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Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Purple State Of Mind News
Tracking Purple State of Mind across America…
Filed under: Politics
Posted by: Purple State of News
by JOHN MARKS
Dr. Harold Freeman saw the problem clearly enough. The women of Harlem had abnormally high rates of breast cancer. The solution baffled him, but at some level that he didn’t quite appreciate, the answer lay right in front of him. In fact, it was him.
At 34, he’d turned his back on a more lucrative practice in order to solve the problem of the cancer rate in Harlem. Over time, he figured out that the preponderance of cases had less to do with medicine than economics. The women were poor, and that made them less likely to know about the cancer, deal with the cancer, ask a doctor to treat the cancer. Simple enough, one might say, but it took Freeman’s focus to crack the code and eventually bring down the cancer rates for women in Harlem and other low income neighborhoods.
This makes a great medical story, but for Peabody-Award-winning journalist and author Stephen Kiernan, Freeman’s triumph isn’t just about curing illness. “There is a name for a person with such courage, such commitment, such a sense of being part of something larger than himself,” he writes in his new book Authentic Patriotism: Restoring America’s Founding Ideals Through Selfless Action. “There is a name for a person who sees a problem and declares that it cannot be allowed to persist in a country as great as ours. There is a name for a person who exercises independence as a means of working for the common good. This is an authentic patriot.”
Over the course of his book, Kiernan identifies other men and women who made equal sacrifices to great effect, but he doesn’t stop there. In a language quietly persuasive, he urges people to look at these examples and then get involved. Publishers Weekly recently called the book, “a stirring argument against apathy and for engagement.”
It’s definitely that, but it’s also a pitch for seeing the country through completely different eyes, neither left not right, conservative nor liberal. The ideological division on every corner turns out to be a nightmare distraction from the very big job at hand.
This week, Kiernan takes his case to the Village Square in Tallahassee, and so it seemed like a good moment to revisit last year’s Purple Interview with him.
Q:First, a question about the writing of the book. Talk to me about its tone, which is superbly calibrated, inspirational and authoritative without being either cloying or hectoring. Was it hard to strike the right balance?
A:The tone of this book was one of the most difficult challenges, just from a writing standpoint. I was reading so much about the condition of the country that was scolding or blaming or critical or judgmental or partisan, and I refused to go that way. At the same time, I did not want to write something saccharine. All of the people I was profiling were charismatic. Some were humbly so, and others were arrogantly so, but they all had a capacity to inspire others, and I listened to their tone.
I also listened to the tone of great speakers in United States history. There’s a great collection from thirty or forty years ago called “We Hold These Truths”, great speeches from the nation’s history. One of the speeches, which I excerpt, was Ronald Reagan’s farewell address, where he talks about his worries for the country, and the tone is so good. So there was a bit of that kind of influence.
To be honest, I had to work up a kind of courage to talk about things like wanting America to be great again. I had to work up the nerve to say I love this country, and it can be better, and we all need to get busy.
I was always careful not to be a hypocrite. I couldn’t ask people to do more than I’m willing to do myself or that I’m already doing. And I hope that the tone of this isn’t “You must”, but rather, “Look at these great examples. Let’s imagine together what we can accomplish.”
Q: Let me ask you about one word in particular. Patriotism. It’s important enough to you that you put it in your title. Can you talk about how you decided to use that word to designate your project?
A:There’s a place in the text where I talk about how patriotism has been misused by people at both ends of the political spectrum, and we’ve lost what the word is actually about. It isn’t a set of ideas that you use to bash people over the head with. It’s not about you at all. It’s about your country.
For the book, I read fairly deeply in the literature of what was going on on this continent between 1730 and 1810. And a lot of it was about freedom, but that was only part of the conversation. The larger part of the conversation was a new idea about what a person is, the inherent nobility of every human being.
So we think we’re all created equal? That’s not how they feel about it in England. There, 40 percent of the land is owned by 600 families. We weren’t created equal. How you were born, what family you were born into, determines your status. The idea of inalienable rights? Nonsense! You’re a subject. You do what you’re told or off with your head. Right?That’s simplified, of course. But this idea of what a person is is the one we see enshrined in the Bill of Rights, for example, in religious freedom, for example.
Though we’ve done pretty well at cultivating the rights of the individual as a culture and as a nation, the whole was just as important to the Founders. E Pluribus Unum, Out of the many One. The preamble of the constitution begins “We The People.” So maybe we’ve done pretty well at cultivating the rights of individuals, but we’ve done an insufficient job at engagement in the well-being of the whole. You have plenty of people today who think that America’s well-being is someone else’s job, but that’s wrong. If you’re in a monarchy, the country’s well-being is the king’s job. In a military state, it’s the army’s job. But we live in a democracy, and here it’s our job. It’s the peoples job.
