The Local Crank

Musings & Sardonic Commentary on Politics, Religion, Culture & Native American Issues. Bringing you the finest in radioactive screeds since 2002! "The Local Crank" newspaper column is distributed by Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.

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Location: Cleburne, Texas, United States

Just a simple Cherokee trial lawyer, Barkman has been forcing his opinions on others in print since, for reasons that passeth understanding, he was an unsuccessful candidate for state representative in 2002. His philosophy: "If people had wanted me to be nice, they should've voted for me."

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Cleburne Times-Review Article for 9 July, 2006

“Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.”
--Matthew 12:25


Another Independence Day has come and gone and we are left to wonder what the Founding Fathers would make of their baby, two-hundred and thirty years later. Of course, first and foremost, it’s extremely unlikely that any of them would agree on whether we have been good or bad stewards of the Revolution, or what exactly we have gotten right or wrong. The Founders had widely disparate ideas about what America should be, which is why their greatest contribution was ultimately the creation of a political system that demands compromise in order to function. You have to remember that in the 18th Century, the very word “democracy” was synonymous with “anarchy” or “mob rule.” Just about every nation on Earth on July 4, 1776, was a monarchy, some slightly less tyrannical than others. Ancient Athens and the Roman Republic were seen as cautionary examples of how “democracy” eventually inevitably decays into dictatorship. Thirty years after the Declaration of Independence, the same fate would befall the American-inspired French Revolution at the hands of Napoleon. The very idea of a country led by people chosen in free elections based on merit, and not born to the job solely on the basis of their family tree, was radical in the extreme. Sadly, in the wake of the Cold War when the word “revolution” was considered tainted by connotations of communism, the American Revolution has been neutered, the radicalism of the Founders muted. It’s commonplace nowadays for some to claim that Washington, Jefferson and the gang were all Conservative Republicans who would feel right at home in the modern GOP (which, I suppose makes George III some kind of pinko socialist). This is, of course, bunk. During the Revolution, the “conservatives” were the Tories pledging their loyalty to the British Crown and throwing lavish tea parties for the Redcoats and their Hessian Mercenaries. In fact, more Americans fought for George III than against him. The “progressives” were the ones who picked up a musket (progressives had different views on gun control back then) and shivered through the winter at Valley Forge, risking capture and the grim and bloody fate of being hung, drawn, and quartered as traitors to God and King. Gordon Wood’s work, “The Radicalism of the American Revolution,” is an excellent, if sometimes ponderously academic view, of just how cutting edge the Revolutionaries were, and how much they overturned the existing world order. America has seen a “conservative revolution” in the Civil War, where the landed aristocracy of the South nearly destroyed the nation to preserve the status quo of medieval feudalism and an economy built on the backs of slaves. Like Rome before it, America in one country embodies all of the best and some of the worst impulses of mankind. America is a country founded on racism; worse, a cynical political deal over racism (i.e., slavery) to get the Declaration of Independence and later the Constitution ratified. And yet, no country on Earth has done more to liberate more human beings from despotism than America. And our nation very nearly, to use Lincoln’s phrase, died by suicide in order to expiate the sin of human bondage. America is a country founded on the brutal theft of land and the suppression and murder of the indigenous population. The Cherokee and Delaware were offered statehood by the Continental Congress, only to be cruelly betrayed when white people wanted their homelands. And yet, no country in the history of the planet has ever done more to champion oppressed minorities than America. Though we often fall short of the ideal (such as in Rwanda), the Kurds and the Bosnians survive today because of the sacrifice of American blood and treasure. In some respect, though, our flaws are part of the American character, as is our constant yearning to overcome them, to make ourselves better, to be more tomorrow than we are today. Most of the Founders were highly critical of “factionalism,” the rise of political parties which in the early days of the Republic were organized primarily around towering personalities like Hamilton or Jefferson. I think nearly all of them would be astonished at the level of factionalism that exists today. The two-party system in America (Democrats vs. Republicans) has existed more or less unchanged since 1856, a record almost unmatched by any other democracy. The reason for this is that both parties have traditionally been broad-based, “big tent” models, with Liberal Republicans and Conservative Democrats. Third Parties inevitably were absorbed by one major party or the other, sometimes both. That, however, is changing, and therein lies the danger of hyper-factionalism. With fewer and fewer people willing to participate in electoral politics at all, both parties are slowly being dominated by their most extreme wings. For the Republicans, this has degenerated into an all-out political war between the radical House and the more moderate Senate over the issue of immigration reform. On the Democratic side, their Senators fought with each other over the Iraq War, revealing how badly fractured the Party is on that issue, and we have seen the rise of new activists whose first, last and only concern is outdoing one another on who can despise George W. Bush more and louder, revealing a level of vitriol approaching the insane Right-Wing fixation on Bill Clinton. The problem with these extremists of both stripes is that they are more concerned with purging their ranks of those who are insufficiently pure in their ideology than they are in actually winning elections. Thus, Republicans engage in bizarre episodes like the Terri Schiavo fiasco; and liberal activists (particularly those whose primary political participation is behind their computer keyboards) are waging war against Joe Leiberman, a Senator with a voting record that would only be described as “moderate” instead of “liberal” in this day and age, primarily because he doesn’t seem to loathe Bush with sufficient vigor and has been seen to be polite and respectful of the President in public. This kind of “all or nothing, my way or the highway” rigid ideology leads to parties who are unable to make any compromise at all for fear of angering the fuming activists that make up their base. But without compromise, Constitutional government simply cannot function. By giving in to extremism, by hardening our hearts and stiffening our necks, we are turning our backs on the greatest gift of the American Revolution and we are betraying those who risked their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to liberate us all from tyranny.

