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4/19/2010
April 19, 1775: The Courage of your Convictions
CATEGORY: General

This article originally appears on The Moderate Voice

It may be a juvenile thing to do, but I like to personalize history sometimes, going back in time and placing myself in the shoes of those who lived the history I am reading.

It’s a harder exercise than you might think. In order to make this little parlor game worthwhile, you have to know something about how people lived at the time, how they thought, what they believed. By placing yourself in the middle of an historical event, you learn to appreciate the choices made by the actors, as well as learning about your self.

Today’s exercise is to go back in time exactly 235 years to a small village green in Lexington, Massachusetts. The dawn has just broken and you have assembled with your friends and neighbors to demonstrate against a British column that has come down from Boston to take the powder and shot that used to be stored in nearby Concord (the Patriots moved the supplies a couple of weeks earlier when word leaked out that the British were going to confiscate the colony’s military supplies).

Having been warned the previous evening by Paul Revere himself that the Red Coats were on the move, you weren’t quite sure what you were doing standing in formation at early light as an advance column of British regulars entered the village limits.

Your leader, Captain John Parker (probably a relative since about a quarter of the assembled militiamen were related to the tubercular Parker), stood at the front of the formation. Seeing this motley crew of farmers and tradesmen armed with squirrel guns and old flintlocks, the British, under the immediate command of Major John Pitcairn, marched smartly to within a couple of dozen yards of the Patriot formation.

You may have heard Parker utter the immortal words “Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” (The accuracy of this statement is doubtful. More likely, he cautioned his men against antagonizing the Red Coats. Besides, the militia’s guns weren’t loaded.) Suddenly, a British officer (probably Pitcairn) rode up and ordered you and your fellows to disperse and to “lay down your arms, you damned rebels.”

At this point, there was confusion on the green with shouted orders coming from British officers, probably shouts from the 50 or so assembled spectators, and Parker himself ordering the militia to disperse. It is one of those tantalizing moments in history that you really “had to be there” to find out exactly what happened because at that moment, a shot rang out.

Theories abound regarding who fired first but there just isn’t any compelling evidence one way or the other. Even before the first shot of the American Revolution was fired though, several of your neighbors in the militia had already begun to withdraw. Others were standing their ground. Everyone was confused and uncertain of what to do - until the British let out a loud “huzzah” and fired off a volley before advancing at the double quick toward you and your friends, bayonets at the ready.

At that point, your good sense probably overcame any doubts and you began to run, conscious of the fact that several of your neighbors lay wounded on the green. You would not have seen the British soldiers bayoneting your wounded fellows, nor would you have glimpsed other soldiers cutting off the retreat of some other militiamen and dispatching a couple of more via the bayonet.

What would you have thought of all this?

I would think that anger would be the dominant emotion. You would go over the confrontation in your head and convince yourself that your intentions were peaceful, that your guns weren’t even loaded, and that the object of your demonstration was to stand firm for your rights as free born Englishmen. Instead, his Majesty’s soldier’s opened fire, killing 8 of your friends wantonly. You may have even heard the celebratory volley the regiment fired off before they resumed their march to Concord.

The burning anger you felt would probably have translated into you joining other townfolk as they made their way towards Concord to ambush the British column and get revenge for the slaughter on Lexington green.

An interesting exercise, no? But better yet, why not put yourself in the shoes of a British grenadier? What was his perspective of the morning’s events?

You would not be in a good mood, having marched all night, tripping over the ruts in the roads and lanes you followed in the pitch dark. You knew your destination was Concord, but you had no idea what you were going to do there.

The 60 pounds you carried on your back, coupled with the scratchy woolen uniform would have you cursing the day you mustered in.

And your feelings toward the colonists? Chances are, you had already spent several months in America putting up with the taunts from the street gangs, the dirty looks from the rest of Boston, and the occasional rock or snowball tossed your way by persons unknown. You had probably been doing a slow burn over what you considered the ungratefulness of these hard headed colonists. You probably didn’t know the nuances of the politics, but you were almost certainly aware of the major areas of disagreement. Of course, you supported his Majesty’s government in the matter. (That would change later as desertion - encouraged by the Patriots - became a regular occurrence in all British armies as the war progressed.)