Or put it this way. In Vermont, where I live, you have to be good at driving in the snow, because it snows from October to May. When you’re driving in a snowstorm, the person in the passenger seat is always more anxious than the person in the driver’s seat, having no control, being in this dangerous situation and trying to survive it. The person in the drivers seat has some control over their destiny, and the experience is much less scary to them. I think that’s a metaphor for what it’s like when a country’s in trouble. If we’re sitting in the passenger seat, if we’re not actively engaged in those problems, our anxieties can be higher, our disappointment in the culture is going to be higher, the likelihood that we think we’re going in the wrong direction will be higher.
If we are engaged in solving the problems of our time, we don’t even think about whether we’re headed in the right direction. We’re too busy being worried whether the thing we’re working on is headed in the right direction. And we actually feel good because we’re part of something larger than ourselves.
Q: I’ll grant you all of that, but what does this have to do with the concept of patriotism?
A:If you look at the data about American involvement in this country, all of it, every measure, says we’re less connected and less involved, and in fact, if you draw a graph of the last fifty years of polling results, you would see that as people are less involved, there are also lower numbers in satisfaction in happiness indicators, and you would also see lower confidence in the future of the nation. They make parallel lines.
So if you want to get people feeling good about America again, and feeling good because the nation is headed in the right direction, you got to get them involved. They need to be involved in the well-being of this country.
Let me give you an example, a really nice, divisive one. If I talk to you about abortion, if I talk to any American about abortion, they go right to their corners. There are people who believe that it would be the greatest offense the government could commit to tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her own body. And it would be immoral not to cover abortion as a procedure. There are also people who believe that a woman ending a pregnancy by her own volition is murder, and that it’s immoral for the government to permit that. So you have these two people happy to stand on both sides of the street and happy to shout at each other about this.
Meanwhile, the level of unintended pregnancy in America is the same today as it was in 1981. Okay? Thirty years, zero progress, while everyone stands on the sideline and fights.
And by the way, the argue is all about the government. We’re going to change this state law here, we’re going to lean on that judge there. And I say, you’re wasting time. While you stand on the side of the street, shouting at each other, there’s this long boulevard between you of opportunity to make a difference.
There’s a program in New York City, privately funded by the Robin Hood foundation, that is making a dramatic difference in teen pregnancy rates, teen sexual conduct, teen sex and unintended pregnancy, an enormous difference that’s been replicated in six other states now. There’s a pretty good program in Baltimore. There’s a pretty good program in Philly, very small. There’s an excellent program in Jackson, Mississippi. You talk to these people about abortion, they say, “Don’t bother me, I’m busy preventing unintended pregnancies!”. And by the way, they feel great about that, because while everyone else is shouting and hating and saying the other person is immoral, they are doing something about it.
And their work is helping kids, and it’s preventing babies from having babies, and that’s good for America, and by the way, it’s even good for the taxpayers, because most of those babies having babies don’t have jobs, don’t have education and can’t support those kids. So we can all support those kinds of ideas, we can all love those kinds of ideas. And that’s the sort of stuff that’ll fix the country. And if we want to get any progress, we’ve got to stop standing on the sides of the street shouting, and we’ve got to be walking down the middle, getting stuff done.
And that is exactly what Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams, and James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington, and Benjamin Rush were talking about. Democracy cannot work without an engaged populace any more than a monarchy can function without a king.
Q: What you’re saying makes sense. Surely one echo of it is the Tea Party movement. These people do seem to feel that, not just government, but big business, and everyone else has let them down, and they’re mad, and they want to see a result that comes from the ranks. They’re saying, we’re going to do something about this. Forget government. So if you were going to give them some advice, what would it be?
A:I think the Tea Party is fascinating, but in its infancy. At the moment, it seems to me to be no more than a colorful protest. I was a newspaper reporter and editor. I always loved protest, because it’s unscripted, and it’s quirky. It’s real. It’s not a news conference. It’s real news happening. Also, I think we have an interesting coincidence of a horrible economy, which is going to create some activism from these folks, and the first black president, and that’s bound to have some backlash, and there are some components of both within the Tea Party.
But it will be interesting to see in what direction the Tea Party matures. If it matures in one direction that it’s headed—“Throw The Bums Out”—then it’s just another political body, and probably won’t be a very effective one. Right? It won’t be as strong as Ross Perot’s organization. It might be louder, but it won’t do any better. If it ripens in the direction of citizen engagement, citizen activism that is beyond politics, and is actually about results, social and cultural, I think it could possibly be a very potent and even constructive force. Right now, most of what I hear is anti-incumbent fervor, throw the bums out.
