It is interesting that we celebrate July 4 – the day the Declaration of Independence was signed – rather than Oct. 19, 1781, when the Revolutionary War ended with Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown, VA, or November 30, 1782, when the Articles of Peace were signed and the nascent nation came into its own. Or September 17, 1787, the day the Constitution setting out the architecture for this revolutionary form of “government by the people” was passed, or June 21, 1788, the date that the Constitution was ratified by the 9th state, the necessary number to become binding (note, in no state was there 100% approval for the new Constitution, and it failed in Rhode Island by a vote of 237-2708). These so-called “freedom fighters” don’t even celebrate September 25, 1789, when the Bill of Rights – the first 10 Amendments – passed Congress or December 15, 1791 when the Bill of Rights – including that uniquely important 2nd Amendment – were ratified.
But July 4 is like Christmas to these people, who have misappropriated the notion of “independence” and what it means to be “free” or “a free people” in the same way the jihadists have misappropriated the Koran for their political purpose. Like any fanatical regime, they do not care if their position is in the minority, and they care nothing at all for compromise – which is at the essence of the American form of democratic governance. Because in fact, no position is universally embraced.
At the time of the Revolutionary War, there was not universal support for independence, either: about 20% of the population (500,000) were Loyalists or Tories – about the same percentage by some estimates who are Tea Party people today.
Independence to these folks means no government authority at all (Somalia would be the appropriate model), guns everywhere, no taxes (that is what the “TEA” in Tea Party stands for: Taxed Enough Already). Their enemies are immigrants, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Education. Also Democrats.
Their hero isn’t a John Adams or a James Madison or, heaven forbid, a Thomas Jefferson (separation of church and state) or the science-minded Ben Franklin. Their hero is a deadbeat who has refused to pay proper fees for the use of federal (the People’s) property. They armed themselves against federal officials from the Bureau of Land Management, hoping, praying for an excuse to shoot one, and for one of their own (preferably one of the women or children they stuck in the front) to be shot in order to trigger widespread revolution. When that didn’t happen, two of them hoped to set off the revolution on their own by assassinating two police officers sitting at a lunch counter.
Indeed, the standoff at the Bundy Ranch is all too reminiscent of one of the first crises of George Washington’s fledgling presidency, in July of 1794, the Whiskey Rebellion, when Washington marshalled 13,000 militia from provided by the governors of Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to quell a violent uprising by Western Pennsylvania farmers who refused to pay a tax on the whiskey they produced from leftover grain and corn. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, a federalist, wanted the revenue to pay down the war debt, based on the power granted the federal government under the Constitution. The farmers who resisted, many who were war veterans, contended that they were fighting for the principles of the American Revolution, in particular against taxation without local representation.
The protesters used violence and intimidation to prevent federal officials from collecting the tax (sound familiar?). Resistance came to a climax when a US marshal attempted to serve writs to distillers who had not paid the excise. The alarm was raised, and more than 500 armed men attacked the fortified home of tax inspector, General John Neville. Washington next attempted to negotiate a settlement with the rebels, sending peace commissioners. When that didn’t work, Washington rode at the head of the 13,000-strong army to suppress the insurgency. The rebels all went home before the arrival of the army, and there was no confrontation. About 20 men were arrested, but all were later acquitted or pardoned.
“The Whiskey Rebellion demonstrated that the new national government had the willingness and ability to suppress violent resistance to its laws.”
Deja vu all over again.
There is nothing unique or exceptional about the American Revolution. As it turns out, revolutions, rebellions, civil wars are all too common – there are probably a dozen going on right now, including Iraq and Syria. Indeed, America has gone through two Revolutionary Wars (at least two involving warring armies). What Lincoln accomplished though is the rarity: preserving the union, keeping the United States of America on a path toward progress, indeed, unparalleled power in the world. And though many of us may believe that the cost of deaths of one-sixth the population – 750,000 – was not worth it, what Lincoln realized is that had the Confederacy won independence, it likely would have become a vassal of England and very probably the Union would have become a minor state if it could survive independently at all..
