Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why I Hate America

No, I don't hate America. But I know I would be accused of hating my own country for what I am and what I think. And I hate that.

I've been losing sleep lately, ever since the Sarah Palin nomination was announced. My mind won't stop churning. I can't get it all to go out of my head. There's something terribly wrong and it's gnawing at me without relent.

I spent my short career involved, in one way or another, in American politics. Local, state, and federal. I worked for a state program created by legislative action to fund programs that fought youth delinquency. I worked in the United States Congress as an aide to one of its members (I was front office staff for a republican member from southern California). I worked in local government in northern California as a public transport executive tasked with putting together local, state, and federal (yes, earmark) funds for local transportation investments.

So I've been exposed to some politics. I've never run for, let alone held, public office. But I've been very close to some who have. I've seen some of the inner workings of the process, the dirt, and the glory.

As I said, there is something terribly wrong with what's been happening in American politics of late. And for a long time now. Recently, the "race for the White House" as it's now called, is scaring me. It's not that Sarah Palin was nominated. I congratulate her achievement. She rose from a career in local politics to become the governor of her state and the second woman nominated by her party for the office of Vice President of the United States. That's the America I learned to be proud of.

But there is something wrong. This successful woman, this representation of the progress we have made as a nation, is a staunch conservative. She is proud of her record of conservative politics. To me, this is a contradiction in terms.

The Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary (the one I have) defines conservatism as follows: the practice of conserving what is established; disposition to oppose change in established institutions and methods.

Let that sink in for a moment. "Disposition to oppose change in established institutions and methods (emphasis added)."

What troubles me is that, while American conservatives are apparently energized by the nomination of one of their own, Sarah Palin is the product of very liberal policies and politics. If conservatives actually had their way, women might never have even been accorded their right to vote, let alone have a career outside the home, including, but not limited to, holding high political office. The Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1920 (less than a hundred years ago), prohibited the denial of the right to vote based on sex. That was thirty years after the Fifteenth Amendment granted the same right to black men. Would Sarah Palin have been a conservative, opposed to change, then?

It seems very strange to me that any woman, especially one who has risen to high political office, would espouse a political philosophy that would once have denied her the right to even aspire to that office.

But there's something that troubles me even more. All candidates for high office in today's America must profess their faith in a god, specifically the Christian god, in order to be considered viable. I have heard all manner of arguments about why this is so. "America is a Christian nation." It is not. "The founding fathers established America based on the Ten Commandments." They did not. I could go on.

The belief in a god or gods is not a test for holding office in America. Article VI of the United States Constitution specifically prohibits a religious test for office: ...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.

That the people have imposed this test de facto, not officially, is not illegal. Nonetheless it is troubling.

Sarah Palin is not the first candidate for national office that points to faith in a god as the foundation of her values and guiding principle for her governing style. She is one among many of the latest. I would wager that few modern politicians could get elected without doing the same.

But the extent to which her professed faith (and that of others) controls how she would govern is in direct conflict with established American law. Conservatives, and Evangelical Christians in particular, are not shy about trying to change American laws to reflect their religious beliefs. The abortion issue is just one example of this. Opposition to gay rights is another.

Still another example is the renewed attempt to replace science instruction in schools with Christian creationist dogma. Americans already wrestled with this issue earlier in the twentieth century. Scopes v. Tennesse (1925), was the first high profile case in the matter. It was not until 1968 that the US Supreme Court found, in Epperson v. Arkansas, that prohibiting the teaching of evolution theory in public schools violated the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution. As recently as 1987, the US Supreme Court ruled, in Edwards v. Aguillard, that mandating the teaching of creationism alongside evolution was unconstitutional (although it left the door open for alternative "theories" on the origin of life).

Even more recently, in 2005, a US District judge found, in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, that creationism's latest incarnation, called Intelligent Design, is not science, and that it "cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents," and that the school district's promotion of it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

The point of all of this brief history is that Sarah Palin professes to be a creationist, and she is at least not opposed to, and arguably in favor of, teaching creationism in the public schools. That is a position that goes far beyond conservative politics and is akin to reactionary doctrine.