I don’t hear a plea to join forces on the urgent problems of our time. I would liken it to college campuses in the 1960s and early 1970’s, when it was all about protest, and yet those protests matured to the point where now college campuses are immured in service learning. Everyone on college campuses now is part of some non-profit or community action or some program or campaign to improve the life in the towns where the college is located. That’s the norm. And that’s a magnificent way that protest on college campuses has matured. Virtually every college in America has some kind of service learning requirement . It’s considered as important as reading, writing and math.
Maybe the Tea Party will mature in that direction, and if so, I think it would be a potent and perhaps useful force.
I got a phone call on a radio show, and there was a guy who called in. He was very upset because he wanted the Pledge of Allegiance said in his son’s school, and they don’t say the pledge there. He had argued with the school board. He’d argued with the principle, and they hadn’t changed their policy. And he felt that the solution was throw the bums out. Get rid of this school board and get a school board that would reinsitute the pledge.
And I said, “Last time I checked, you have freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly. And every school has a flag in front of it. So imagine that for two minutes before school started each day, your son stands by the flagpole, maybe with you beside him, and recites the pledge. Just does it anyway. Because he can. He’s not waiting for some government agency or the public education system to solve the problem for him. And then he brings three kids there. Or thirty kids. What happens when 200 kids and their parents recite the pledge before the flag every day in front of that school? It’s a million times more powerful than saying it by rote every day in the classroom, first of all. Second, you’re obviously part of something bigger because a lot of you are making a statement about your faith in the nation. Third of all, the media is all over it. So maybe you need to throw the school board out, but in the meantime why don’t you go say the pledge?”
Q: What did he say?
A: There was no follow-up question, but the point is this. You can yell at the school board, or you can say “You know what, the pledge matters so much to me, I’m going to stand outside my school and say it.” I don’t think he’d really thought about the fact that he could do that.
Q:Let’s talk for a second about some of the Americans have set the example and taken matters into their own hands. You’ve got a preacher from mining country, and a New York actress., among others, a real diversity of characters. Let’s talk about Jenifer, for instance, the actress in the Naked Angels troupe. What makes her an authentic patriot?
A:Let me give you a brief preamble to the ingredients for authentic patriotism in my view. There has to be a problem where the government hasn’t solved the problem, and the free market is not participating in finding solutions either.
So you have this young woman. She’s diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, which has been identified as an illness for about 200 years. Everyone who gets it dies, and it’s a horrible way to die, because your body’s motor control kind of creeps in from the extremities, and you lose one function after another until you can’t swallow or breathe. Meanwhile, your cognitive function is perfectly intact, so you know exactly what’s going on.
So she got the diagnosis, and she saw that federal funding for research on this was miniscule, relative to the number of people with the illness, and there had been virtually no progress in decades and decades of research. Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry and the medical industry said this was too complicated to solve. They said, “Go find us an answer, and then we’ll bring it to market.”
So there she is. She’s going to die. The government and the market place are largely indifferent or ineffectual. She’s not scientific, she’s not medical, and she’s not anything. But she is idealistic. And she has this idea of America that is better than the present reality. That little phrase—to build a more perfect union. She thinks that this is a country in which any disease should be curable, because we have the freedom to pursue whatever initiatives we want.
So she, with her two sisters and one friend, founds Project A.L.S.. And they raise money for research. Well, you know, bully for them, but there are a lot of people who raise money for disease research. That’s not the innovation. Their innovation is that they bring the urgency of people who are not in the government bureaucracy or interested shareholders, and the urgency is someone whose life is at stake.
First thing. She completely cracks the grant process. Today, if you want to do research on Lou Gehrig’s Disease, normally, you would try the National Institutes of Health. It’s a 50-page application that takes three months to get together. You get your answer in nine months, whether you’re going to get the grant. Nine months after that, you get your check. By then, you’ve built your lab and hired your research staff. You do your research for two years, you publish it in some paper a year later, and then other people in the field write criticisms of it. Might be a five year enterprise, all together.
Well, Jenifer didn’t have five years. So she collapsed the process by putting together a research advisory council of the best of the best in the country. And there is no application form. You simply describe the work you’re going to do. This committee meets and decides instantly. There was a guy last year who wrote a four-page letter. Ten days later, he had his check. So she collapsed the process by years.
