King, Kennedy and the American Revolution

All of us, from the wealthiest and most powerful of men, to the weakest and hungriest of children, share one precious possession; the name American. — Robert F. Kennedy

I’ve been thinking a lot about Bobby lately. In watching still another year end as I go further into my dotage, I’m reminded of other years from the past that cry out to be remembered, the year 1968 being among the most poignant. When the announcement came over the television set that Bobby Kennedy had died from the assassin’s bullet, I called my husband at work, tears streaming down my face. “Now they’ve killed Bobby,” I cried.

Who were “they”? I didn’t know, but like many Americans I felt the presence of evil. A black miasma skulked amongst us as if waiting to see what we held most dear as a people so “they” could take it away. The feeling had lingered since that shocking day four and a half years before, on November 22, 1963, when our beloved president was taken down by an assassin’s bullet. As a nation we had never recovered, the shock still reverberating throughout our psyche like a terrible wound that would not heal.

Then another wound, the assassination of our great Civil Rights leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, younger brother of our fallen president was on his way to a planned campaign rally in his bid to get the 1968 Democratic nomination for President. Just after he arrived in Indianapolis, he was told of King’s death and advised by police not to make the campaign stop. It was in a part of the city considered to be a dangerous ghetto. But Kennedy insisted on going. He found the people in an upbeat mood and realized they didn’t know. In breaking the news of King’s death he referred to his own loss of his older brother and quoted from memory the Greek Poet, Aeschylus. “He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

Just two months later, on June 5, 1968, while celebrating his victory in the California primary Bobby said to his supporters only minutes before he, too, was gunned down by an assassin’s bullet. “I think we can end the divisions within the United States. (W)e can work together in the last analysis. . . We are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country.”

Some say that in 1968 America came close to political disintegration. Millions of people opposed the war and the military announced in early 1968 that it would draft 300,000 more troops. Americans were dying in Vietnam by the hundreds and young people lost confidence in our leaders and in the official version of reality. There was a movement afloat, a revolution at hand before our beloved leaders who had brought hope to the country were cut down. Although the war was later ended and the troops brought home, after 1968 many of us detached ourselves from the painful public square and turned our attention on matters closer to home.

Surprisingly, though, we ended up rearing children who became educated, sensitized and responsive to their natural and political environments. Adult children who were able to agree or disagree without rioting in the streets, who also have inculcated and are passing down the dreams that King and Kennedy inspired in their lasting contribution to the ongoing American revolution.

God, the American Dream and the Select Few

It’s not enough that the rich have co-opted the American Dream. Now they are trying to co-opt God. Forget all that stuff about the poor inheriting the earth, it being easier for a rich man to go through the eye of a needle than to get into Heaven, or that Christ tossed the usurers out of the temple–the rich are not worried.

Because they don’t believe it. They believe God is on their side. After all, He made them rich, didn’t he? And He lets the poor live in poverty, doesn’t he? Which obviously means He finds the poor undeserving. Old Rockefeller said “God gave me my money!” and it is more obvious than ever before that this is what the rich believe.

Until recently I had not realized how pervasive the idea of the deserving rich is in our society. I mean, I knew money bestowed power, but I had no idea it also created and supported such a belief system. For the very rich, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the after-tax income of the top one percent rose 228 percent from 1979 through 2005, while the earnings of men in their thirties, based on a study released by the Pew Charitable Trusts, have remained flat over the past four decades. Improvement in family incomes during that time has been mostly due to the increase of wives and mothers in the work force.

I guess you could blame my naivete on my birth as a member of the undeserving poor. I was born into coal, on the excavating side. My father was a coal miner for twenty-five years before he pursued the American Dream by getting out of coal to become a barber, upward mobility to much cleaner and less dangerous work. Meanwhile, families who had never seen a coal mine lived wealthy lives provided by royalties from coal while romping beneath the golden Sun on the French Riviera.

This belief system of the rich that God gave them their money works as well as it does because it is supported by other belief systems that are working in tandem. One, built around the theme of entitlement, inclines the believer to acept the rich’s approbation of themselves as deserving of their immense wealth because they think that with time and chance, they too can belong to the select few. Although the second group hasn’t yet arrived at the very top, they, like the rich, feel entitled to the best of everything. Based on what? Their looks, talent, intelligence, education? Culture? Their sparkling personality?

