Monday, December 18, 2006

The Conservative Mind

In my on-going effort to understand conservatism, and particularly it's wayward bastard son demonstrated by the George W. Bush administration, I decided to read the book considered the Bible of Conservatism, which is pictured above. The author is Russel Kirk, as the flash may have hidden his name.

I was set for a thoroughly complex philosophy of what conservatism is born from. I have in all honesty, been disappointed. Notice the full title, The Conservative Mind from Burke to Elliot. Edmond Burke is the bloke who so vociferously opposed Tom Paine's writings. Tom Paine's writings are the ones that laid the foundation for the Declaration of Independence(Common Sense) and the Bill of Rights(The Rights of Man). I have long held the view that conservatives fought against American independence in the Revolutionary War, and have pretty much been doing so since then. In all fairness though, I thought it best to read this tome.

The foreword is by Henry Regnery, who's publishing firm includes such notable names as William J. Bennett, Ann Coulter, David Horowitz, Congressman Curt Wheldon, Oliver North, Congressman Dennis Hastert, Michelle Malkin, and Ted Nugent and Charlie Daniels. To quote his forward, " What it all comes down to, he used to say, is that a conservative knows that two plus two always, invariably, equals four, a fact of life that a liberal, on the other hand, is not quite willing to accept."
I thought that a rather weird way to set the tone for a supposed book of scholarly thought. It's those kinds of conservative comments one can find issuing from the mouths of news story commenter's on Yahoo. It's also why last November America rejected conservatism as demonstrated by this administration.

So okay I thought, that's just a publisher who's given ability to grasp what Kirk had to say is below par. He's sunk to the level of comments of his authors like Coulter and Malkin. And since his firm owns the rights to a dead author, who's going to argue with him?

The book so far, has done little to counter my initial impression. In fact, on page 8, the very first of the listed six canons of conservatism is, " Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law...Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems," and on page 33, " Every state is the creation of Providence, whether or not it's religion is Christianity. Christianity is the highest of religions...." At least in this one area has the conservatism of today stuck true to it's past, even if it is a Frankenstein form of it. This is where I think the major problem lies in conservatism being a viable form of thought for governing a nation. It has as it's root a presumed body of truth which is intolerant to the differing realities of modern man. Never mind the fact that today's leaders of the Christian faith are so blatantly far from the core teaching of their own Scriptures.

So as I move through this book, I will be posting in regards to where I see conservatism as unworkable. I think the major policy failures of the Bush administration are symptomatic to their own version of conservatism. My goal is towards conservatism as a historical train of thought, and why I don't think it is suited to be a political mind set.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Errant Religious Right

I knew the minute I heard it, that America was doomed. It was the beginning of the end. Well, not actually. I was pleased, but I knew there would be an instant controversy. And so there is, and lo and behold, you would think that America is doomed.

I'm talking about the election of Jim Ellison from Minnesota to Congress. You see, Jim Ellison is a Muslim. And I thought the controversy would be around the opening of the Congressional session with a prayer. But it's not. it's about Mr. Ellison's desire to take his oath of office with his hand on the Koran instead of a Bible.

The horror of it all! I knew it would rattle the cages of the Religious fanatics of America. And it has. And they have emerged with all the smear they can, like Jesus would do, and their historical ignorance and misinformation.

It appears that some time ago is when Mr. Ellison decided to become a Muslim. Back then, he had some interactions with the Nation of Muslim, and it's controversial leader Louis Farrakhan. And so the subtle attempt to paint a black mark on Mr. Ellison, and the absolutely worst thing they could say was that Mr. Ellison supported the Million Man march. He didn't participate in it apparently, he just supported it. How radical can a guy get?! So I wonder how many of these same Christian fundamentalist leaders have associated with know meth smoker and gay sexer Reverend Ted Haggard?

The fundies of this country like to promote the idea that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. At the very least, they like to think that the Bible was what undergirded the the founding of our country. But that is only true as far as the Pilgrims and Puritans who first landed here were concerned. By the time the United States of America was actually founded, the times had changed.

This is simply evidenced by the fact that nowhere in the US Constitution is there any mention of God, or the Bible. And for good reason. The founders of this country were attempting to establish a secular government, one free of entanglement with any and all religion. Why? Because they had just fought a war against a country that was heavily entangled with it's national church, and they had seen the oppression it brought on the people, and it's abuse of power. Our founders wanted something different. Hence we have the Amendment that protects our right to freely express our religion, and the clause that prevents the government from establishing one. This is what Thomas Jefferson referred to in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists:
"Believing... that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their Legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State."

To this day the Religious fundamentalists of America deny this basic truth that Jefferson made so clear. In fact, to this day they still tell their sheep that the opposite is true, which in essence, is a lie. It is a questionable I guess whether or not I should call this ignorance though. it is more accurately called deception. Which is pretty much what i felt after reading what I posted above after having spent 13 years believing and being told the opposite.

I don't believe that the American fundies think the Constitution is the Supreme law of the land. They would argue that the Bible should be. But their ignorance of it is almost hard to imagine. Here is what the Traditional Values Coalition told their followers: "The Office of the Clerk for Congress has published information on the Oath of Office, which is in the U.S. Constitution: “The oath of office required by the sixth article of the Constitution of the United States, and as provided by section 2 of the act of May 13, 1884 (23 Stat. 22), to be administered to members, Resident Commissioner, and Delegates of the House of Representatives, the text of which is carried in 5 U.S.C. 3331:..."