But these Tea Party diehards, whose national flag is emblazoned with the slogan “Don’t Tread on Me” have not accepted the outcome of the War Between the States (more commonly known in the South as the “War of Northern Aggression”). They are still fighting the Civil War. Just as they brand Lincoln a war criminal, now, they trump a notion of Obama as a tyrant, a dictator, an illegitimate leader (the only illegitimate president was George W. Bush who was installed by the Supreme Court), warranting a replay of the Revolutionary War.
Let’s see what’s got the Tea Baggers so exorcised: EPA, Dreamers, Obamacare (and perversely, Obama’s decision to delay implementation of a particular rule), Common Core, raising the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors. But especially, the EPA rules.
The latest cause celebre involves Obama’s decision to five Taliban commanders who were being held at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in order to win the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole remaining U.S. military prisoner of war.
Under a law signed by Obama in December, the defense secretary needed to notify Congressional committees at least 30 days before transferring anyone from Guantanamo Bay (another move by Congress to derail Obama’s intent to shut down the unconstitutional prison) and provide assurances that those released would not be in a position to again threaten the United States or its interests.
Instead, Obama informed Congress two days after the detainees were sent to Qatar.
But Obama asserted that his action did not violate the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, because when he signed it in December 2013, he also inserted a signing statement, declaring his position that the requirement was potentially unconstitutional: “The executive branch must have the flexibility, among other things, to act swiftly in conducting negotiations with foreign countries regarding the circumstances of detainee transfers,”
Rightwingers howled that executive orders and signing statements define Obama as a monarch, a tyrant, a dictator.
In point of fact, Obama has signed fewer executive orders and fewer signing statements (which W used to negate legislation) than every president in 2 lifetimes.
Remarkably, they didn’t complain that Bush was a tyrant when he eavesdropped on Americans without warrant, tortured prisoners, held people without charges or due process indefinitely, lied to Congress and the American people in order to launch a war.
In the signing statement accompanying the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005, George W. Bush declared that provisions requiring the executive branch to submit reports and audits to Congress would be construed “in a manner consistent with the President’s constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to withhold information the disclosure of which could impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative processes of the Executive, or the performance of the Executive’s constitutional duties.” Likewise, in the signing statement accompanying the law that contained the McCain Amendment (as part of the Detainee Treatment Act) prohibiting the use of torture, or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of prisoners, the President declared that the executive branch would construe that provision “in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief … [in order to protect] the American people from further terrorist attacks.”1
It’s so interesting that the rightwingers – Supreme Court Justice Alito, for example – subscribed to the notion of “unitary executive” – that is while a Republican controls the office. While in the Reagan administration, he helped expand the practice of presidential statements upon signing of legislation.
The so-called “Patriots” don’t have a clue about democracy – like any ideological fanatical cult, they think that compromise or, indeed, any rational solution, is heresy.
And if they can’t get their way at the ballot box – even after exercising every conceivable form of voter suppression. trick and advantage (those with more cash have more control over political speech) – they nullify elections through recall (Colorado, California), impeachment (Clinton), trample the will of the majority through filibuster (Senate), repeal (House), and lawsuits (could you imagine Democrats suing the Bush Administration over the Patriot Act as Republican AGs did over health care reform?). And when none of this works, they shut down the government altogether and threaten the full faith and credit of the United States (in violation of the Constitution).
Now they have found a new tactic. Despite the Constitution’s prohibition against suing the President (which the Supreme Court set aside in allowing the civil lawsuit against Clinton go forward), Boehner announced his intention to sue Obama for doing what presidents have always done: used their authority to sign executive orders.
This is a Republican-dominated Congress that has pledged to block every initiative the president advances, has shut down the government, and basically has violated their oath of office, and now claims to be entitled to sue the President for doing his job when Congress has refused to do its job.
“The Constitution makes it clear that a president’s job is to faithfully execute the laws; in my view, the president has not faithfully executed the laws,” Boehner told reporters. “And when there’s conflicts like this between the legislative branch and the administrative branch it’s, in my view, our responsibility to stand up for this institution in which we serve.”
