from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

I'm tired, but not that tired 

Today I was reading through some of my old diaries, as I periodically do. It is one way of reminding me of some of the things I thought were important, and often as I reread the comments I realize that there are other thoughts I would like to explore. But even as the school year is now completely over, we are in a lull post-primary in our Virginia Senate race and I do not begin my NEH seminar until I arrive at William & Mary on Sunday afternoon, I have found that I was not motivated to write. I have discovered how tired I am.

But it is not that I am out of energy, for I can find time to watch soccer, read important books, follow the diaries of others, even occasionally comment.

When I say I am tired, I am addressing something far more fundamental - the realization that all that I do may ultimately may not make a difference. But that is also why I am not that tired. Let me explain.

We seem to be fighting the same battles over and over. And too many of the Democratic officerholders do not seem to have learned that taking the DLC position of not confronting on things like the war and moral values is the path to the destruction not only of any future for the Democratic party, but of our democracy as well.

We again face votes on Constitutional Amendments designed for only the second time in our history (Prohibition being the first) to limit individual freedom. We have anti-gay marriage and we have flag-burning. The former will probably fail, and we actually have some hope that the state-wide attempt in Virginia may also fail. But there is real concern that the flag amendment will pass the Senate for the first time, which it would not be able to do without Democratic votes.

What is interesting is that those who have risked life and limb on behalf of this country often opposed the flag amendment. A number of years ago the most eloquent voice in opposition was Medal of Honor winner Bob Kerrey, then a United States Senator. He is still eloquent on this subject, as he demonstrated with an op ed in the Washington Post entitled Our Flag and Our Freedom published on June 15. I want to offer three paragraphs from that piece, discussing the ceremony of giving a flag to the survivors of those killed in military service.
It is as if the flag becomes the fallen. In the hands of a widow or mother it is much more than a symbol of the nation. At that moment the American flag is a sacred object that holds the sweet memory of a life given to a higher cause. Or so it seems to me each time I am witness to these hallowed events.

To others the ceremony may mean something entirely different. I recall vividly one such situation: A mother of a friend who was killed in Vietnam recoiled when the flag was offered to her. She would not take it. In her heart the American flag had become a symbol of dishonor, treachery and betrayal. At the time, and perhaps to her dying day, she wanted nothing to do with it.

If our First Amendment is altered to permit laws to be passed prohibiting flag desecration, would we like to see our police powers used to arrest an angry mother who burns a flag? Or a brother in arms whose disillusionment leads him to defile this symbol of the nation? I hope the answer is no. I hope we are strong enough to tolerate such rare and wrenching moments. I hope our desire for calm and quiet does not make it a crime for any to demonstrate in such a fashion. In truth, if I know anything about the spirit of our compatriots, some Americans might even choose to burn their flag in protest of such a law.

Kerrey of course is right, and yet a Senator who is NOT running for reelection and thus has complete freedom on this issue, Mark Dayton, may actually provide the 67th vote necessary to send the amendment to the states.

First, as a political matter, this will mean the issue will immediately be used to attack the patriotism of any Democrat at the state level who opposes ratification. Second, as a legislative matter it will distract from addressing the real needs facing this country. Finally, if ratification is successful, we can expect to see a series of additional amendments intended to suppress those voices that are not as ”popular.” We can probably beat back an attempt to declare this nation a Christian nation, but what if it is phrased as Judeo-Christian? If the administration does not effectively achieve an official secrets act through its pleadings to the courts we will see legislation designed to eliminate the ability of the press to report on the misdeeds of the administration.

I am tired because we cannot cease for one minute, lest we irrevocably lose the ground for which our Founders fought and sometimes died, constitutionally protected individual rights, opposition to tyranny in any format, suppression of unpopular views or opposition to the government.

I am about to embark on something that should be a honor, an opportunity to study in depth an important issue. I have been awarded the opportunity to study at an National Endowment for the Humanities seminar at William and Mary, for 4 weeks beginning with our signing in on Sunday afternoon. We will be studying the separation of church and state. It is an issue about which I have been passionate, not merely because I am of Jewish background and am now a Quaker. It is an important part of our history, one which has involved much struggle over the several centuries of our democracy, with many not understanding either the history behind its development nor under how great a threat it currently is. We have a Justice, Clarence Thomas, who has made clear that he does not believe that the establishment clause should apply to the states through the doctrine of incorporation. While in one of the more important recent cases, Santa Fe ISD, the vote was 6-3 with the late Chief Justice being one of the votes in the minority, it is not clear how the two newest Justices might vote on such an issue, which means that were Justice Kennedy to change his mind (as he has on other issues) basic First Amendment protections could be limited.

I am tired because I cannot fight every battle i see before us. I am tired because Democratic office-holders who should know better far too often cave on important issues such as these. I am tired because I do not see the major figures of the Democratic party speaking out forcefully on these issues as they should. What is wrong with defending a maximal interpretation of the Bill of Rights, whether it is the establishment clause, the free exercise clause, the Freedom of the Press, the 4th Amendment protections against search and seizure? How can anyone justify an executive claim that it is above the law, that it can interpret laws any way it wants, that it can prevent any judicial oversight on the grounds of its inherent powers of commander in chief? Why are not thoughtful people of all political parties shouting aloud that this is a betrayal of our heritage, our history, our very form of government?

I draw few lines in the sand. I drew one that many did on confirmation of Gonzales as Attorney General. I will never give money or vote or support to anyone who voted affirmatively, unless and until s/he acknowledges publicly that the vote to confirm was a mistake, a serious error in judgment, and since we had clear evidence of what he would be like, even that might be insufficient.

I now, as tired as I am, draw the same line with respect to the Flag Amendment. Congressmen, Senators, and candidates -- if you support the Flag Amendment you will forfeit my vote and my support -- and should it become a part of our Supreme Law of the Land, my rejection of you will be permanent. State legislators, I will hold you to the same account. Our Constitution should rarely be amended, and then the most important reason should be the expansion of liberty and its protection, as we saw in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th,, 7th, 8th, 9th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 17th, 19th, 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th Amendments and in the 21st repealing the one time we did otherwise in the 18th. No one should be voting to change our Constitution to restrict liberty and freedom. The very thought is an abomination in the Biblical sense of that word.

I am tired, but I will contact my Senators and my Congressman on this point. I will measure my support of candidates - both in money and in expertise - on this point. I will use whatever power of words I have to persuade others in the hope that they will act similarly, and will inform those politicians with which they have contact of their intent to use this as a marker.

I will accept disagreement on the occupation of Iraq (for it is not a war at this point, or many more Americans would be dying). I will tolerate divergent views on taxes (although I think the position of the Republicans is fiscally irresponsible, which is all that should matter). But I cannot and will not acquiesce in the gutting of the Constitution.

I may be tired. I am not that tired. I know my actions and words may all be for nought, but I will not go gently into the night without taking on this challenge. For this battle I will always find the time and the energy. Will others join me?

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.
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