My List, Revisited

Sometimes, I wonder if you can eventually knock loud enough on the doors of the souls of some conservatives to finally get them to open up just a little and let even a tiny piece of truth and beauty in.  Kleinheider, for instance, is so smart and articulate and funny.  I just can’t help but believe that if he’s challenged enough on his stupidness that he will eventually let go of it.

Yes, I know that’s patronizing, but there you go.  I’m not liberal for nothing.  I do know what’s best for some of you better than you do and, in Kleinheider’s case, what’s best for him is to learn to be open to really viewing women as autonomous beings.  This is better for him in many ways, not the least of which is that the quality of women willing to invite him into their cooters will improve.

This post, however, is not about Kleinheider.

It’s about Nathan Moore. 

Let us go visit his post about my list of things I think you need to have some knowledge of in order to be a good American and let the refuting begin.

It’s also telling that Vietnam is listed in B’s list, at the expense apparently of any required knowledge of World War II or the Cold War.  I must question the decision that the historical aberration trumps the historically established trend.

Telling?  Probably not as telling as you think, Mr. Moore.  I’d argue that the groups of people who ought to have working knowledge of World War II or the Cold War goes beyond Americans, hence the reason I didn’t include them.  I was talking about specifically American things that have had a specific influence on what makes us uniquely American.  World War II is an event shared by a lot of countries.  Understanding it is not a uniquely American imperative.

Perhaps one could argue that the Cold War was a uniquely American phenomenon, as it certainly has influenced our willingness to believe that the military-industrial complex’s concerns ought to dictate America’s concerns, even at the expense of our Constitutional rights.  If any of us might secretly be commies, by god, we’d better start chucking whole chunks of the Bill of Rights out the window as fast as we can.  We can’t be armed; we can’t speak our minds; we can’t keep the government out of our homes; we can’t expect a trial of a jury of our peers; because the government can’t be sure we won’t use those things against it. 

But, I think that understanding the Cold War would be hand in hand with understanding Viet Nam, anyway.  And how can you turn on your TV and see the news about Iraq and think that having an understanding of Viet Nam isn’t critical to understanding what it means to be an American?

Because, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Mr. Moore, but we have this asinine idea that one can go to war with no goals except to fight an ideology.  We think we can prevent the spread of an ideology by shooting at the people who have it.  As if that’s going to keep other people from taking up that ideology.

And we’ve seen repeatedly that non-traditional wars don’t work–that you can’t fight ideologies or behaviors with the military (or the militarization of the police).  And yet, we still have seen our War on Communism, the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, the War on Terrorism, none of which have actually gotten rid of the ideology or behavior*, but instead just served to make Americans used to having the government monitor every aspect of their lives. 

Seriously, if you conservatives don’t look at the Bill of Rights and look at America today and feel a little sick to your stomaches, I don’t even know how to talk to you.

Further, the preference for poets is a bit unnecessary. I think you can be a fine citizen if you weren’t terribly informed about a collection of socialists who possessed the ability to rhyme.

No you can’t.  I’m sorry.  You just can’t.

Because, if you don’t understand that "America" is not just a place on a map, but a collection of hopes and dreams for how things might be better or different than they were back in the old country or under those other forms of government, that "American" is not an ethnic identity but an identity made out of a shared belief in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, if you don’t understand that each of us has the right and the obligation to share in defining what America is and what it means to be an American, then you really don’t deserve to call yourself one.

And if you think that you have to be a lawyer or a politician to "earn" the right to dream about America and how it is and what it can be and to help implement that, then I feel bad for you.

Being an American is not about knowing the right names and dates and wars and laws.  It’s about participating in a grand experiment and sharing an idea that people ought to have as much control over their own destinies as possible.

That’s why Whitman and Thoreau and Twain and Morganfield etc. are so important.  They will tell you to your face that this is a country full of great promise that doesn’t always live up to it, but when it does, God Damn.  Our poets hold us accountable to our immense promise as a nation and remind us that we each have a voice that matters.

From where else but from Whitman and Thoreau, I ask you Mr. Moore, do you think you inherited this idea that you, an ordinary American just like anyone else, had something to say that was worth being said?







*"Perhaps you didn’t notice, Aunt B., but the only people left who are communist are the Cubans."  Yeah, we’ll see about that in 50 or 100 years.  All ideas get recycled. 