I was born and raised in the United States. I have a strong feeling for what it means to be an American. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are concepts that resonate deep inside of me. The United States Constitution, its Bill of Rights, and all of the amendments (save one, Prohibition, which was subsequently repealed), enumerate and expand the rights of human beings to these and all aspects of civilized society. We are, by definition, a liberal society.

I'm afraid of social conservatism, religious zealotry, and reactionary thinking. I'm appalled that a woman in Sarah Palin's position would embrace these ideas. I'm terrified that such a woman might one day become President of the United States.

To be conservative, or reactionary, with regard to social issues is more than troubling, it's anti-American. It's not me, or liberals, who hate America. It's those who would turn back the clock on our progress as a nation and as human beings.


  1. OMG, Walt! What a troubled/troubling post! I've been riveted to Ronn Owens' (radio talk show host in San Francisco) broadcasts for the past two weeks. It is very scary... what seemed to be a disaster of a vice presidential selection (i.e. Sarah Palin) has really energized the Republicans. I'm very scared. Is the guest bedroom available for the next 8 years?

  2. Nice article Walt! Thank you for that. I am just hoping PA received my request for an absentee ballot in enough time that I can make the elections... I am sure I will, but just don't want to miss my chance to vote.

    (Not that many across the pond care what we deserters think - and I think you were too courteous in regards to Mm Palin. Something tells me she is not as bien élevé as you.)

  4. I agree that the separation of church and state is getting smaller and smaller as the years go on, and that's what scares the hell out me about my native country!

  5. Amen, brother.

    I'm terrified that such a woman might one day become president of the United States.

    I'm also appalled that a man of the same mind set already is the president of the United States.

    What a mess we're in.


  6. thanks for good citations, article VI and also kitzmiller.

    it really is un-american, you're right. or perhaps i should say "correct".

    i've been thinking about the def of conservative too, in a more philosophical sense, perhaps, from the "conservation" subtheme of the definition. we all want "conservation". except the "conservatives" ....yada yada.

    the establishment of a state religion really is frightening, and i wonder if you could recommend a non-partisan yet comprehensive book telling me how it happened? (i'm a big fan of 1981's Thunder on the Right, by a former acolyte shocked at the perversion of the political system, which explains the Dolan/Viguerie/Weyrich imperial strategy for owning our hearts and minds which pretty much prevails. any analogs you could recommend for the unconstitutional religious takeover?)

  7. Cheryl,

    "Is the guest bedroom available for the next 8 years?"

    You beat me to it!

    Sarah Palin scares the crap out of me.


  8. I'm glad I'm not the only one who is losing sleep over this election. I am so worried and afraid for Americans who actually want a separation of church and state. I can see Palin trying to ban the teaching of evolution and biology... and banning birth control and abortions... Lysenko and Ceausescu would be so proud. ::sigh::

  9. Walt,

    I enjoyed your insightful comments, coming as they do from one rather far away from the current tumult.

    What is equally troublesome is the constant stream of smear attacks from McCain and his supporters on the far right, such as: Obama is a closet Muslim; Michelle Obama hates "whitey". And in just the past few days these wild charges: Obama supports sex education for 5-year old children... when in fact he supported a bill in the Illinois legislature that addressed the problem of pedophile teachers; or the charge that he has called Sarah Palin a pig... when he actually was referencing McCain's efforts to repackage the old Bush economic policy.

    We in the States have become so used to fear-mongering, but somehow I suspect the Rovian tactics of the past aren't going to work this year. They might, but we are still early in the political season. McCain/Palin got a bounce in the polls from the GOP convention but people used to this phenomenon know that political fame and fortune are fleeting, to be sure.

    Sarah Palin reminds me of the way Ross Perot rose high in the polls back in 1992, but fizzled out when attention was actually paid to what he was saying. Palin only looks good because as a quasi-blank slate, the public can imprint on her whatever they want.