So you’ve been marching all night, stumbling around in the dark, with a 60 pound pack on your back and a heavy musket on your shoulder, your itchy uniform making you wish you could scratch, when just as dawn was breaking, you emerge from the surrounding woods and behold a well kept village and a green or “commons” in the middle of town. In the new light of day, you can see several indistinguishable forms on the green. They appear to be armed and in military formation. “Militia,” you say to yourself. “How dare those fellows place themselves in the way of his Majesty’s soldiers?” you might ask yourself. You probably resent this show of force and realize with some satisfaction that you outnumber the colonials by a considerable margin.

You are afraid, but not paralyzed with fear. As you form ranks for the advance, you are comforted by feeling the shoulder of your friend next to you. It is how you have drilled for years, so everything is familiar. The officer’s shouted commands are followed immediately and without question as your unit halts just a stone’s throw from the colonial militia.

You can’t see much because you’re not in the front rank. You hear Major Pitcairn say something about dispersing to the colonials but he is facing the militia and its hard to catch much of what he is saying.

You have no trouble hearing the shot that rings out.

Your anger at these ungrateful upstarts boils over. Without thinking, and as one with your fellows, you raise your musket and fire toward the rapidly melting militia formation. When you hear the order to advance, the pent up emotion, the slights, the rock throwing, — all the little indignities from these past months living in Boston overflow and you sprint toward the retreating militiamen determined to teach them a lesson.

By the time you reach the scene, there is carnage. Dead militiamen dot the green while the rest of the townfolk have fled. You are overjoyed at having dealt a blow to what you consider nothing less than rebellion. You know you acted properly and in the best traditions of the British army. When the order is given to fire off a volley of victory, a surge of pride courses through you.

Back in formation, you continue toward Concord, confident that you and your fellows can resist anything the militia can throw at you. You feel nothing but contempt for the colonist’s military abilities and are sure that you and your fellows can re-establish peace and order in Massachusetts.

Of course, if a British soldier felt that way, he would be disabused of that notion by day’s end. Before the column even reached Concord, the countryside was swarming with militia. After tarrying in Concord to carry out their orders to destroy militia supplies (they found precious little), the British began their confused, frightened retreat back to Boston.

Before long, the road was swarming with angry minutemen, all anxious to exact revenge for Lexington. The 16 miles back to Boston was a nightmare of hit and run tactics by the nearly 10,000 militiamen who would eventually get off a shot at the retreating Red Coats. Pausing to fight rear guard engagements, the British took a toll on the militia as well. The Patriots lost 50 killed, 39 wounded, and 5 missing. For the British, the long march cost them 73 killed, 173 wounded, and 26 missing.

I often ask myself whose side would I have been on? Simply because I am a contemporary conservative means nothing. By the time the first shots of the war rang out on Lexington green, most colonists had developed something of an “American consciousness.” While recognizing the advantages - commercial and military - to maintaining close ties with Great Britain, a majority of Americans at that time saw themselves if not as a distinct country, then certainly as a distinct people.

In William Seymor’s The Price of Folly, the author points out that even most Tories in the colonies thought they deserved special treatment from the British government due to the nature of America and her people. And at this time, there was precious little talk of independence, more a determination to fight for rights the colonists believed that British government was infringing upon. But the seeds of independence had already been sown long before Lexington and Concord. And by the time America became a reality in July of 1776, it was not much of a leap for most people to make from colony to independent country. The psychic gap had already been widened as the brutality of war was brought home to ordinary Americans. In short, independence became a no brainer.

I know what side I would have taken. How about you?

By: Rick Moran at 10:49 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (3)

4/16/2010
Tea Partiers Epitomize the Tension Between the Individual and the State
CATEGORY: PJ Media

My latest at PJ Media is up. It’s about the tea party movement and the historic tension in American between individual rights and government power:

But regardless of what you think of the tea party people and movement, it should be recognized as being part of the classic American push-pull between the rights of the individual and the purported needs of the state.

