Saturday, April 5, 2008

How loaded a term IS "American?"

Chris Raasch' editorial was certainly a telling commentary on the GOP more than it could be said that it was a telling commentary on the Democrats. Democrats "intellectualize" and the Republicans "emotionalize." Is that so? I'd have a different take on how the GOP chooses to apply certain "American" standards.

On the 4th of April in 1968, Rev. Martin Luther King, jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray. The day of his assassination was commemorated in it's 40 year anniversary by King's successors and relatives. Senator McCain gave a speech about how "wrong he was" to have voted against Arizona allowing King's birthday to be celebrated as part of a national holiday. Well, perhaps he had his reasons then, as Rev. King had made some quite inflammatory remarks about the U.S. Government and its foreign policies concerning Vietnam. Of course the news media jumped all over this uppity black man for remarks that they declared bordered on treason. 40 years later and one Rev. Wright, the news media such as Lou Dobbs, Fox News and etc. decide there is something decidedly "un-American" about a Reverend "challenging" people esp. whites, a "white led government" as to how it treats minorities, esp. African-Americans, and of course, Iraq. --The more things change the more they stay the same? So no, I can think of no "red-blooded" American who'd care to hear what sounded like "sympathy" for the "enemy." Whether the "enemy" was the Viet Cong or those countries that welcome Al Qaeda in their midst. Or did Rev. King express "sympathy" for the Viet Cong in his time? Or did he express sympathy for the innocents who were directly casualties of that war? Which might have made him somewhat different from those who saw no difference between a Vietnam with the face of Ho Chi Minh representing the people north or south. Whether on the (old) left or the (anti-Communist) right [as they existed then]. The remarkable American hubris that we bring our own prejudices to a truly foreign people and either expect them to live up to our (western) expectations or live down to them. But understand them as a people with a culture, respect them for what they think, come to grips with the facts that they will never be like us? Impossible. Ultimately, that is why we failed in Vietnam because of our political failures as a western society. And it is still our American hubris and prejudices that make it impossible to win in Iraq. We still do not truly come to grips with a foreign people. Respecting nothing of their beliefs, their culture, why they will never be just like us. "We know so much better" after all. We can basically treat such people as a blank slate to be rewritten upon. Or as children who can be led by the hand into a brave new world. Without a doubt, there is a word for it. But it would also be a word that got lost in the history of American culture. Lost in fact since the 1960s. Having to do with benevolence. But coming with strings attached. But because of this "benevolence" born of presidencies that seek imperial gains; without a doubt it causes suffering. Without a doubt, we may indeed sleep with the sort of bedfellows our own Democratic ideals should in fact shun. Was Rev. King "wrong" in what he said? Or were we wrong not to have listened to his challenges? And while Rev. Wright was no doubt off the wall in some of the things he said about the gvt creating the AIDS virus to decimate the African-American populace, was he necessarily wrong that American foreign policy can make enemies even before it makes allies? No. Because of our rather unique perspective about ourselves. The argument that we carry anywhere we go out of snobbery. We [look down our noses at the rest of the world] because they really can't meet "our" standards. When benevolence is tied to what was once called "the ugly American;" you get a real feel for the Bush foreign policy of today and why in fact Rev. Wright raised hell about it. A condescending benevolence, you really aren't quite good enough, but we'll "help" you anyway because of how it can only help our own political and economic interests. As a consequence, it has caused tremendous suffering and indeed a willingness to sleep with bedfellows that our Democratic ideals should actually shun. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, as examples.

To question American foreign policy is to make one "less American." One could only wish that Mr. Raasch had gone more in-depth.

