Page Two: Running With the Wild Gang
Self-proclaimed patriots don't seem to have much love for their country, except on their own terms
My nerves are shot. They have been for some time now, maybe forever. They're not gone because I've fought in great wars, explored uncharted territories, or built grand monuments but for far smaller and more common causes. A constant nervousness, a sense that the only certainty is that when I'm dealing with the world, whatever I'm doing, it is at least somewhat inappropriate. Regardless of context or event, my behavior is either too much or too little, my attention either too focused or too distracted. Any sharp noise, any unexpected snap has me jumping out of my skin as if I'm a thief who might just be hearing the long-dreaded hard knock on my door.
This column has often found scary the political forces coalesced around the underlying belief that the most serious problems this country faces are not complicated issues but other, "bad" Americans determined to destroy this country. It does not matter what these "others" say or believe: They are not even granted a stupidity that would have them screwing up despite good and principled intentions. They are instead deliberately evil.
What is especially upsetting here is the absolute glee with which self-proclaimed, commonsense patriots describe and defame these un-American, anti-American Americans. It sounds as if they couldn't be any happier than they are when hating and denouncing other citizens.
There is a distance between speech and action, especially when it comes to consequences. There is nothing patriotic about declaring oneself a patriot. Often people justify political thoughts and actions by quoting a famous aphorism attributed to Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." But just doing something doesn't mean one is necessarily either championing good or attacking evil.
Many self-anointed heroes happily declare that they represent strong moral standards, basic decency, and core American values. Given this "purity," they feel comfortable condemning and dismissing large groups of other citizens as corrupt and misguided – if not deliberately ill-intentioned, then sheep, mindlessly following others. There on the bridge, these heroes make their stand against a quickly rolling, ever-expanding fog of darkness and evil that is determined to destroy all we hold dear. But the heroes' visions are often equally nebulous when it comes to details as are those of the fog.
The tea party's revered pundit – that damn-the-specifics, full-speed-ahead mind-candyman-can – was at it again a few weeks back. Glenn Beck, the sweetest child of Captain Kangaroo and the Pillsbury Doughboy, was shocked – shocked!, mind you – because when talking about the Declaration of Independence and the quote "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights," President Obama left out the words "their Creator."
Now, bad enough that Obama is neither an American nor a Christian, but even given that the worst of all suspicions about him are true (and why not?), he could still say "their Creator"! What does it mean that he didn't? What is he up to? What strange, demonic cult does he serve? By leaving it out, he indicated that the combined nightmares of Alex Jones and Glenn Beck still do not fully describe his depravity.
Glenn Beck is among this country's proudest patriots (just ask him), but he really doesn't seem to have much love for the United States except on his terms. If one claims to be not just a vegetarian, but the most devoted vegetarian around, and in actuality eats only meat, is the claim legitimate?
If one claims to be a true constitutional patriot, a champion of our democratic republic who knows we only have to eliminate all the dissenting voices and not-quite-good-enough Americans to make this country great, is that person really a patriot?
Beck is running with the wild gang, the pure and holy ones. This is the "we can claim to talk to God, even if we haven't, because we are ones he would talk to if he talked to any of us" crowd, spewing objective, knowable truths about the way we live and the meaning of life, about good and evil, and about whether hot dogs or hamburgers are better, ketchup or mustard.
There are those verbally skilled bullies who see themselves as the iron-man freedom fighters of the present and future – bathed in the blood of the lamb, faithful to the Constitution (as they imagine it), noble to their cause, and ready to be crucified or to crucify, depending.
Beck went on and on about Obama leaving out those words, deliberately mangling the quote to serve his at-best questionable intentions. Beyond outrage, Beck's holy eyes were blazing as he further chastised the president by citing another famous quote, the last lines of Emma Lazarus' poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.
"Citizenship is valuable," Beck said. "The Statue of Liberty says, 'I hold my torch before its golden door.' You don't put a golden door on an outhouse. You put it on someplace special. Our citizenship is something to be cherished. And too many of us citizens don't cherish it anymore. We just think we're like everybody else, but we're not. We're not citizens of the world. We're citizens of the United States. At least, at least right now, we still are. I'm proud of my citizenship. And I know those who have worked hard for theirs feel the same way."
One could spend a college year examining how duplicitous, manipulative, and dishonest that quote is. Outrageous on its own, Beck's interpretation of the poem is magnified because he used it to chastise what he saw as the president's misquote.
The last stanza of Lazarus' poem is:
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
It is only about welcoming any and all to this land of liberty. It is not in any way about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship or about how some citizens are better than others. It's like using the word "Constitution" to justify any stray fragments of personal ideological beliefs, even those that most kindly could be described as unconstitutional.
The recent elections were not surprising – and though in many ways upsetting, they really didn't give cause for grand despair. The pervasive conservative sweep – based on unachievable, beyond-utopian, unholy visions – may prove to be, rather than an indicator of the sure electoral defeat of President Obama, one of the most important catalysts in his re-election.
Now in our 30th year of publication, we are posting anniversary-related items throughout the year (see "30 Things"). As the past of the Chronicle is Austin's past, it may well be some of your past as well. Living in the past is both a fiction and unhealthy, so rather than an anachronistic plunge in the wrong direction, take it as a detailing of the platform we all push off from, heading for tomorrow.