The second thing is, instead of everyone working in their own silos, they emphasize collaboration. So everyone who receives Project A.L.S. funding must come to a quarterly meeting and sit in a room with everyone else and say here’s what we’re doing, here’s what we’re trying, here’s what we’re finding. These people who were competitors are now colleagues. And so a Harvard lab has learned how to take a slice of your skin and turn it into a stem cell. John Hopkins has figured out how to turn that stem cell into a stem cell with the capacity to cure Lou Gehrigs. And then a Columbia University lab has done 500 assays at a time on the potential of that stem cell to cure ALS. All these guys are working together. And the result is they’ve accomplished more in the past eight years than in the past two hundred.
They are going to cure this disease. They did not make it in time to save Jenifer’s life, but that only strengthened her sister’s resolve, and the people who are involved. And now other kinds of disease research are following the same model. These amateurs, total amateurs, because they had a higher idea of what American can be, they have revolutionized medical research, and they are making great progress toward curing a previously impossible disease. If that isn’t American enterprise at its finest, I don’t know what is.
And, by the way, they did it because they think, this is America, and we ought to be able to solve it.
Q:What do you tell people about running up against that first obstacle, the first line of resistance they meet? Let’s face it. A lot of people don’t spend time a huge amount of time fighting uphill battles on their own initiative. What would you say to get people to think about enduring a series of setbacks?
A:A lot of people I profile in this book are exceptional human beings, ad what they’ve done is exceptional, because they’re really extraordinary, and we’re not all extraordinary. Nor should we all quit our jobs to found new non-profits. But that’s not necessary.
For every time one of these extraordinary people got up on a stage to speak, somebody sent out the invitations, somebody licked the envelopes, somebody blew up the balloons, somebody kept track of the money that people donated. For every leader, we need countless followers. The followers are essential to the success of the idea. When I started to question the volunteers of these organizations, or the part-timers, they all had the same noble motives, in terms of making a difference, and they all experienced the same gratifications.
Here’s what I will say. If you read this book, and you like these authentic patriots, it’s not enough to read about them, it is not simply enough to admire them. You must be one. So I have launched the B-1 campaign, which is a website that is a national clearinghouse of volunteer opportunities, 75,000 of them. Put in your zip code, and you’ll see the ones near to where you live. The argument I make is that we don’t need everyone in America to found a new non-profit, but we do need everyone to contribute. I think everyone over the age of ten in America should give three hours a week to some organization that does not directly benefit them.
Let’s think about what that would bring. First of all, that would be an army of volunteers. The non-profits of America wouldn’t know what to do with all of those volunteers at first. There would be so many people helping. Second, all sorts of problems would start to get solved, because there would be so many hands available to solve them. Third, there would be a very powerful economic impact. If everyone worked for three hours a week, that would be the equivalent of creating 19 million jobs. That’s more people than live in New York state. It would be worth more than 2.5 percent on the GDP.
But the biggest benefit of all would be what would happen to these people giving up three hours a week. What would happen to their conscience? What would happen to their spirit? They would begin to feel like they own this country. They and their country would develop some mutuality, and some mutual responsibility and some mutual regard. They would have all of the pleasure and gratification of service of a large idea.
Everyone knows about JFK’s Inaugural Address. “Ask what not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” But everyone forgets the rest of the sentence, which is: “Our only particular reward is a clear conscience.” This is a nation that does not have a clear conscience, John. But as people begin to contribute, it does a world of good for conscience.
If you think three hours is too much, then do one. Do one hour of picking up litter. Do one hour of walking for hope. Go give blood one time, and see how it feels, and see if you don’t find yourself walking around the rest of that day, wanting to tell people about it. Or just feeling a little special in your conscience because you were part of the solution. You’re no longer in the passenger seat in this country. You’re in the driver’s seat. One time, and that’s how little it takes for people to begin to understand what a life of involvement can be.
The thing about the people I write about? None of them started out saying I’m going to change this serious thing in America. They all started out saying, gee, this isn’t quite right. America can be better than this. I’m going to try out this little idea and see what happens, and they found out it felt great to make a difference.
So there will be setbacks, but if you don’t begin, you have the alternative. You can just watch the decay continue. Go ahead, stay in the passenger seat. America won’t cease to exist. But it will definitely not be what it could be and ought to be. Maybe we’ll be France, just a really large France. That wouldn’t be the worst thing, but it’s not what we’re capable of being.
Q: is this what other people might call American exceptionalism?
A: How do you mean the word? I’ve heard it used in different ways.
