I have been following the Presidential race between Barrack Obama and Mitt Romany very closely and it is something I will be bringing up in my cultural diversity classes here in Suzhou, China.
We all know that there is a huge polarization between the two party ideologies in America and this divide is extremely evident within congress. The Democrats and Republicans are dead locked refusing to compromise on the important issues that are vital for America’s future such as finding rational solutions to bring down our National debt. Meeting in the middle for the congressional leaders and compromising seems beyond the realm of possibilities. The two parties would rather come up with mere talking points in order to talk pass one another. It is more than evident that the U.S. Government has become dysfunctional and nothing seems to be getting accomplished.
The Democratic leaders see the Republican Party as being high jacked by the extreme conservative fringe. The Republican leaders on the other hand view the Democratic Party as the ultra-liberal progressive party.
One of the Republican talking points is their claim that Obama wants to change America into a socialist country. They say he is a progressive liberal and liberalism is bad for America. Many Republicans also say that America needs to return to its biblical roots and to its founding principles. The Democrats however argue that the Republican conservatives want to rewrite history in order to push their ideological agenda on the American people.
Some Republicans have gone as far as to say our Nation’s founding fathers were orthodox Christians. However, there is no historical evidence to support their claim and history has proven time and time again that most of our Nation’s founding fathers were Deists not Christians.
Republican leaders enjoy weaving into their speeches that Abraham Lincoln was our greatest President and the first Republican President. The majority of historians would not refute that claim because Lincoln was by far a great historical President. They also bring up that Ronald Reagan never wavered from his Christian orthodoxy and single handedly brought down the Soviet Union. Many historians would agree that Ronald Reagan was indeed a great President but to say he was orthodox in his beliefs and that he single handedly brought down the Soviet Union is a bit of a stretch.
Many of the Republican leaders seem to lack historical knowledge especially with their outlandish claims that Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan were born again Christians. There is no historical evidence to support that claim either. Perhaps they believe if they say it enough times on National television history will rewrite itself.
Rick Santorum states Liberalism is a social disease I would disagree with the former Republican Senator from Pennsylvania. Problems facing our country are not caused by Liberalism but rather it’s the polarization of ideologies within Government.
The Christian Fundamentalists within the GOP sincerely believe our Nation was founded on conservative Christian orthodoxy. They should however take time to actually learn about our country’s heritage rather than trying to rewrite history in order to push their Christian agenda.
I say this because the delegates that signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 were considered radical liberals by those who didn’t want to rock the boat and enter a war. The religious conservatives at that time argued that a war against England could not be won.
In Thomas Jefferson’s time during the forming of our great American experiment the Roman Catholic Church declared democracy an immoral form of Government. The Pope at that time believed - America does not recognize Christ and the church as its moral and governing authority therefore its government is worldly and immoral. Thomas Jefferson was considered the greatest liberal of all with his radical idea of erecting a wall of separation between church and state. Conservatives at the time declared him an atheist even though he was a Deist.
Those who condemned slavery in the 1850s were also considered bleeding heart liberals.
Unlike today many Democrats were staunch racists during the abolitionist movement of the 1800s but their party was divided. That division led to the first Republican to win the Presidency in 1860.
Abraham Lincoln only got 40% of the popular votes in the election of 1860. His two opponents got 60% of the votes 30% going to each opponent. His opponents were pro-slavery and if the 1860 election was a two way race Lincoln would have lost due to his liberal ideals and history would have turned out differently.
Unlike today the Republican Party from the mid to the late 1800s was the liberal progressive party. The Democratic Party back then was the religious conservative party who campaigned on bible quotes. They believed slavery was justified on religious grounds because the bible says so. Steven Douglas who ran against Lincoln accused him of being a Deist because he never referred to god’s biblical word in his speeches.
Lincoln’s response, “…..when I do good - I feel good - when I do bad - I feel bad. Therefore, I do my best to do what is right - to follow the rules of goodness at all times - this is the religion I live by.” Lincoln went on to say in response to Stephen Douglas “ …… I cannot conceive of a superior intelligence which we refer to as God that would concur with my opponent’s (Douglas) feeble, mediocre ramblings.” Lincoln took a huge gamble by alienating himself from the religious conservatives but he spoke honestly but many historians believe Douglas won the debate among the pro-slavery crowd.
Lincoln was hated and despised as President because he did not set out to please the citizenry by making the popular choices. He rather put preserving the Union above all else. He understood history was depending on the tough unpopular choices he had to make. He brought our country through the greatest and bloodiest conflict our Nation ever faced. Some historians put the death toll at seven-hundred and twenty-thousand. North against South, brother against brother, every household experienced a great loss due to the death of a loved one. The South experienced the most carnage and punishment by the northern forces and each side firmly believed God was on their side.
A reporter asked Lincoln, “Mr. President both sides say God is on their side how can they both be right?” Lincoln’s response, “God is always on the side of humanity urging us to concede to the will of our higher angel dwelling within all of us.”
In the end Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 elevated our 16th President to secular sainthood. His death occurred on the Christian observance of Good Friday. In some way his death symbolized and represented the loss and pain that the country as whole was enduring throughout the war.