    That said, I don't know who is going to win the election. I've been thinking for over a week that Ms. Palin may implode before our eyes for lots of reasons: Troopergate, her flipflopping on the "Bridge to Nowhere", asking for reimbursement from the state of Alaska for days when she was living at home, and most recently, revelations that she was warned by an Alaska judge that her behavior toward her ex-brother-in-law bordered on child abuse toward her sister's offspring. And I'm not even counting her immediate family, which is dysfunctional to the point where most people would try to keep them out of the media spotlight.

    You are spot on in your assessment of the contributions of hard working liberals who fought for the kinds of rights that Sarah Palin enjoys but which she seems unwilling to share with everyone else.

    So, I am not despairing yet. I do wish Obama would do more pushing back and use his surrogates to push back even harder. What gives me hope is that the McCain folks' tactics reveal their profound weakness. Rather than substance, where McCain knows he hasn't a prayer, he wants to return to the tried and true culture wars which have served the right so well in the past. He thinks that offering up bread and circus to the populace may yet lead him to victory. He may be right.

    But I don't think so.

  10. Somebody said once that the Statue of Liberty turns its back to America. It gets truer everyday!

  11. Walt, Palin scares us so much. My husband and I say that if they get elected its time to move to another country.

    What it so hard to understand is how can so many women not see what we see?


  12. Well put Walt. The best cited commentary yet. Most comments out there are nothing but unfounded remarks that lead to mud slinging and little else.

  13. Bravo, Walt! As an American woman, I am insulted with the appointment of Palin. And I am insulted as an American that a woman with zero national or international foreign policy experience was named. Moreover, this appointment demonstrates the low regard McCain has for the office of vice president. She is a radical politician with extremist views.

  14. Walt -

    Spot on! Your reasoned and reasonable commentary is exactly the type of thing that's missing in today's media centric political debate. Keep up the great work!


  15. Way to go Walt !! :-)
    You've clearly always been a Democrat, but as a non-American, it is interesting to me that statistically, ex-pat American's overwhelmingly vote Democrat, even when in the past they may have been staunch Republicans. Seems a bit of distance clears the mind...
    I am also amused by the times I have had to explain that in France, the conservative position is to be Socialist :-) Biz.

  16. That was awesome Walt. I have been thinking much the same, but not as eloquently. I find Sarah Palin (and the 2008 "race") just frightening.

  17. I'm with u Walt....and Palin counts Ireland as a country she's visited even tho it was just a refueling stop she knows nothing about the rest of the world and claims to know Russia because u can see it from Alaska! Other counties are already she cannot pronounce nuclear ( CU ler)...sound familair?

    What really bothers me is that my many friends in new orleans are still voting repub. after the Katrina fiasco they suffered thru....I don't get it

    I hope all of you ex-pats who can vote pleez do so

  18. Walt, this is one of the best analysis I've read and I do wish you'd send it off to another site, such as BuzzFlash. It deserves to be more widely published. When my friend, BettyAnn, sent it to me I was almost tempted to do it myself.

  19. joanne, I did post this on dailykos, and I got 16 comments in the first five minutes, mostly begging me to change the title, which I did. Then my post disappeared into the backlog forever!

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  22. anonymous, at least we're not afraid to sign our comments. And don't come back.

  23. I couldn't wait to read this post I'd heard about while we were traveling, and as soon as we got back we read it but didn't comment. I wanted to mull it over. It resonated with me, and so have the insightful comments many people left.

    I don't understand where the Republicans' open hatred comes from. What in the past eight years can be blamed on Democrats? Apparently they don't hate anything that's been done by the current administration, but they do hate and fear what a more liberal administration might/could/possibly/maybe do. Gun control is the issue that decides many voters in this area. The line always is that X (any non-Republican candidate) wants to take their guns away. This has been true in every election since we've lived here. Is owning a gun the only important thing in life?, I want to say (but I don't).

  24. carolyn, thanks. The gun thing is a difficult issue. I think that the republicans always take it to the extreme so that it becomes a polarizing issue. With them, it's always all or nothing, black or white (no pun intended), etc. It's how they manipulate support.

  25. Your blog and this post is just now reaching the coast of Maine. Thanks for taking the time to write and post it.

    The humble Farmer
    785 River Road
    St. George, ME 04860

    Robert Karl Skoglund

    humble at humblefarmer dot com


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