Q: The idea that this country isn’t like other countries. It has a special mission, a special destiny. It is in some way better than other countries in the sense that its aspiration is larger. It owes more to fate and destiny. America isn’t supposed to be like England. It isn’t like France. It’s something different. It’s something else. And it seems to me that when you talk as you did at the end there, you’re invoking that idea. Are you going for some version of that?
A: Let me put it this way. Is America different? Absolutely. Is it better? Jury’s out. It’s a question of whether it’s willing to be better. There is no nation that has so many different kinds of people within it, and that can give those people an equal voice in governance. So if America doesn’t work, humanity doesn’t work.
by JOHN MARKS
Who is David Barton and why should every American know his name?
One answer would be Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann who last Monday night declared her candidacy for the White House onstage at the New Hampshire debate. If the past is any indication, Bachmann would like to see Barton shaping the educational curriculum for millions of American children, molding the constitutional knowledge of incoming members of Congress and organizing the homeland defense against same-sex marriage.
To a large extent, Barton, an amateur historian, consummate political activist and profoundly divisive figure from Texas, already does all of the above, but a serious Bachmann candidacy would give him unprecedented clout.
In announcing her candidacy, Bachmann managed to be superfluous and extremely canny at the same time. She has made her intentions clear for a while, so no one could have been surprised. As a candidate, she’s already highly exposed. Her political stances are well-known. She’s a definitive anti-government Tea Party figure with a real connection to conservative Christians, who don’t have an acceptable horse in the race yet.
No scandal yet attaches to Bachmann’s name. Compared to potential female candidates of her political stripe, she comes off as the grown-up in the bunch. She has more substance and charisma than Christine O’Donnell, far more organizational vigor than Sarah Palin. Bill Maher may call her Crazy Michele, but in her world, among those who subscribe to her brand of politics, she’s big picture and serious business.
Given the state of the economy, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Michele Bachmann wouldn’t run for president next year, yet her choice of venue for the announcement had enough flair to give her cred with media pundits; she generated the only news in a fairly predictable night. Moreover, the timing and manner of her official declaration of intent suggest that she might wage a clever and damaging fight against even an accomplished opponent like Obama.
Like Barack Obama, if she makes it through the primary season, she will have the history card in her pocket, though most Democrats, conservative, liberal or progressive, and no doubt a fair number of Republicans will shudder at the mere notion of Bachmann as the first woman to sit in the Oval Office. Her fans are impassioned. Her enemies will be ferocious.
Leaving aside the question of whether she can survive the Republican primary process to secure her party’s nomination–it’s not inconceivable, given the range of options open to the electoral base that determines such things–and avoiding entirely for the moment the matter of the general election, it seems an appropriate moment to ask a relevant question about Bachmann’s core beliefs.
How exactly does this candidate understand the history of the country she wants to govern?
That’s where David Barton comes in. As it happens, I’m slightly more qualified to comment on this aspect of her candidacy than your average reader of blogs and newspapers for the simple reason that I’ve spent hours interviewing and numerous published pages writing about Barton, a resident of Aledo, Texas who has become the history guru for the most conservative wing of the Republican Party.
Barton states openly that he wants to transform the United States into a god-centered democracy. He resists the suggestion that he wants an American theocracy, but his critics say it’s just a matter of semantics.
“I call it historical creationism,” Rob Boston, senior policy analyst with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told the Huffington Post recently. “All I can tell you is everything that Barton does is to promote ultra conservative politics and to persuade people to vote for extreme conservative Republicans.”
Anyone who watched the Glenn Beck show last night can judge for themselves. Barton, like Bachmann, is a frequent guest in the Beck universe.
Bachmann and Barton have made common cause for years, ever since she was a state senator. His work informed her efforts to change history standards in textbooks, and his influence shaped her early efforts to ban same-sex marriage. She has taken part in Barton’s extremely popular spiritual tours of Washington D.C., during which he takes pastors, politicians and others on an alternative walk through the American past, emphasizing Christian heritage.
If you want to get a quick read on Barton and his concerns, check out the website for Wallbuilders, the public face of his organization. There you will find–among items on the Treaty of Tripoli and its implications for separation of church and state, a newly acquired document written by one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence Samuel Chase and the Aitken Bible–the following statement of purpose, briefly excerpted here:
WallBuilders is an organization dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built – a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined. In accord with what was so accurately stated by George Washington, we believe that “the propitious [favorable] smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation which disregards the eternal rules of order and right which heaven itself has ordained.”
Why the name “WallBuilders”?
In the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, the nation of Israel rallied together in a grassroots movement to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and thus restore stability, safety, and a promising future to that great city. We have chosen this historical concept of “rebuilding the walls” to represent allegorically the call for citizen involvement in rebuilding our nation’s foundations. As Psalm 11:3 reminds us, “If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?”
