Saturday, October 23, 2010

Broken promises in a broken country

Everyday we have to listen to this garbage:

The stimulus didn't create jobs. The President should have concentrated on jobs before tackling health care. "Obamacare" means that the government will take over health care, tell you which doctors you can go to, and will destroy our freedom. The President is a socialist.

You know it is nonsensical. In the very first presidential debate of the twentieth century, fifty years ago this month, the man who would become the most inspirational president in the lifetime of many of us, explained the "national responsibility" that the federal government first assumed as the instigation of Franklin D. Roosevelt:

The people of the United States individually could not have developed the Tennessee Valley; collectively they could have. A cotton farmer in Georgia or a peanut farmer or a dairy farmer in Wisconsin and Minnesota, he cannot protect himself against the forces of supply and demand in the market place; but working together in effective governmental programs he can do so. Seventeen million Americans, who live over sixty-five on an average Social Security check of about seventy-eight dollars a month, they're not able to sustain themselves individually, but they can sustain themselves through the social security system. I don't believe in big government, but I believe in effective governmental action. And I think that's the only way that the United States is going to maintain its freedom. It's the only way that we're going to move ahead. I think we can do a better job. I think we're going to have to do a better job if we are going to meet the responsibilities which time and events have placed upon us. We cannot turn the job over to anyone else. If the United States fails, then the whole cause of freedom fails. And I think it depends in great measure on what we do here in this country. The reason Franklin Roosevelt was a good neighbor in Latin America was because he was a good neighbor in the United States. Because they felt that the American society was moving again. I want us to recapture that image. I want people in Latin America and Africa and Asia to start to look to America; to see how we're doing things; to wonder what the resident of the United States is doing; and not to look at Khrushchev, or look at the Chinese Communists. That is the obligation upon our generation. In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt said in his inaugural that this generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny. I think our generation of Americans has the same rendezvous.

You know that this extreme opposition to the President has encouraged more extremism, very scary extremism at that, including not very veiled references to something called "Second Amendment remedies."

Yes, the same people went after the last President elected on the nomination of the Democratic Party and they even impeached him though he may have helped them a bit by occasionally forgetting his responsibilities as President of the United States. Still, the talk this time, from even before the current President's election, is of a type that is louder and more incendiary than this old guy, a voter since before Nixon used every tactic imaginable to defeat Senator McGovern in 1972, has ever heard.

We do not want to face up to its source. We want to pretend there are other reasons for the level of noise, for the threats and hatred that have dominated this election campaign. We want to tell ourselves that we have entered a post racial age. We have not.

What follows are things you have heard before, many times. Read them, or, better yet, listen to them again, please:

If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who will represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?

One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.

We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is the land of the free except for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens except Negroes; that we have no class or caste system, no ghettoes, no master race except with respect to Negroes?

Now the time has come for this Nation to fulfill its promise.

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, June 11, 1963

This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose. The great phrases of that purpose still sound in every American heart, North and South: "All men are created equal," "government by consent of the governed," "give me liberty or give me death." Well, those are not just clever words, or those are not just empty theories. In their name Americans have fought and died for two centuries, and tonight around the world they stand there as guardians of our liberty, risking their lives....

the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life.... must be our cause too. Because it's not just Negroes, but really it's all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.

And we shall overcome.

As a man whose roots go deeply into Southern soil, I know how agonizing racial feelings are. I know how difficult it is to reshape the attitudes and the structure of our society. But a century has passed--more than 100 years--since the Negro was freed. And he is not fully free tonight. It was more than 100 years ago that Abraham Lincoln--a great President of another party--signed the Emancipation Proclamation. But emancipation is a proclamation and not a fact.

A century has passed--more than 100 years--since equality was promised, and yet the Negro is not equal. A century has passed since the day of promise, and the promise is unkept. The time of justice has now come, and I tell you that I believe sincerely that no force can hold it back. It is right in the eyes of man and God that it should come, and when it does, I think that day will brighten the lives of every American. For Negroes are not the only victims. How many white children have gone uneducated? How many white families have lived in stark poverty? How many white lives have been scarred by fear, because we wasted energy and our substance to maintain the barriers of hatred and terror?

And so I say to all of you here and to all in the nation tonight that those who appeal to you to hold on to the past do so at the cost of denying you your future. This great rich, restless country can offer opportunity and education and hope to all--all, black and white, North and South, sharecropper and city dweller. These are the enemies: poverty, ignorance, disease. They are our enemies, not our fellow man, not our neighbor.

And these enemies too--poverty, disease and ignorance--we shall overcome.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson, March 15, 1965

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963

Almost forty years later, a country besotted by race remains so. A relatively insignificant encounter between a homeowner absurdly outraged when a police officer, responding to a report of a possible break in, asks for the homeowner's identification, and instead is met with a reaction that leads to an arrest, becomes something involving the President of the United States. And we go downhill from there.

If you believe the energy from his opponent's is unrelated to the race of the President's father and wife and his self-identification as a black man, you are being deluded. Were it not for the great Rachel Maddow, there would follow here as many instances necessary to prove that point. Instead, Ms. Maddow will simply spell it out for you:

And, yes, when the same forces of extremism created the atmosphere that led to President Kennedy's murder in 1963, two months after a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama killing four little children it was obsession with race that was at its core. Watch this and see if it sounds at all like the campaign we are in now.

It is now almost 140 years since the emancipation proclamation and 135 years since the civil war ended, but this fight continues to bedevil a nation that cannot come together even today. Yes, there are other issues and yes, there is room for honest disagreement about the role of government and its response to the problems which face us. But it is this divide---the one that led to a rule that almost prevented the Democratic Party from nominating our greatest president---Franklin Delano Roosevelt----and that caused an entire region to bolt from it and become the bastion of the Republican Party---that rules over all.

To again quote President Kennedy from that first debate long ago:

In the election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln said the question was whether this nation could exist half-slave or half-free.

Slavery is gone but its legacy lingers. We will not get past it when politicians seek to divide us, and to demonize those with whom we live as citizens of this nation whether they share our religion, color or national origin. This is a shameful period in our history and a dangerous one to boot.

In about two weeks, we have a chance to send those who would divide us a message that we are past that, and that we are a better nation than that. Can we do that? Are we?

1 comment:


This is the second time I read this post.

Why do I weep every frickin time I read these quotes?