Tea partiers are giving much thought to the notion that the rights of the individual supersede the rights of the state to act on behalf of everyone in the “community.” This, of course, is the essence of the health care bill and its individual mandate. Supporters of national health care take a decidedly utilitarian outlook, as they do for most other actions taken by the government that are supposed to help selected members of the community — even at the expense of individual rights.

Utilitarianism is at the core of liberal philosophy, and health care reform is a perfect example of its tenets. The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy defines a utilitarian act:

…if and only if its performance will be more productive of pleasure or happiness, or more preventive of pain or unhappiness, than any alternative. Instead of “pleasure” and “happiness” the word “welfare” is also apt: the value of the consequences of an action is determined solely by the welfare of individuals.

Note the plural “individuals.” The principle of utility has been used the past 60 years to create and expand the welfare state — many believe to the detriment of individual liberty. And the tea party movement has set itself up as something of a barrier to the notion that this can continue without reference to a debate on what such utilitarian actions mean for the first principle of our founding: the individual’s sacrosanct position in the constitutional hierarchy.

They have not only placed themselves athwart history with a sign yelling “Stop!” They also are becoming a sabot thrown into the machinery of government in order to slow it down long enough to have their concerns heard.

Read the whole thing.

By: Rick Moran at 9:52 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

4/14/2010
THE GOOD AND THE BAD FROM NEW ORLEANS

This article originally appears at The Moderate Voice

Pajamas Media paid my way to New Orleans last weekend to attend the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, and I am just today recovered enough from my trip home on Sunday to write something about it.

The journey back to Chicago from New Orleans was actually more like an Icelandic Saga than the return leg of a round trip. The only thing missing is Odin hurling thunderbolts at the airplane, although we were lucky enough to actually fly through a Boomer when landing in Atlanta on Thursday.

I much prefer direct flights but that wouldn’t do for PJM. So off to Atlanta from Chicago I went on Thursday last week, failing to see the logic in traveling to the east coast in order to fly to a city located in the middle of the country. I’m sure it had to do with the “Hub” system that has been the death of air travel in America. At any rate, a one hour, forty five minute flight turned into a half day’s aggravation. As it was, I barely caught the connecting flight to New Orleans because we were late taking off from O’Hare.

But all that pales in comparison to the four airport, 3 airplane torture I was subjected to on Sunday. I spent more time in layovers - 4.5 hours - than I did in flight time - 4 hours. From New Orleans, I flew to Houston where a 2.5 hour layover awaited. Then, boarding a jump jet, we headed off to Dallas, another hour layover, and then the excruciating experience of being sandwiched between a man and a woman who were even larger than my 250 pound bulk for the final leg back to Chicago.

After spending the weekend endlessly walking through the conference venue, I spent Sunday endlessly walking through 4 airports. My legs almost fell off when I got home and even a hot bath didn’t help much.

Enough of my ordeal, what about the conference?

Partisans will see and hear what they want to, but I really did make an effort to step back and listen to the speeches and converse with delegates as someone not beholden to party or ideology. Some of what I heard disturbed me. Some things cheered me. Mostly, I was impressed with the confidence exuded by those present.

Is it misplaced? Some argue that the GOP has peaked too early, that the Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts was the high water mark of the GOP comeback.

Forgive me if I find that laughably wishful thinking. The fact is, there is something happening in the hinterlands of America that those of us who spend our days wrapped in this little internet cocoon can barely fathom. Millions of people - not just Republicans or conservatives - are aroused. Many are angry but many more are worried. There is a widespread belief that the government of the United States has gone off the rails and is literally out of control. In short, what ever tenuous connection the people had with Washington has been broken.

Assigning blame is not my intent. In fact, the media narrative about the tea party people is so remarkably wrong, it would be humorous in almost any other context. Every single tea partier I talked to - and you couldn’t move in New Orleans without stepping on one - is as mad at the Republicans as they are the Democrats.

Every single one.