WallBuilders’ goal is to exert a direct and positive influence in government, education, and the family by (1) educating the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country; (2) providing information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies which reflect Biblical values; and (3) encouraging Christians to be involved in the civic arena.
For a far more complete assessment of Bachmann’s personal history, beliefs and politics, don’t miss Michelle Goldberg’s recent Newsweek piece, but for a quick detour into the implications of Barton’s influence on her views about the nation’s past (with implications for its present and future), the following might be worth a few minutes of your time.
There was a time when American history 101 didn’t matter so much to conservative Christians. Even in the 1970’s, when evangelicals began to mobilize politically against the social, cultural and political changes of the previous decade, history took a back seat to social issues. Abortion topped the list of concerns, but the overall response to the sea changes of the era had its roots in theology rather than history.
The enemy was secular humanism, which had replaced Christianity with a doctrine brewed of science, social studies, popular culture and western philosophy. Among the transformed disciplines, of course, was history, but the subject lay dormant yet as the engine for a new conservative political philosophy.
Barton’s own journey began with prayer in school. In my book, Reasons To Believe: One Man’s Journey Among The Evangelicals, published by Ecco in 2008, I write about his conviction that student test scores declined after the Supreme Court banned state-sponsored school prayer in the early 1960’s. That decline, which he proved to his own satisfaction, led him slowly but surely to the conclusion that America’s general abandonment of its Christian religious heritage caused degeneration across the board.
He began to fight back. In 1987, he founded Specialty Research Associates, which specializes in “”focuses on the historical research of issues relating to America’s constitutional, moral, and religious heritage.” As part of the effort, he began to collect documents relating to the faith of the Founders; his follow-up organization Wall Builders is now in possession of more than 70,000 such documents, which he takes with him on tours around the country.
Here’s what Barton told me in June 2005 about the range of his campaign: “There’s a good scripture in Ecclesiastes. Cast your bread on many waters. That’s what I do. I work the immediate, the short-term, the long-term. On the one hand, I’m going to bust my tail to get good judges appointed now. In the middle term, I’m going to work my tail off in Senate elections, to make a difference in the kind of people we get.”
“At the same time,” he said, “part of what we do every summer, we handpick about 120 kids out of law school that some day want to be federal judges…and we’ll intern them for twelve weeks over the summer. We’ll say, look, here’s what you get in law school, we know–we teach there–but here’s what the Constitution says, here’s what history says, here’s what precedent has been. You need to know this as well as what you’re getting taught in law school. And so now that’s twenty year’s down the road. Even if they graduate this year, it’s going to take twenty years experience before they get put on a federal bench, and that’s assuming you get the right president and everything else. At the same time, if we’re turning out 120 of these kids every year for the next twenty years, you’re going to have a bigger pool to pull from, and that’s part of the judicial solution.”
That’s Barton in a nutshell. He strives for cultural and governmental transformation at the local, state and national level, and he tirelessly seeds every available piece of ground.
His voyage of self-discovery, for that’s what it was in his case, coincided with a general political and historical awakening among conservative Christians in the 1980’s and1990’s. Seeing what they considered to be the eradication of their religious view of the country from the national political, cultural and social scene, organizations like the Moral Majority and figures like Pat Robertson began to insist publicly on the Christian identities of the Founders of the country.
Theology no longer had any status as ground for an argument; history might prove to be the last available battleground for taking the country back.
Originally, the claim of Christian identity for the nation had little or no direction or content. A relatively small sect within the faith, known as Reconstructionists, had argued since the 1970’s that their god had dominion over government as well as creation. They based their philosophy upon scripture: “And God blessed [ Adam and Eve ] and God said unto them, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” —Genesis 1:28 (KJV)”
Until recently, for a majority of conservative Christians, dominionism, as this belief is more commonly known, had an exotic flavor. The Christian elements in the American past, which are real enough and insufficiently understood, mostly existed as matters of unexamined fact, but were never really advanced as an argument. If they were, they could be briskly enough met by a long-established body of law regarding the separation of church and state going back to Thomas Jefferson and his letter to the Danbury Baptists. For decades, in mainstream legal thought, that separation has been deemed unimpeachable, and throughout most of the last two or three decades, conservative Christians never seriously took it on.
Barton, a direct influence on Glenn Beck, does. Removing that separation is the centerpiece of his effort to change the country. Barton points out that dozens of the Founders, signers of the Declaration of Independence and others, were devout Christians. Many were seminary trained. The drafters of the Constitution relied heavily on the Bible and Biblical quotation in formulating their doctrine. The Capitol itself served as a church until the 1870’s.
