many, the Republican Party is the “I’ve got mine!” party defending the preservation of privilege and wealth, and neglecting civic duties and responsibilities to the general welfare.

Other politicians and political leaders I admire:

  • George Washington
  • Alexander Hamilton (he pretty much ran things during Washington's presidential administration, and he's one of the authors of the Federalist Papers.)
  • Clement Attlee (Prime Minister in the UK after Churchill)
  • Robert M. LaFollette, Sr. of Wisconsin, Progressive Party candidate for president in 1924.
  • Eugene V. Debs, one of the greatest socialists of all time.
  • Jeannette Rankin, Republican from Montana, first woman to serve in Congress, and voted against entering World War I.
  • William H. Seward, Whig governor of New York, Senator from New York, and Secretary of State under presidents Lincoln and Johnson.

In my family history there have been some who served in political positions. My distant ancestors in the Ives family served as mayors in Norwich, Norfolk, England in the 18th and early 19th centuries. They were conservative Whigs who seem to have opposed local radical and dissident political movements in the 1760s and 1770s, but as Whigs would have joined with the radicals in opposing the war against American Independence. I had a great grandfather (John "Jack" Turner) who served on the Yukon Territorial Council around the time that George Black and George Norris Williams were Yukon Territory Commissioners. Another great-grandfather, A. B. Hadley of Curlew, Washington ran (I think unsuccessfully) for a local office (County Clerk, I think) in Ferry County, Washington. I know that Great-Grandfather Hadley's father (William Taylor Hadley) voted for Douglas in the 1860 election (he was proud to have been a Democrat, although he was loyal to the Union and served two tours of duty in the Union Army), but all the rest of the Hadley family were strong Republicans in the 1860s. My Stephens ancestors were evidently active in local Republican politics in Oregon in the 19th century.

Hillary Clinton says Michigan Primaries Were Fair

I've just heard an interview with Hillary Clinton. I was so upset by what she said that I sent her campaign a letter. I had liked all the Democratic Party presidential candidates. I supported Barack Obama, but my support for him wasn't much stronger than my support of Clinton. I liked both of the candidates. On policy suggestions, I slightly favored Clinton, but Obama won my vote because I've known about him for about eight years and I've admired him since his days in the Illinois Senate and his work on some committees related to poverty and homelessness in Illinois. I don't have any personal connection to Hillary, but I have multiple personal connections to Obama, so I supported him. It was a case of my second-favorite senator running against my fifth-favorite senator, but I could see that both candidates had slightly different strengths and weaknesses, and I thought it was practically a toss-up between them as to which would make a better candidate. So, I let my personal connections and intuition guide me to favor Obama. Lately however, I was feeling a little upset at some of the attacks I was hearing against Clinton by Obama supporters, and I was beginning to wonder if perhaps I should support Clinton rather than Obama.

Now, after hearing Hillary Clinton on NPR, I no longer feel as supportive of her as I did. I no longer have any doubts or regrets about supporting Barack Obama. I'm ready to put a sign in my yard and contribute money to his campaign.

My letter to Hillary Clinton's campaign will explain why I now feel this way.

I have just heard you on NPR. I feel emotionally crushed, and defeated, and betrayed. I had, until this morning, felt equally happy about you and Obama. You are two of my favorite politicians. I remember back in 1992 wishing you had been nominated rather than your husband, and I still happen to think your husband was an outstanding president. Yet, this morning I heard you say that the Michigan primary was "fair" and that your decision to keep your name on the Michigan primary ballot was "wise." It was wise only in some Machiavellian sense. I remember reading in the newspaper that the Democratic National Committee had asked candidates to withdraw from Michigan's primary, and I remember thinking at the time that it was odd that you were the only candidate who left your name on the ballot. On NPR I believe you just told us that nobody told Obama to take his name off the ballot. Well, no one told him, but he was asked to do so.

I still think you would be a good president, and I still think your policy suggestions are generally better than Obama's, but after hearing you on NPR this morning I can no longer support your candidacy in the primaries, and I am going to stop speaking up for you around here until (if) you win the Democratic Party nomination. You really need to reconsider your approach to the Michigan Primary issue. It's one thing to ask for a new primary there, but quite a different thing to say the primary there was "fair" and your victory, as the only candidate on the ballot, was partly a result of your "wisdom" in keeping your name on the ballot, despite the request of the DNC that you remove your name from the ballot, a request every other candidate honored.

No doubt many other neutral Democrats, or those who slightly favored you, will turn on you if you continue to press this issue as you just did on NPR. Your position on the Michigan primaries is disturbing. I feel horrible, like I've just been punched in the gut by a friend. I wish you had said something more reasonable and true, like, "Well, I won 55% of that Michigan primary, and I think if there was another primary in Michigan I'd win even more than that, but it's true that a primary where only one candidate's name is on the ballot is hardly fair, and I agree with the Obama campaign that we need to find some way to give the people of Michigan a voice in the process of determining the Democratic candidate. So, I'm looking for some way to allow Michigan to seat delegates at our convention, and I don't think that a 50-50 split of those delegates would be fair to me, since my support in Michigan is well above 50%." Saying something like that would be honest, true, and fair, and by showing your fairness and honesty would help you win the hearts of your supporters. Instead of doing that, you have alienated us by saying "the Michigan primaries were fair."