At the turn of the last century, the writer Joe Conason wrote of the continuing struggle between “rationalilty” and “militant ignorance”.
“No matter how far we have advanced in 10 centuries, we always seem at risk of slipping back into idiocy. We have just endured an attempted coup d’etat in Washington whose most enthusiastic sponsors were the direct intellectual descendants of witch-hunters and holy inquisitors.”
“Fundamentalist movements that would subjugate women, outlaw heresy, stifle free inquiry and establish authoritarian hierarchies have been gaining strength both here and abroad, and their adherents are no doubt quivering with millennial fervor these days.”
“Ironically, the fundamentalists do not hesitate to employ the means of science — including computers, modern weaponry and mass communications — in their crusade to suppress reason. They possess the confidence of their militant ignorance, while the rest of us are hobbled by the doubts that are inherent to rationality.”
“Yet the impulse toward knowledge and freedom that animated Galileo, Jefferson and all of their heirs lives on. The calendar changes but the struggle continues.”
Since that last day of the last month of the last year of the last century, when Conosen wrote those words, militant ignorance has been on a vicious march through the American landscape and Constitution.
Yet, there is today a noisy demand billowing from the Windy City for a “turning of the page,” as if hot air and callow wishes can by themselves turn the pages of history. That demand is wedded to the proposition that somehow the difficulties the nation faces today are equally attributable to both political parties; that somehow there is a moral equivalence between the two political parties; that both are to blame for the present horrors. The solution proposed is for Democrats to reach yet again across the poliltical divide, this time with an untested and inexperienced leader at the helm.
The author of these inanities who repeatedly cemented his popularity with the opposing party by voting “present” instead of in opposition to their proposals, believes that “we don’t want to be against something — we want to be for something.” Where has he been?
Perhaps he has not heard of Senator Clinton’s good faith legislative work when possible with members of the opposing party. Perhaps he has not heard of Senator Edward Kennedy cooperating with the present administration on No Child Left Behind only to find the program “has been underfunded, mismanaged and poorly implemented and is becoming the most spectacular broken promise of this Republican administration and Congress.” Perhaps he has not heard that “President Clinton always worked hard to find common ground with people in both parties regardless of ideology because he knew it was the only way to get real and meaningful results in Washington, and Senator Clinton has delivered for New York by taking the same approach as a senator.”
According to the argument from Chicago the problem is one of personality, of approach. That a Democrat missing in action, never seen nor heard from before two years ago, will negotiate better and thereby turn the page and achieve results.
“Mr. Clinton seemed to address this matter head-on with a riff at the University of Iowa this afternoon, as he introduced Mrs. Clinton at the second of their six campaign stops across Iowa this week. And he got some of his biggest laughs of the trip thus far in the process.”
“I know some people sort of say, ‘well, you know, look at them – they’re old,’” Mr. Clinton said, drawing out the word “old” as if he were a slow-speaking person of, er, advanced years. As Mrs. Clinton cracked up and laughter spread through the crowd of more than 1,000, he returned to this perception of himself and his wife, saying, “‘They’re sort of yesterday’s news.’ Well, yesterday’s news was pretty good, that’s the first thing I want to say.”
“After noting the 22 million new jobs and other achievements that took place during his administration, he said, “We’ve almost like got to restart the 21st century, and I think you should want someone in the White House who has very new ideas, but keeps score the old-fashioned way.”
“You read about politics and it’s all about what’s your label, who’s up and who’s down, what’s this position, who’s mad at that one. We’ve reached a point in our lives when about the only thing that matters is that no young person is denied the chance to live their dreams or be cut off before their time, and that you leave things better for the next generation.”
“The only thing that mattered, the only proper way to “keep score” as president, he said, was to meet “one simple standard — are people better off when you quit than when you’ve started?”
Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton have for their entire lives tried to Put People First and make the lives of Americans, indeed all people, better. They have done a great deal and sometimes attempted things that did not work out. They have been fighting all their adult lives to make this world a better place. For their efforts they have made many good friends and supporters and many enemies and detractors. They have been full of hope, but not foolishness.
Hillary Clinton understands, especially after her effort to expand healthcare for all Americans, that the opposition to progressive proposals is relentless because a great deal is at stake. The battles are huge because the consequences are huge.
The two American political parties are vying for support from an electorate that for a long time has been deeply divided over core issues and different philosophies. These two parties have entire different ideas about how to organize society. The Democrats believe that government is a tool to achieve “a more perfect union”. Republicans believe that government is the problem. Democrats believe that diversity is a strength. Republicans believe that diversity is to be feared. Democrats believe that all Americans, whether they are black, women, gays, latinos or disabled have a right to full participation in the life of the nation. Republicans believe that ancient tribal organizational structures as defined by their limited interpretation of Biblical texts ordain modern societal roles. The differences between Democrats and Republicans are great. That is why the battles are great.
These battles have meaning. They have meaning for the poor, the homeless, the middle class, the jobless, the employed, the wealthy, the healthy, the ill, gays, women, straights, minorities, men, African-Americans who came to America in slave ships hundreds of years ago and African-Americans who came here in the great airships of the modern age.
We cannot fear these battles. We have not chosen these battles, the battles have chosen us this day. Martin Luther King did not choose the battle, the battle chose him. Roosevelt did not choose the battle, the battle chose him. Hillary did not choose the battle, the battle chose her.
One side will be triumphant. One side will win. Today is our “rendezvous with destiny“.
In the end, we will win. Our vision for society will win. We will win because as Martin Luther King said, echoing the abolitionist preacher Theodore Parker “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. We will win because Americans are sick of these Republicans that have looted our economy and dragged our name low and lower before the nations. We will win because we have elections. We will win because governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed“. We will win though we have to endure, and struggle, and hope for many more months. But we will win. We will free ourselves.
It’s Almost Independence Day.