What about Congress’ obligations to serve the interest of the people?
But in the absence of Congressional action, Obama has use executive authority to halt the deportation of young illegal immigrants brought to the country by their parents as children, raise the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors, and allow the Environmental Protection Agency to curb carbon emissions from coal plants.
This roils Boehner, who has refused to allow a vote on the comprehensive immigration bill that the Senate passed, and refused to allow a vote to adopt a budget in order to avoid a government shutdown, without extorting repeal or evisceration of Obamacare (which now Boehner says is the basis for the lawsuit, in that Obama delayed the implementation of one provision), and has attempted over and over again to roll back environmental, consumer and financial protections.
“I believe the House must act as an institution to defend the constitutional principles at stake and to protect our system of government and our economy from continued executive abuse,” he stated. “The president has an obligation to faithfully execute the laws of our country.”
The nation did not elect “a monarch or king,” added the Speaker, who purports to speak for “all Americans.”
Now there is an actual crisis on the border, with tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors making their valiant escape from violence and poverty in hopes of coming to America. And the Republicans won’t do anything to fix it, except incite the most vile bigots to block the buses taking the migrants to a detention center.
“Here’s what a year of obstruction has meant,” Obama said June 30 in declaring executive actions to address the crisis . “It has meant fewer resources to strengthen our borders. It’s meant more businesses free to game the system by hiring undocumented workers, which punishes businesses that play by the rules, and drives down wages for hardworking Americans. It’s meant lost talent when the best and brightest from around the world come to study here but are forced to leave and then compete against our businesses and our workers. It’s meant no chance for 11 million immigrants to come out of the shadows and earn their citizenship if they pay a penalty and pass a background check, pay their fair share of taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line. It’s meant the heartbreak of separated families.
“That’s what this obstruction has meant over the past year. That’s what the Senate bill would fix if the House allowed it to go to a vote.
“Our country and our economy would be stronger today if House Republicans had allowed a simple yes-or-no vote on this bill or, for that matter, any bill. They’d be following the will of the majority of the American people who support reform. Instead, they’ve proven again and again that they’re unwilling to stand up to the tea party in order to do what’s best for the country. And the worst part about it is a bunch of them know better.
“We now have an actual humanitarian crisis on the border that only underscores the need to drop the politics and fix our immigration system once and for all. In recent weeks, we’ve seen a surge of unaccompanied children arrive at the border, brought here and to other countries by smugglers and traffickers. …
“So while I will continue to push House Republicans to drop the excuses and act –- and I hope their constituents will too -– America cannot wait forever for them to act. And that’s why, today, I’m beginning a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress. As a first step, I’m directing the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General to move available and appropriate resources from our interior to the border. Protecting public safety and deporting dangerous criminals has been and will remain the top priority, but we are going to refocus our efforts where we can to make sure we do what it takes to keep our border secure….
“If House Republicans are really concerned about me taking too many executive actions, the best solution to that is passing bills. Pass a bill; solve a problem. Don’t just say no on something that everybody agrees needs to be done. Because if we pass a bill, that will supplant whatever I’ve done administratively. We’ll have a structure there that works, and it will be permanent. And people can make plans and businesses can make plans based on the law. And there will be clarity both here inside this country and outside it.
Obama added that July 4 “is the day we celebrate our independence and all the things that make this country so great.
“One of the things that make this country great –- is that we are a nation of immigrants. Our people come from every corner of the globe. That’s what makes us special. That’s what makes us unique. And throughout our history, we’ve come here in wave after wave from everywhere understanding that there was something about this place where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts; that all the different cultures and ideas and energy would come together and create something new.
“We won this country’s freedom together. We built this country together. We defended this country together. It makes us special. It makes us strong. It makes us Americans. That’s worth celebrating. And that’s what I want not just House Republicans but all of us as Americans to remember. “
Help for Middle Class
It’s not just immigration policy that is lacking, but Congress has refused to pass any legislation that would help add jobs, build the economy, and particularly, to rebuild infrastructure – things that would make a difference in people’s lives.