9 thoughts on “My List, Revisited

  1. From where else but from Whitman and Thoreau, I ask you Mr. Moore, do you think you inherited this idea that you, an ordinary American just like anyone else, had something to say that was worth being said?Uh, from John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

  2. "I do know what’s best for some of you better than you "You’ve perfectly illustrated liberalism.That grand experiment, you seem so fond of, is based on the idea of federalism; the idea that there should not be a strong central government dictating every aspect of our lives and taxing and regulating us into slavery.Perhaps if we can eventually knock loud enough on the doors of the souls of some liberals, they’d get that.

  3. It’s easy to attack people who make lists of important things for what they don’t include or include too much of. But I think it’s important to make those kinds of lists for oneself: "Here’s what I think is important." And, I’m sorry, dude, but most of those poets Aunt B includes don’t rhyme.

  4. "Uh, from John Adams and Thomas Jefferson."Yes, because Adams and Jefferson were such ordinary Americans just like everyone else and their commitment to encouraging the full participation of everyone in America in the making of America is evidenced in such stirring words as "Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons."or Adams’s stirring committment to women’s suffrage at the urging of his wife…Oh, no, that’s not at how it was. Adams and Jefferson, it turns out, were important founding fathers and then, later, Presidents of the United States. Nothing about their lives or the stirring "Some of you don’t count, but don’t worry your heads about it" committment to keeping power in the hands of educated white men has anything to do with "this idea that you, an ordinary American just like anyone else, had something to say that was worth being said."Populism comes from poets and essayists, not from politicians.Also, I believe you have federalism and confederalism confused. A federation is a group of states brought together under a strong federal government and a confederation is a group of states brought together under a weak central government. We were a confederation, favoring a weak central government under the Articles of Confederation, but the Constitution solidified a stronger central government–a Federation–while attempting to balance individual rights and states’ rights and federal power.Your claim that the Founding Fathers had some idea about keeping us out of slavery, when the Constitution acknowledges slavery and many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves is mind-boggling.Most of the folks in America for most of America’s history have had to face having every aspect of our lives dictated and our behavior regulated to the point of feeling as if our bodies are not our own but a state concern.You can’t ask me to be outraged over your perceived loss of freedoms I and people like me have either never had or only have the most tenuous grasp on now. Well, ha, of course, you can ask me to be outraged. You can’t expect me to take up the cause of your freedom when y’all are not sitting around taking up the cause of mine.

  5. Whoa. Hold the damn phone. John Adams (Mr. Alien and Sedition Acts) was NOT a great defender of popular democracy as we’ve come to understand the phrase. Not even by the narrower measure of his day, which is how I evaluate these things. Are you thinking, perhaps, of Samuel Adams, one of the leaders of the Sons of Liberty? Jefferson articulated world-important ideals, but scrutiny of his behaviors indicates that he, too, distrusted pure popular democracy. For example, his plan for the Old Northwest would have cut the territory into fourteen little principalities on the theory that uncouth and unlettered western men were not good bets for self-governance; he thought that their influence in national affairs (and their tendencies towards rebellion) would be more easily controlled if they could be pitted against one another and kept endlessly squabbling about local issues while elites with national connections ran the Big Show. The French Revolution (particularly the head-rolling spectacle of the Terror) soured most of the revolutionary leaders on mass democracy and revolution. Remember, too, that these guys went from being relatively young men in the mid-1770s to being older men in the early 1800s. They grew more cautious as they grew older, with the notable exceptions of Ethan Allen and Thomas Paine. Putting the brakes on the revolution (the so-called Thermidor) and determining the limits of the resulting republican citizenship (the "revolutionary settlement") meant dampening the high expectations of those who fought expecting much more in the way of political inclusion than they immediately got.Thus, I think it makes more sense to point to the ordinary men and women of the post-revolutionary generations as the people who actually brought America the ideal that ordinary people counted. It was these folks who, after the War for Independence, fought elites, successfully demanding the expansion of civil society and the recognition of the inalienable rights which governments neither bestow nor extinguish.

  6. Let me quote from my own site one of my listings and apply it to the poets.6~ Ellis Island: In the land of immigrants, this was the gate that most passed through. The Statue of Liberty is merely the abstract monument symbolizing this concrete reality.I think that the Statue of Liberty is something truly American, but it is in many ways just a reflection of something much more concrete… in my interpretation this is Ellis Island. Likewise the poets, who are also truly American, are but reflections of something much more concrete.

  7. Kat: the Statue is sheathed in copper, hence the greenish hue that comes when copper oxidizes. They stabilized it several years ago and may have added some concrete inside the housing at that time, but I don’t think the original design contained any.

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