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9 Comments:

Blogger Kvatch said...

But without compromise, Constitutional government simply cannot function.

This goes hand in hand with the profound war on the economic center. Without a middle-class you have no stability.

7/09/2006 11:07 AM  
Blogger The Local Crank said...

Also true. Revolutions, as a general rule, do not start with peasants. They start with middle class people who have the free time to wonder why they are getting screwed and to do something about it.

7/09/2006 11:57 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

The "conservative" or "radical" nature of the American Revolution is an interesting issue. While you're right that the truest conservatives were the Loyalists, the fact remains that the American Revolution was one of the most conservative revolutions in all of history. Really, the only thing "radical" about it was the fact that we declared independence. Otherwise it was a revolution led mostly by wealthy, elite landowners who felt their natural rights as Englishmen (not as Americans) had been violated by King George, most egregiously on the issue of taxation. Especially compared to the disgusting spectacle of the French Revolution, there was almost nothing radical about ours.

7/10/2006 2:55 PM  
Blogger The Local Crank said...

You don't find overthrowing the fundamental basis of all Western governments for the preceding 1,400 years (the divine right of kings) to be sufficiently "radical"? As for the comparison with the French Revolution, "radical" is not the same thing as "bloody." The Second Russian Revolution of 1990 was EXTREMELY radical in that it led to the dissolution of the Bolshevik Empire that had dominated Russia for 70 years and a large portion of Europe for 45 years and yet it was relatively bloodless.

7/10/2006 5:28 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

I'm not sure the American Revolution WAS that radical. I tend to agree with Burke that it was just the logical outcome of British subjects--with all the history and values that implies--operating with a huge degree of independence in a land of plenty. The revolution was certainly bold and required a great degree of courage, but "radical" to me implies something more along the lines of the French Revolution, with its insane desire to eradicate--by any means necessary--every last vestige of monarchy and religion.

7/10/2006 7:00 PM  
Blogger The Local Crank said...

Again, if overthrowing the underlying justification for all Western states for the preceding two milennia doesn't qualify as "radical" for you, I'm not sure what would. Burke only said that because he was sympathetic AND an English patriot. And the French Revolution didn't start out to eradicate "every last vestige of monarchy and religion." That was later, when the Revolution was hijacked by extremists (same thing happened with the First Russian Revolution, and the English Civil War). Originally, the French Revolutionaries planned to institute a Constitutional Monarchy and even drafted a proposed constitution. You really ought to read Gordon Wood's book if you haven't already. We've been brainwashed for 50 years into believing that the American Revolution was some mild, conservative tiff, when in reality it was a mind-boggling shift in the dominant paradigm of the entire world that has literally changed everything that came after.