When my father died, my family was thrown into poverty. Despite how hard my older siblings worked to keep us together–warm, fed and clothed, I remember one day at school having nothing to eat for lunch and I hid from the other children until lunchtime was over so they wouldn’t know. I was ashamed of being hungry.

Except for a small group who provide much ammunition to the welfare critics, most of the poor do not feel entitled to anything, and even blame themselves for not doing better than they are. After all, this is America, land of opportunity and the American Dream. Or was. But even though the Dream has died for many, God cannot be co-opted. He lives within the heart of His people. His love shines on us all.

Ethical Lobbyists – Oxymoron?

Anytime I see, hear or smell an oxymoron, my antennas stand at attention. Because I’ve been touched by a parallel universe. It happened yesterday when I saw a reference to “ethical lobbyists”. The world split into two universes and the stink of sulfur reached my nose. In one universe happy lobbyists marched into Washington, pick axes in hand, to the tune of We’re in the Money. In the other universe they’re being welcomed by droves of politicians responding with a hardy rendition of Brother Can You Spare a Dime?

Do I exaggerate? I hope so. Lobbyism started about forty years ago as a respectable consulting business by two partners who decided to use their knowledge of Congress and the federal bureaucracy to help businesses and institutions. The idea proved to be so amazingly successful, money wise, that Washington became a humongous magnet drawing everybody with a pick axe to the nation’s capital to make their fortunes.

In the beginning there was no question about ethics, which was taken for granted. After all, this was America and our elected representatives in Washington were there to represent its citizenry, their almighty constituents. But as time went by and those elected to office saw the extent of the coffers of the lobbyists, ethics became, for many of them, of lesser concern. Just a buzz word, you might say.

There has been an explosion of the lobbying business. The Center for Public Integrity estimates that nearly half the ranks of former Cabinet officials, members of Congress and staff members who’ve left since 1998 have become lobbyists. Also, that the number of former congressmen and agency heads turned lobbyists has doubled in the past ten years.

For many, the time served in government work is becoming a training ground for real careers as lobbyists, where the big bucks are–we’re talking millions of dollars a year. Congress has an evolving door provision, set now at one year and going up to two years in January (some think it should be set at five years) which may be the reason Trent Lott is leaving now instead of later. If he becomes a lobbyist, as is pretty certain, he will be the first senator in history to leave midway through his term to lobby. Some suggest it’s so he can beat the one year extended time in January and can begin to lobby as early as next Thanksgiving. During the waiting period he can work as a “consultant” and start making the big bucks right away.

All of this is in the universe we now inhabit. But what about a universe where Ethics stayed in place, where ethical lobbyist is not an oxymoron but exists unequivocally in an alternate reality? In September 2007 a new, supposedly tougher ethics bill was passed and signed by the president. It was put together by those of our representatives who are trying to connect with this other universe. I pray they will be successful as I still see pick axes everywhere.

Beware the Ghosts of Christians Past

“If we take you with us,” he said, in solemn words, “It can only be as believers in our creed. We shall have no wolves in our fold. Better far that your bones should bleach in this wilderness than that you should prove to be that little speck of decay which in time corrupts the whole fruit. Will you come with us on those terms?”  Joseph Smith in The Country of the Saints — Arthur Conan Doyle 

Here we stand, at war between the past and the future, still fighting the same old battles. When are we going to learn that religion and politics don’t mix? I don’t care if it’s the Church of Christians Past or the Church of What’s Happening Next, religion is a private choice. Government is what we have to agree on, and good government takes work. Mix in religion and we might as well throw away the last two hundred plus years of progress.

Although all formal religions should be shown respect none should have special influence within the government from the seat of power. That includes the Mormon religion (which is also Christian and believes Jesus Christ is the son of God, by the way, something that’s been misunderstood) as well as believers in Creationism who want it taught in the schools as an alternative to Evolution.

