Page Two: Return to Forever
From creationism to red-baiting, the right kicks it old school
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back"
– Bruce Springsteen, "Atlantic City"
Golden oldies, Top 40 hits of the past, not just music but social trends and cultural preferences, are an ever-recurring phenomenon. Whatever you think is done and whenever you feel it is finally gone, it is instead probably just waiting right around the next year, or the one after that, to return.
At one point, I would have bet against a definitive Seventies culture but was forced to revise this opinion when it returned to favor, blessed by nostalgia and prettified by the passage of time. It's not just old music hits, hairstyles, and clothing that flow in and out of favor; it's every aspect of the overall culture. Stores selling used goods are both depositories of the past and treasure chambers for the future. Revived cultural trends and/or fads can be disconcerting enough, but when the rediscovered area is political thought and ideological beliefs, sometimes it is almost overwhelming.
In junior high school, I thought the debate over evolution vs. creationism was over. We read Inherit the Wind. There seemed to be no contradiction between the metaphor of God's having created the universe in seven days and just what and how long those seven days were.
Science may offer views that are very different from what is in the Bible, but these neither disprove nor prove God. Science is a study of the wonder of God's creations. As belief in God requires faith, all the facts and studies of science are irrelevant to one's beliefs. Certainly, there are those who claim that the existence of science contradicts the idea of the almighty, but that is as much the result of tunnel vision as is the notion that the Bible disproves science.
In case of the latter, arguing to impose actual real-time limits on the Bible's creation story – holding that the seven days so described means only seven days as we know them – is trivializing God. Certainly, the Earth's 24-hour day in no way restricts the creator.
An argument that seemed resolved (and to a certain extent pointless) is back, more virulent than ever. There is something terribly sad about the idea that in order to believe in God, one must accept the strictest and least imaginative reading of the Bible. In too many ways, this trivializes God's grandeur and reduces the Bible to a volume equivalent to a guide in the "For Dummies" series.
Equally sad is the determination of nonbelievers to try to persuade believers that there is no God. This is as offensive as any other overly aggressive proselytizing: Why should anyone's personal spiritual beliefs be vetted publicly?
There are actually those who miss the Red Scare of the 1920s or the hysterical anti-Communism of McCarthyism in the 1950s; rather than making excuses for its being un-American and overly rabid, they justify it as a reasonable response. The current spew against far-left beliefs is completely unmoored, tied to almost no reality. Instead, terms like Marxism, socialism, and communism are tossed around with the weight of derogatory curse words, almost completely divorced from any actual meaning. As terms deployed to slur an ethnic or religious group, these words are used pejoratively, used solely to smear liberals, progressives, and Democrats in general.
Those who are convinced that Americans who believe the wrong thing (usually something radically different from what they themselves believe) should be branded or disenfranchised are missing the whole point of this country.
It's almost funny when strongly partisan commentators calmly explain how Obama is a Marxist, as if they were just giving the weather, stating this as a fact in which they are relatively disinterested. Often they are almost insistent that there are no underlying value statements in such "objective" descriptions. Captain Kangaroo's audience was more sophisticated than to believe that kind of crap.
If this were even vaguely accurate, or if these statements were actually intended to be part of a rational discussion instead of damning, that would be one thing. Although I don't believe Obama is Marxist, I have to point out that such commentators never really address this issue. Instead, they indicate he is such by offering a catalog of his positions that are so mainstream that, if taken seriously, unavoidably argue that this country has been aggressively Marxist for most of the last century and that architects of that "ism" include both left- and right-wingers. I realize there are a number of folks who believe this is the truth; then again, the Flat Earth Society also has current members.
There is no free market, nor does anyone rationally desire one. Sure, the irrational ideologues will pledge their allegiance to any idea carried to its extreme, finding compromise more destructive than the most deadly germs. One of the core ideas of the Constitution is that compromise is the best way to legislate in the national interest (this is a much more central subject than the size of government). However, the allegiance here should not be to the words and wording of the Constitution but because – as with all its greatest points – the document is basically stating the obvious.
In the ongoing discussion of torture, self-declared "patriots" regularly inform us that it is okay to break the law to defend and protect this country. Key to the Constitution is that the law is above man, that it cannot be casually changed, reinterpreted, challenged, or ignored to fit a specific political agenda. There is no doubt that the temptation to bend or mildly subvert the Constitution presents itself all the time; the republic form of democratic government it lays out is neither pretty nor standard. But it is an all-or-nothing deal.
Attacking the ACLU has been a chart-topper for a number of generations now. The reason for this is simple: The folks having fun pillorying the ACLU are acting as though every case that the organization is involved with in some way represents its most passionate, ideological beliefs. The people selling this are demagogues, liars, or the unnaturally stupid. They are neither patriots nor believers in the Constitution but exactly the opposite. Back to junior high school, again – sorry, but even then we were taught that in order to preserve free speech, one had to fight the hardest not for threatened speech one believed in but the speech with which he or she most violently disagreed. The ACLU's mission, in terms of the Constitution, demands extremism, as well as constant support and defense of the most unpopular causes.
Fluoridation is back, bless its sweet heart. Not even really bubbling under but struggling to remain on the Top 200 for decades now, fluoridation has never really left the charts. On this I have no opinion. Someone dropped off a book attacking fluoridation for me to read, hoping to thus convince me. The book is thick with pages of footnotes. If, in return, I handed them a book in favor that was even thicker with footnotes, would that change this person's mind? Of course not.
The demonic child-abuse scare is still being defended as more real than imagined. Irrational societal paranoia has been with us forever. During the time this scare was going down, with people being jailed, there was such an exaggerated hysteria that what was going on was clearly completely over the top.
Unfortunately, the defense mounted in such discussions is too often unilateral. When McCarthy first made his charges of Communist infiltration into the government, there really doesn't seem much doubt that he didn't have the list of names he claimed to have in his hand. But there has been new material discovered in Soviet archives that renews the debate over the innocence of Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs. Since this material is questionable, it solves nothing, but it deserves to be aired.
Now, say there is a dam holding back a lake that is clearly leaking. There is one group that claims this indicates that it is only moments away from collapsing. An opposing group insists that it is hardly worth examining, as the leaks are so minor. Unfortunately, this is the dynamic that is too often followed in broad societal debates, with both groups becoming more extreme in their stated positions until the actual problem is essentially lost.
Gosh wow, not only a re-energized states' rights movement but the question of Texas secession, too, are again rising on the charts. The argument is that the federal government is so hopelessly corrupt that the states need to reassert their political independence in order for a return to cleaner, more honest, and representative politics. An easy way to prove how absurd this notion is in every way would be to have it successfully realized. In short order, most of those who feel disenfranchised and betrayed by the federal government would find themselves with the same attitude toward the state. There is an enormous difference between having a political voice and having a political voice that dominates government.
Given that messing things up by bringing in history is regarded by so many as distasteful, it still should be pointed out that for many decades, "states' rights" was as much a code word for segregationists fighting integration as for anything.[NOTE: The printed version of this column contained a factual error, which has been corrected above.]