7/10/2006 8:06 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

My Webster's dictionary defines radical as "favoring fundamental or extreme change; specifically, favoring such change of the social structure." The definition at www.thefreedictionary.com is "Departing markedly from the usual or customary; extreme." By those two definitions there was nothing radical about the American Revolution, since 1) the Founders were fine with the social structure the way it was, and 2) the American system of government was predicated on Greco-Roman, British and even colonial American precedents. It was rooted in practical human experience and not wild fantasy. Tocqueville among many other fine authors shows the natural evolution of many of the ideas central to the American Revolution, none of which were shocking departures from past experience or history. Radical, to my mind, means the opposite: something that breaks with all past and precedent and tries to remake society itself. You seem to have a different definition in mind, and that's fine. It's only a difference of semantics. In fairness, I could cheerfully withdraw the word "conservative" as the best possible description of the revolution, since it's far too vague a word with too many different meanings. To most people "conservative" means "opposed to change," and obviously the Founding Fathers were not conservative in that sense of the word. And if one were to argue that it was conservative by today's definition of the word--i.e. Republican--then I would retch in disgust. But when one reads about a leading revolutionary like John Adams, for example--and McCullough's biography is an excellent one--one searches in vain for anything remotely radical about the man or his views. Jefferson was more radical in some respects, but even his "radicalism" was of a very tempered American variety, and he seldom practiced what he preached anyway.

Why today's liberals and conservatives waste so much time trying to claim the Revolution as their own is quite beyond me, since their political views bear little resemblance to the liberals and conservatives of that era. For that matter, one can clearly identify many things about the Revolution that were both liberal AND conservative by the standards of the day. I spent a year of my life writing a 100-page master's thesis, much of which centered on the mix of Enlightenment, Greco-Roman and Christian influences on American civil religion. Tocqueville (a Frenchman with his own country's revolution in mind) said it best when he pointed out that while the spirit of freedom and religion were often directly at odds in Europe, in America they went hand in hand. Our Founders were fortunate to grow up in a society that not only enjoyed a great deal of freedom and independence under the British, but that easily accomodated the more liberal views of the Enlightenment without seeing any serious conflict with Christian values, and thus there was no need for any truly radical break with their own past or traditions. They were, on the contrary, looking to the distant past for ideas on how to build a stronger foundation for the future of their soon-to-be sovereign nation, which already had a great deal of experience with the practice of democracy.

I would, however, say that any book which portrays Washington's army as a band of wild-eyed radicals OR liberals is completely contrary to every work of history I've read about the Revolutionary War. The most recent book was "1776," also by McCullough. Washington himself was pretty far from a man of radical temperment or political views. He and Adams were much more comfortable retaining as much of the British influence on American government as they could.

7/10/2006 10:08 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Upon further reflection, it occurs to me that we may both be right on this issue. You noted up front that the Founders "had widely disparate ideas about what America should be." In thinking back on all that I've ever read about that era, I'm struck by how politically diverse the Founders were. In one camp you had the more radical thinkers like Paine and Jefferson who had boundless confidence in "the people" and were tempermentally more hostile toward monarchy and religion. In the other camp you had more moderate, cautious men who simply wanted independence from England and to mend fences as quickly as possible afterward. These camps basically coalesced into the early republican and federalist parties. One was largely pro-French, and the other largely pro-British. When I think of how different the men of those two camps could be, it doesn't seem so surprising to me that we're still arguing about how "radical" or how "conservative" the American Revolution was. It really depends on whose perspective from that era you choose to view it from. I tend to lean more toward the "conservative" view of the Revolution for a fairly simple reason: compared to most other "revolutions" in history, ours did not effect a massive change of the status quo within our own borders. We were already fairly well habituated to self-government, and in stark contrast to most revolutions there were virtually no traditions, institutions, customs, or mores overthrown by the American Revolution. The main effect was simply to gain independence. Even the process of government-forming that followed was fairly slow and prudent.

Of course, when one looks back over the full scope of American history, the Revolution looks more radical because of all that's come to pass since then. Obviously it WAS an historical event of huge import for later generations.

7/11/2006 9:43 PM  
Blogger The Local Crank said...

I'm glad you're coming around to my way of thinking (grin), but you still haven't "come to grips" (as my old poli-sci professor used to say) with my contention that, putting all other issues aside for the sake of argument, the American Revolution toppled the fundamental underlying assumption of all Western Governments since the time of Constantine I (i.e., hereditary monarchy and the divine right of kings). I just don't get how that can't be considered "radical" by anyone's definition.

7/11/2006 11:00 PM  

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