Barton goes further. History itself has become tainted with the plague of secularism. At the Kings College in Manhattan, in the basement of the Empire State Building in 2006, I saw him attack the teaching of what he calls the “economic view” of history. His words were essentially a broadside against the work of statistician historians like Marc Bloch and Fernand Braudel, who revolutionized the discipline by introducing an almost atomistic view of the past.
Rather than focus on the deeds of great men–and women–on battles, treaties, dates and deaths, this brand of history relies more on databases, on the rise and fall of economies, on the records left by ship manifests, census reports, ancient sewer systems and linguistic analysis.
In Barton’s view, this version of history leaves no room for lessons of right and wrong, for heroic tales that might serve as a model for citizens. More to the point, it reserves no particular place for god; believers may be observed, like anything else, based on the statistical record they’ve left behind, but their god vanishes in the dust of analysis.
To what extent does Bachmann share Barton’s views on history, particularly the American brand? This week, she reportedly sold her political and personal memoir to Sentinel Press, which will publish the book in the fall. After Labor Day, we’ll know more.
In the meantime, though she herself doesn’t seem to be much of a student of history, mistakenly asserting in the debate that the first shots of the American Revolution were fired in Massachusetts (an echo of her incorrect statements about the Founders and slavery made last January in Iowa), there is enough evidence in the public record that she has adopted the history guru’s central tenet, i.e. that the country needs to go back to god, and not just metaphorically.
As Goldberg writes in her Newsweek piece: “No other candidate in the race is so completely a product of the evangelical right as Bachmann; she could easily become the Christian conservative alternative to the comparatively moderate Mormon Mitt Romney. “Michele Bachmann’s a complete package,” says Ralph Reed, the former Christian Coalition wunderkind who now runs the Faith and Freedom Coalition. “She’s got charisma, she’s got an authentic faith testimony, she’s a proven fighter for conservative values, and she’s well known.”
This weekend, when Bachmann addresses the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, she may not mention Barton by name, but you can bet her history guru’s vision of America will be in the mix. Thanks to Bachmann, Barton seems likely to become a god-centered, guiding spirit of the 2012 GOP race against Barack Obama.
During the years of the George W. Bush presidency, it became a truism among Democrats that their own party could do no right when it came to winning elections.
First, the Clintons imploded over the impeachment scandal, leaving scorched earth for their immediate successor, who got no help in his run at the White House. Al Gore himself added insult to injury. The 2000 election may have been stolen, but if so, it was in plain sight while a limp former vice president looked on. In 2004, John Kerry’s bid lost steam from the moment it was announced, culminating in the bizarre spectacle of a war hero failing to adequately defend his own record.
Now the shoe is on the other foot. Barack Obama can certainly lose in 2012, but if he does, it will be the economy that beats him. Observers need only look at the combination of GOP fool’s gold and fast exits to see how confused and desperate the party of the opposition has become. Rick Perry’s decision to stage an evangelical prayer rally on August 6 in Houston, announced last week, brings the point home beautifully.
Coming a week before the Iowa straw poll, which serious contender Mitt Romney tellingly decided to punt, such a gesture speaks volumes about how the Texas Governor sees both himself, his party and the presidential race. Gov. Perry is playing to the electoral base that will vote heavily in the primaries and will make itself felt, in particular, in Iowa. We’re talking conservative Christians, of course.
These voters have played a decisive role in many recent elections, notably in 2004 and 2010, when they swept Bush into the White House and the Tea Party into Congress. When mobilized, they are force to be reckoned with, and no one should underestimate their potential. As a bloc, they have money, time and will power. They follow the issues closely. They choose their candidate with remarkable specificity, based on record. When the big day comes, they get in their busses and go to the polls. To that extent, they’re a model for us all.
The model can be deceptive, however, and the power comes with enormous and routine downside. Does anyone now recall that Mike Huckabee won the Iowa GOP primary in 2008? He’s now hosting a TV show.
He stayed in the race against John McCain late, thanks to evangelicals, but he never really had a chance to win, thanks to those same folks. Contrary to a widely held belief, social conservatives are not now and never really have been the backbone of the GOP. If they ever were, and the case could have been made in 2006, when their defection from the Republican Party began the great decline in fortunes, that ended in 2008.