Here is the entire Sixth Article of the US Constitution:

"All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

You'll notice that the first two paragraphs have nothing to do with our subject matter. The third one does. And does it say they shall take an oath on any holy book? No. However, as you can see in the TVC posting, they tie the the Sixth article with a law that was written later, making it appear as if the Constitution mandates an oath of a particular fashion. Nothing could be farther from the truth when the Sixth article clearly states that no religious test shall be required, ever, as a qualification for office.

I can surmise from this that the ones who write this propaganda only hope that their readers don't actually fact check the materials for themselves. I know I never did when I was in their camp. We just figured that those purportedly teaching us wouldn't lie to us. I see I was wrong.

So in true Jesus-like fashion, TVC, and most likely others, are out to smear Mr. Ellison because he is a Muslim. They will parade out their usual distortion of historical facts along with their black marks on his character in hopes that they can convince others that their narrow-minded view of life and American history is the correct one.

But like many others in this country, I follow the same vision that Jefferson did, and which is inscribed on his memorial in Washington DC: ""The clergy...believe that any portion of power confided to me [as President] will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: and enough, too, in their opinion."

Monday, December 04, 2006

Constitutional basis of sworn oaths to office.

This is actually quite simple, but it seems to be an uproar these days. When Keith Ellison, the recently elected Muslim from Minnesota to the House of representatives stated he would take his oath of office on the Koran, you would have thought America was doomed. Dennis Prager had a lot to say about it, and most recently, so did Congressman Virgil Goode.

Mr. Prager states in his article, "
But, Mr. Ellison, America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath." Is that so? And is not Mr. Ellison an American? He was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. How much more American can you get than being from Motor City? So already, Mr. Prager has given permission to Mr. Ellison to swear his oath on the Koran though Mr. Prager thinks he should not be allowed to do so.
Mr. Goode was simply floored that a Muslim was elected to Congress. In his letter to a Sierra Club member he stated,

Thank you for your recent communication. When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country. I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped."

What is so amazing to me is the level of ignorance of those who stand by these views. One is indeed an elected Republican Representative of the state of Virginia. The other is a columnist for a right wing blog. And beyond the obvious racism and the fear, is a complete lack of understanding of the history of our country.

First, let's look at the statement by both men regarding the traditional beliefs and values that they think America was founded on. To both Prager and Goode, it is their belief that those values and beliefs are based on the Bible. But yet in 1797 our government made this statement in a treaty with a Muslim country: "As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion...." This treaty was signed by President John Adams, one of the earliest of conservatives, and was ratified by Congress. Apparently the wording of this treaty didn't bother them in the least, and stands in direct contradiction to what Prager and Goode believe. Hence we have a Constitution that never mentions God. Mr. Jefferson stated,

"To suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own." --Thomas Jefferson: Statute for Religious Freedom, 1779. ME 2:302, Papers 2: 546


"The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man." --Thomas Jefferson to Jeremiah Moor, 1800.

Our history demonstrates that America was designed to be a secular nation which was the best guarantee of all men to follow the dictates of their conscience, and prevent meddling in either direction between the government and the religious choices of it's people.

Secondly, and to the core of this issue, is what does the Constitution say about oaths to office? The Traditional Values Coalition wants it's readers to think that oaths are to be taken on the Bible. But the Constitution, even in the article the TVC mentions, does not say that. Regarding the oath of Congresspeople, the Constitution says in Article 6,

"The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

Notice the language. It specifically states that an oath to support only the Constitution will betaken. It also sates that no religious test will ever be required. So in direct contradiction to Mr. Prager, who thinks that if Mr. Ellison can't swear an oath on a Bible he shouldn't be allowed to serve in Congress, the Constitution merely states they shall take an oath. In fact, when Representative Dennis Hastert took his oath, his hand was on the podium, not a book of any kind.

And what does the Constitution say about Presidential oaths? Article 2, Section 1 says,

"Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:

'I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.' "

That is it in it's entirety. It does not say "So help me God," as we are so apt to hear. That is merely optional. Like the Congress, the president is only sworn to protect the Constitution. Nothing else. And again, no mention of where to put your hands.

This concludes today's tour of the Constitution and it's matters regarding taking oaths of office. As we've seen, the several right wing elements of the current "conservative" movement have it all wrong. They are promoting at the very least misinformation intended to deceive Americans as to the nature of our country as well as what the responsibilities of our elected officials are. The only responsibility related to taking the oath of office is to swear to protect the Constitution. A Constitution which was developed to allow all men the right to practice their own religion. That includes Muslims, much to Mr. Goode's chagrin.

And yes Mr. Prager, America does get to decide. And they did a long time ago. The Constitution of the United States of America, definitely being American, does not restrict Mr. Ellison, an elected American citizen, from taking his oath of office on any book he considers his scripture. Public opinion, even of a vocal, bigoted minority, does not matter in this case. Your statement Mr. Prager, was correct. Your support for it is dead wrong.