What is America?
That seems to be a major point of contention these days. Is the nation a support system for the wealthy or is it a place were we can say "we're all in this together?" Republicans seem to have taken the former view and have been busy rewriting history to conform with a new political correctness. For them, the American Revolution was a rebellion against taxation by what seems to be a bunch of extremely pious anarchists. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen -- by no means a wild-eyed liberal -- compares the Republican Party to a cult. It would seem that this cult has developed a new creation story -- one that bears very little resemblance to the actual founding of this nation.
John Nichols looks back at the comments of Thomas Jefferson on the 50th anniversary of our founding and finds an expectation of reason. Far from being a religious zealot, Jefferson mentions God only to dismiss the idea from government. "All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man," Jefferson wrote. "The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them."
Jefferson was speaking of monarchy and the "divine right of kings," but the argument applies today, to an upper class that thrives on entitlement and a party that believes that the wealthy are more deserving than anyone else. There are no "betters" in America, no ruling class -- or, at least, there shouldn't be. But the Republican Party has done more to reinstate that ruling elite than anyone else. There's a reason that Franklin Roosevelt called them "economic royalists."
But it was E.J. Dionne who ruffled a few feathers this Fourth with an Independence Day column. Dionne deconstructs the Declaration of Independence and finds a document that's almost nothing like what a modern Republican would write.
The very first item on their list condemned the king because he "refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good." Note that the signers wanted to pass laws, not repeal them, and they began by speaking of "the public good," not about individuals or "the private sector." They knew that it takes public action — including effective and responsive government — to secure "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Their second grievance reinforced the first, accusing the king of having "forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance." Again, our forebears wanted to enact laws; they were not anti-government zealots.
Abuses three through nine also referred in some way to how laws were passed or justice was administered. The document doesn’t really get to anything that looks like Big Government oppression ("He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance") until grievance No. 10.
So, what the right would have us believe were a bunch of Bible-brained anarcho-libertarians expressed a desire to govern through law. The supposedly individualist founders wrote that they intended to join in the dreaded collectivism. They saw democracy and collective will as the logical step toward a new age of reason -- the Age of Enlightenment.
"Slowly but surely, activists on the right have seemed to try to appropriate the colonial era as their own, as if they — and they alone — are the direct descendents of the Founding Fathers, and they deserve ownership of the revolutionary principles," writes Steve Benen. "We're supposed to believe the leaders of the era were states-rights libertarians, embracing the attitudes of Ayn Rand and Grover Norquist generations before their birth." Never mind that Rand despised democracy nearly as much as Norquist despises the government the founders built. These are not the patriots, these are the anti-patriots who would undo everything the revolutionaries built, then pretend that this undoing was what those revolutionaries intended, but somehow never managed to get around to.