North and South mourned the death of Abraham Lincoln.
History however does not always concur with the myths and legends that continue to surround our 16th President in popular culture. He represented all that was worst in humanity and all that was best in humanity. His goals for the southern reconstruction were not fulfilled as he hoped they would be. It was due to his assassination and the staunch racism and hatred of his successor Andrew Johnson.
Afro-Americans were treated poorly in the south and the southern whites got away with horrendous crimes against the southern blacks. Southerners used the people of color as scapegoats for the Civil War and took out all their hate and animosity against them.
The KKK emerged and segregation soon followed becoming the norm under the new Jim Crow laws that were established in the southern states. It would take decades for the civil rights movement to take root leading to extraordinary social changes.
It wasn’t until the mid-1950s and throughout the 1960s that brought the civil rights struggle to the National mainstream. Enlightened voices and extraordinary oratory from people like Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders brought the struggles of Afro-Americans to light. Television visualized the injustices waged against people of color in the south and the dissonance of white supremacy.
President John F Kennedy tried to pass massive civil rights legislation through congress but the conservative republicans blocked the bills. It wasn’t until JFK’s assassination that President Lyndon Johnson was able to push Kennedy’s civil rights bills through congress and they were signed into law in 1964.
Southern Governors who opposed the new civil rights laws were Republicans. Governor George Wallace (January 1963 – January 1967) of Alabama was a proud racist and he announced it on National television. He said, “there was segregation, yesterday, they’ll be segregation, today, and they’ll be segregation, tomorra’, as long as I’m Govana’ of the mighty State of Alabama’.” George Wallace ran for Governor on that slogan and won his first term in November of 1962. He and other southern Republican Governors ignored the new civil rights laws. They accused the Democratic leaders of being soft, and bleeding heart liberals for interfering with the southern way of life. At various times throughout LBJ’s Presidency National guard units had to be called into various southern states to help enforce the Civil rights laws.
President Johnson would later go on to escalate the Vietnam War by sending thousands of ground troops to Vietnam in hopes of winning over the hard-line southern conservatives. They accused the President of being soft on communism. Those who opposed the war were looked upon as bleeding heart liberals by the conservatives.
Most historians today would agree that the Vietnam War was a huge blunder and that Vietnam never posed an imminent threat to the United States.
Decades earlier when Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President many Republicans during the Great Depression of the 1930s accused FDR of being a socialist for his new deal polices. His welfare programs also caused many Republican conservatives to accuse Roosevelt not just of being a socialist but of being a bleeding heart liberal as well.
The Republican leaders always point to Ronald Reagan as the last of the great conservative Presidents. If they took the time to read his personal letters a different picture would emerge. Reagan was once asked by a reporter “is Jesus Christ your personal savior?” Reagan responded, “I don’t wear religion on my sleeve.” Conservatives at the time accused Reagan as being Christian in name only because he never worshiped in a Church on Sunday. Reagan’s personal writings show him to be ahead of his time on many social issues and he was not as conservative as today’s GOP try to make him out to be.
If an Abraham Lincoln or a Ronald Reagan were to run for President today they wouldn't be able to get their names on the Republican ballot. The conservative Party would reject them for not being conservative enough.
In 1960 when John F Kennedy’s Catholicism became a campaign issue Kennedy responded, “The wall of separation between Church and State is absolute.” The Republican Party however says Kennedy was wrong.
A Religious conviction was never a prerequisite for political office in our Nation’s early years. This has become a modern phenomenon that diminishes the electoral process in the United States. John F Kennedy was correct in stating the wall of separation is absolute because that is what our founding fathers intended it to be.
Religious litmus tests for political fitness within the Republican Party make our country look stupid in the eyes of the world. I do agree though the founding principles that made our country great is becoming lost in our country. Our founding fathers did not set out to create a Christian Theocracy though they’re intent was to create a just society.
Our Nation’s founding fathers believed education based on reason, logic, and a virtuous upbringing is needed for a just society to bear fruit. We cannot have a just society without a virtuous electorate and that too is what’s being lost in our country. Religiosity being cloaked into Government policy by the conservative fringe will only diminish our nation’s greatness even further.
We also need to reapply the immortal words of John F Kennedy - “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” I say this because many in today’s society are asking what our Government can do for them. Common decency and service of country seem to have been foremost in Kennedy’s generation.
Service of country and common decency they too are part of our country’s founding principles unfortunately though they are becoming lost in our society as well. We as a people need to move away from an entitlement mentality to a self-worth mentality by asking ourselves what can we do as a people to make our communities better places to live.
Our founding fathers generation was not dependent on Government for their sustenance but rather the Government was dependent on the citizenry. There seems to be a reversal in today’s society many are dependent on Government for their survival rather than being of service to others.
There are no easy solutions for the social issues permeating our society but we can take personal responsibility for our own issues by empowering ourselves. We can accomplish this through education, volunteerism, and through community based programs. Putting ourselves in the service of others not only helps our community but it also enhances our own wellbeing.
Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill
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