Here are some more examples of GOP "emotionalizing" and then going on to politically exploit the shallow depths of what it means to be "American." Barack Obama "failing to salute" during the pledge of allegiance or not saying it at all. Or there is something "anti-American" about Jehovah's Witnesses who refuse on religious grounds to not say the pledge, to not salute the flag or refusing to serve in the U.S. Military. It is a loyalty oath for the press to have to say the pledge at the same time as those in the Idaho state legislature recite it. We can take to task Michelle Obama for only "now" being proud of being an American. If you are a politician who fails to wear the U.S. Flag pin (made in China) somehow you aren't "American" enough. Being "American" is all about capitalism but there is something "socialist" in showing compassion (esp. at the federal level) for those in need. Before you can bring your grievances to government and have them redressed, you must first be the "right" sort of American. Middle Class? Men? White? Wealthy? Christian and not just any Christian? Come from the wrong part of the European geographical landscape (Ireland, Italy, Germany...) and you were singularly "not welcome." My mother's original name was Werner. Because Germans were "unwelcome" when her mother's family came to the U.S. in the late 19th century, they changed their names to Warner to better blend in. Our prejudices after all weren't simply limited to how we might just treat the rest of the world but also whom we were more likely to be comfortable with on the home front. In short, we didn't live up to our own Democratic ideals. As a result, we could indeed be challenged by the likes of Rev. King.

My take on what it is to be American? Respecting the U.S. Constitution first and foremost. If as some "Christians" claim that the document is based on biblical principles then I can think of only one: Love thy neighbor as thyself. Freedom of speech isn't exclusive to you and those who agree with you. It is shared by those who dissent. It is shared by those who exploit it even in morally questionable areas such as porn. It is shared by those who lack moral integrity and by those we can trust for their moral integrity. It is shared by Christians of all types and by non-Christians of all types. It is shared by those who walk the political extremes and those who wander the middle of the road. How "American" would we be if we decided that Democratic ideals excluded people we did not agree with. Only we can truly be "patriotic" because... --Source Pat Robertson. We are more American because of service in Vietnam... --McCain ad. However, did Senator McCain forget the fact that GW back in 2000 seemed to think there was something wrong with serving your country during that conflict and that was the view of his supporters as well? That in 2004, another Vietnam vet could be "swift boated" not for the fact that he served but because he had somehow "embellished his record" and then "turned on his country" when speaking out against the war. Serving your country doesn't earn you a right to express an opinion that may indeed be contrary to others? GW himself hadn't served in Vietnam. He flew a fighter jet in the safety of U.S. airspace. But because of his family connections, neither did he have to abide by the military contract that he signed. If up to Ronald Reagan, "military service" was to get you in the door as the "ultimate American" then surely GW showed his anti-American colors in how he treated fellow Republicans and Democrats!

Is "American" a loaded term? Only if it is utilized as a politically divisive "wedge issue." And by what political faction. Which is why I could understand (old) left bloggers jumping on "American" as a pejorative term. "American" that somehow excludes the rest of us for what ever reason and certainly because of the political mileage one can obtain from it, is indeed a pejorative term. Chris Raasch could write it; I wonder just how much he understood about it?

Letter to the editor in the Spokesman-Review's Roundtable. Jack Birkland of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. This most telling of excerpts from the letter that completely makes my case:

If over the years you strongly believe in a certain faith or conviction it is going to stay with you. There is no doubt that Obama over the years worshiped his pastor and still does. Would he have any prejudice as our president? If you have any doubt today, just examine the conflicts and hate between people of different religious faiths or beliefs.


Right, we can be sure that Obama would have such prejudices, hates and conflicts because of who his pastor is. (But of course I am not this man?) Found in the bible, Jesus told his followers and those who had come to hear him preach something that would have indeed been inflammatory for his time and the present age: The self-righteous type who came before the temple and entering to pray at the alter, pounding on his chest and thanking God that I am not this sinner. The sinner all humble and praying to God and acknowledging his failures in life. Sounds entirely what Mr. Birkland said in this last paragraph of his letter. How self-righteous he is in describing (that sinner) who went to the "wrong church" and listened to the "wrong pastor." So who was Birkland's pastor then who himself had a problem with biblical compliance? Can't argue a lack of morals in others if you can't first find them in yourself.

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