Romney and Huckabee are both Religious with a capital R. Yet they will both tell you they can carry out their presidential duties without inserting their religious beliefs–these two men to whom Religion has been such a core part of their existence. Romney served as a missionary for two years and Huckabee was a former Baptist minister. We aren’t talking about faith.  Millions of Americans have faith, even Faith with a capital F.

Although we call ourselves a Christian nation and rightly so, our foundation is built on freedom of religion, to such an extent that in 1960 when John F. Kennedy was elected as the first Catholic president people had the unfounded fear that the Pope would rule America from Rome. But there the similarity to the current situation ends. I’m sure most would agree with me that JFK was not Religious with a capital R. He was only a believer and follower of his religion, not a propounder taught to induce people to his beliefs. By nature of their callings both Romney and Huckabee are propounders.

Since we want a leader who has high morals, it’s tempting to believe morality goes hand in hand with religiosity. But just look to the past and sadly you’ll know, it just ain’t so.

Presidential Candidate Wanted

The best thing about this group of candidates is that only one of them can win. — Will Rogers

I know I’m being unrealistic, but I want a perfect candidate for president. One who isn’t going to be suddenly exposed as a liar, a cheat, or a clone of Darth Vader. Why can’t we get someone like Lincoln – who probably wouldn’t have been elected if they’d had television in his day. Maybe television is part of the problem. Look at Howard Dean and the fateful yell that took him out of the running. If the television camera hadn’t zoomed in on him at that moment, who knows – he might’ve been president.

But we didn’t want a president who screamed like a banshee when he got excited, so you can’t blame us for throwing Dean back. Say what you want about Bush, but he never screamed into the camera, unless they edited that part out, and they might have, for all I know. In their zeal they might have edited out too many parts of Bush and he was really a nice guy.

Unlike Rudy, I’ve never been able to pick a leader. Would you believe that no candidate I’ve ever voted for has won an election? I know. It’s hard to believe. It will probably be safer for the candidate I hope will win if I don’t vote for him (or her). Perhaps I’ll vote for one I don’t want to win. But that brings me to another problem. When I try to use reverse psychology it never works. If I told my children not to do something they did it anyway, but if I tried to fool them by telling them to do what I didn’t want them to do, they also did it anyway. And then smirked because they knew what I was up to.

I would be for Clinton if I was sure she was not a boob (sorry, I couldn’t resist it) as we’ve already voted for too many of those. As for Edwards, he’s so good-looking it’d be fun to watch him as well as listen to his melodious voice, but that hardly seems to be the criteria I should be looking at.

Although I hate to say it, Mitt does remind me of Darth Vader, who was half machine, half man. Maybe it’s just knowing that he got rich helping rich people get richer that turns me off (John Edwards is rich too, but he got rich helping poor people get richer).  Mitt also has a stiffness about him as if the machine part has taken over. 

As for Huckabee, I really like him, but I’ve become wary of television evangelists for good reason and in my book he’s too close to that for comfort. I don’t want the church getting a toe-hold into our presidency. For those who disagree, just look at all the trouble our founders went to in giving us not only freedom of religion, but freedom from religion, even assuring that Atheists will not be coerced by believers while at the same time securing human rights as gifts from God.  In America we celebrate what sets us apart as well as what holds us together.

In America it is the spirit of mankind that was set free.

So God Bless America. And please, God, send us a perfect candidate, one who will fire us up again (without yelling) and in every way represent the true meaning behind the words of The American Creed. And let him win even if I do vote for him.

The American Creed, formally accepted by the House of Representatives on April 3, 1918:

I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people, whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a Republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect Union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrified their lives and fortunes.

I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it; to support its constitution; to obey its laws; to respect its flag; and to defend it against all enemies.  –  William Tyler Page

Although the American creed is contained in the documents on which this country was founded in 1776, a nationwide contest was held in 1917 to choose a concise statement to be called The American Creed. The Creed summarizes and thus clarifies the fundamental principles of the American political faith as set forth in our greatest documents, our worthiest traditions, and our greatest leaders. It uses passages from the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

In giving us a delcaration of our binding purpose, our Creed keeps us from being just an amorphous blend of humanity. The American Creed expresses the soul of America.