The collapse in the economy and the government response to the crisis created a new wave of economically conservative sentiment, the guts of the Tea Party movement, and this wave has its own force and direction. Free market radicals can certainly make common cause with evangelicals; Sarah Palin’s celebrity manages to excite both crowds. But there is a clearly defined point beyond which the alliance no longer makes sense, when the power of the conservative Christian movement ceases to be a boon and becomes a bane for those who want the government out of their lives.
Governor Perry’s prayer rally hits that sweet spot. In taking such a prominent role at an exclusionary religious event, and announcing that role just a week before the Iowa straw poll, Governor Perry is like a baseball player aiming his bat at the far wall in advance of a home run.
He is swinging for the seats with people who want more god in their government, who want to use the power of the state to curtail the rights of gay men and women on grounds of faith, and who have begun to actively agitate for a diminution of the separation of church and state.
Gov. Perry’s prayer rally strategy may impact the straw poll–it probably will–and coming in early August, the event itself it will certainly gain him traction with the social conservative base heading into Labor Day, when the 2012 race officially begins. So far, so good. Yet such a candidacy launched under these particular conditions has a flaw so obvious that it will probably remind Democrats of their own disarray during the Bush years.
Do we even have to say it? Even in a down economy, no other candidate–a religious Texas governor who will leave his post in Austin to go for the White House–will do so much to galvanize a dispirited opposition, You want to turn out the Democratic base? Field the candidate most likely to remind everyone in the country of the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush and at the same time frighten the living hell out of his dispirited enemies. Then have the candidate declare his intentions in the most objectionable possible venue.
Wow. Not even Sarah Palin presents such a dream scenario for the Democratic National Committee.
Yet Perry’s decision to appeal to a base that will literally scare up his opposition and give even his allies pause makes just one part of the spectacle of collapse. Witness the widely reported implosion of the Newt Gingrich candidacy. Did that whole thing even happen? Did his wife Callista know he was running or did she only find out at the last minute and go ballistic? Is that why the two-week cruise happened? Who knows, and really, truly, who the hell cares?
The Gingrich candidacy feels like a bad rip-off of the Bourne Supremacy–a man searching for his own political identity suddenly finds himself in danger of running for president and instead runs for cover.
Meanwhile, we have the unelectable Sarah Palin going cross-country in a bus while never once indicating if this national sashay has anything to do with electoral politics. Well-wishers may give her points for unconventional thinking, but the truth behind the surprise is mundane. She doesn’t want to be president. She wants to be a celebrity and make celebrity money and work celebrity hours. Period.
Then there’s Donald Trump, gone in 60 seconds, and we now hear through the grapevine that Rudy Giuliani may be thinking seriously about another bid. Good luck with that, GOP!
Mitt Romney has a shot, but he’s staying away from Iowa because he knows the evangelical base won’t ever cotton to the Mormon candidate. If Romney does get the nomination, the GOP will find itself with a sectarian schism that no patriot pastor in the world can paper over.
Rick Santorum? For real?
Tim Pawlenty isn’t the worst candidate in the world, but his position on debt relief–the country’s creditors and the world economy can go hang!–may not play well with those critical independent voters, and he doesn’t have much charisma as a candidate. His biggest problem, however, has to be Rick Perry. Pawlenty needs to win the Iowa straw poll to start building momentum, and the Texas Governor just threw bloody red meat to the very people required to secure victory.
It’s no accident that the smart money keeps bowing out. The viable evangelical candidate, Huckabee, saw the writing on the wall and stayed clear. It’s not his year. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels isn’t avoiding the race for family reasons, no matter what he says. He knows he can’t beat Obama. Only the economy can do that, and the signs haven’t been clear enough that a Republican will have the wind at his back.
It’s one thing to subject your family to the political process when you might win. It’s another when you’re far more likely to lose. Who wants to endure hell for the sake of second place?
Democrats may well take pleasure in the spectacular weakness of the opposition, especially in light of rising unemployment figures, but stepping back from the race, this kind of political decomposition is a bad thing for the country. Strong candidates tend to bring substantive issues to the stump. For our money, 2008 was one of the great races, one of which every American can be proud.
It’s not so much about who won. It’s about the spirit of serious contention that focused the attention of voters on matters of genuine import and led to a closely contested election in which vast numbers of people participated. In our current environment, an economic, cultural, social and psychic swamp of bad dreams and dashed hopes, a race between a powerful incumbent and an opposition dwarf will bring out the worst.
If the economy is bad enough, a GOP candidate may not have to stoop to guerilla tactics to win, but if the recovery is on the fence, Americans are likely to experience all of the ugliness of 2008 with none of the idealism. Ruthless ideological warfare and media cheap shots may win a race, but they will also encourage despair and disenchantment in a public already inclined to embrace both.
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