Last week, Obama went on the road to speak with individuals who have written him letters, in order to make the point about his concern for the plight of struggling Americans, and called out Republicans for their obstruction.
“The problem is, Republicans in Congress keep blocking or voting down almost every serious idea to strengthen the middle class,” President Obama said in remarks at the Lake Harriet Band Shell in Minneapolis. “This year alone, they’ve said no to raising the minimum wage, no to fair pay, no to student loan reform, no to extending unemployment insurance. And rather than invest in education that helps working families get ahead, they actually voted to give another massive tax cut to the wealthiest Americans.
“This obstruction keeps the system rigged for those at the top, and rigged against the middle class. And as long as they insist on doing it, I’ll keep taking actions on my own – like the actions I’ve taken already to attract new jobs, lift workers’ wages, and help students pay off their loans. I’ll do my job. And if it makes Republicans in Congress mad that I’m trying to help people out, they can join me, and we’ll do it together.
“The point is, we could do so much more as a country – as a strong, tight-knit family – if Republicans in Congress were less interested in stacking the deck for those at the top, and more interested in growing the economy for everybody.
“So rather than more tax breaks for millionaires, let’s give more tax breaks to help working families pay for child care or college. Rather than protect tax loopholes that let big corporations set up tax shelters overseas, let’s put people to work rebuilding roads and bridges right here in America. Rather than stack the decks in favor of those who’ve already succeeded, let’s realize that we are stronger as a nation when we offer a fair shot to every American….
“And my message to Republicans is: Join us. Get on board. If you’re mad at me for helping people on my own, then why don’t you join me and we’ll do it together? We’ll do it together. I’m happy to share the credit. You’re mad at me for doing some things to raise the minimum wage, let’s pass a law — Republicans and Democrats giving America a raise.
“If you’re mad at me for taking executive action to make it easier for women to find out if they’re not getting treated fairly in the workplace, let’s do it together. You can share the credit. You’re worried about me trying to fix a broken immigration system, let’s hold hands and go ahead and make sure that this country continues to be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. I want to work with you, but you’ve got to give me something. You’ve got to try to deliver something — anything….
“If they were more interested in growing the economy for you, and the issues that you’re talking about, instead of trying to mess with me — then we’d be doing a lot better. That’s what makes this country great, is when we’re all working together. That’s the American way.”
And he offered this take on July 4 patriotism – less deconstruction and more construction:
“Now more than ever…we should try to rally around some economic patriotism that says we rise or fall as one nation and one people. Let’s rally around the idea that instead of giving tax breaks for millionaires, let’s give more tax breaks for working families to help pay for childcare or college.
“Instead of protecting companies that are shifting profits overseas to avoid paying their fair share, let’s put people to work rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our airports. Let’s invest in manufacturing startups so that we’re creating good jobs making products here in America, here in Minnesota. Rather than stack the deck in favor of those who have already got an awful lot, let’s help folks who have huge talent and potential and ingenuity but just need a little bit of a hand up so that we can tap the potential of every American.
“I mean, this isn’t rocket science. There are some things that are complicated — this isn’t one of them. Let’s make sure every 4-year-old in America has access to high school — high-quality preschool — so that moms like Rebekah and dads like Ben know their kids are getting the best quality care and getting a head start on life. Let’s redesign our high schools to make sure that our kids are better prepared for the 21st century economy. Let’s follow the lead of Senator Franken and Secretary Perez and give more apprenticeships that connect young people to rewarding careers.
“Let’s tell every American if they’ve lost their job because it was shipped overseas, we’re going to train you for an even better one. Let’s rally around the patriotism that says our country is stronger when every American can count on affordable health insurance and Medicare and Social Security, and women earn pay equal to their efforts, and family can make ends meet if their kid get sick, and when nobody who works full-time is living in poverty. We can do all these things.”
This is surely the tirade of a tyrant.
Indeed, what seems to have been lost in the smoke of the explosives is the fact that July 4 celebrates our government – still one of the great revolutionary experiments in human history – and a process by which we choose representatives and political leaders.
It is the difference between a belief system that says that government is evil and needs to be torn down, and one that says government can do good things.
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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