Even if they vote Republican in 2010, the GOP will be on notice; reform or it will be your turn to get kicked out. This attitude is reflected by the polls in that while GOP fortunes may have surged, the number of people who identify with the party has remained relatively constant - about 27% of the electorate. Voters have not forgiven Republicans their mistakes. For the GOP to assume otherwise and then get to Washington next year only to carry out their own spending plans, would be the height of folly.

This emotional reaction of the tea partiers and others who may identify with the movement but have no desire to join, has little to do with health care reform or even spending. Opposition to those issues are symptoms of a much broader concern; the unmooring of government from the tenets of the Constitution.

I wrote about this aspect in my PJ Media column on Sunday:

But there was also something most unusual about the conference: an uncommon amount of talk and discussion of the United States Constitution. Ordinary people from all walks of life, not a constitutional scholar or lawyer among them, are actually trying to come to grips with the fundamental meaning and purpose of our founding document.

Has such a thing happened since the debates over ratification? If the numbers of tea partiers can be believed — and they were omnipresent at this gathering — perhaps millions of citizens are reading the Constitution and trying to place the actions taken by our government within the confines of our founding document’s strictures. And judging by the numerous conversations I had with delegates, bloggers, and just ordinary folk, there is a profound feeling of unease about not just what Obama and the Democrats have done to expand the power of the federal government, but Republicans as well. Contrary to what the left would like to establish as conventional wisdom — that the tea party movement is a wholly partisan operation — the anger people are demonstrating about spending is directed at both parties, almost equally.

But becoming emotional about spending is only a symptom of what bothers most people. If you start to talk to them about spending, inevitably the conversation will turn to the Constitution and their understanding of how that document should be interpreted.

How dare they, you might say. What do they know about 221 years of constitutional law? What do they know about the great and important decisions of the Supreme Court that have defined, redefined, and reinterpreted our founding document through the decades? How can they possibly intelligently address the minutiae, the subtlety, the beautiful strands of logic that have painstakingly been built up, layer upon layer, as our civilization has groped with ways to live together in justice and peace?

It may seem to some a quaint exercise in good citizenship for these millions to wrestle with the such convoluted and complex questions as the meaning and reach of the commerce clause or the constitutionality of the individual mandate to buy health insurance. The condescension is misplaced — and totally unwarranted.

What’s really at work here is the mystery of faith and how it can not only move mountains, but perhaps save a country from its own foolishness.

The reason for this massive interest in the Constitution may be seen as an attempt to reconnect the people with their government. Childlike in its simplicity, this very serious concentration on our founding document by people from all walks of life is an attempt to try and understand what government is doing in the context of the only blueprint we have for how to keep our liberty. It has engaged the sensibilities of the public in a way not seen for a very long time.

Some of the speakers sought to take advantage of this re-examination of the Constitution by trying to make the point that the Obama administration, the Democrats, the liberals - all were actually against the Constitution and were seeking to take away the liberty of the people, to enslave them.

Texas Governor Rick Perry went so far as to define the powers of the federal government thusly: Perry believes the federal government’s responsibilities should be limited to:

Have a strong military, secure our borders, and deliver the mail on time. And that’s it. …

And until you can get those three right, how about leaving everything else alone?

Few in the tea party movement would go that far. And the ones who do could rightly be termed “anti-government” rather than small government conservatives.

There was also some worrying rhetoric about the ultimate loyalty and intentions of Obama and the Democrats. Here, many more if not most in the tea party movement agree that the Democrats are basically un-American with some going as far as saying that they want to ruin the country. This is, as I point out, the Age of the Ideologue in America so perhaps it’s understandable, if not a little depressing that this attitude is so widespread.

For now, the Republicans don’t quite know what to do with these people. They are of a different breed than other activists in that they don’t seem to want to give their loyalty to any party or party establishment. Eventually, this movement will be co-opted and absorbed by the GOP. But until then, they will give the Republican party leadership fits with their constant badgering about first principles and constitutional order.

By: Rick Moran at 10:35 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

4/13/2010
THE RICK MORAN SHOW: OBAMA’S SCOTUS CHOICE

You won’t want to miss tonight’s Rick Moran Show, one of the most popular conservative talk shows on Blog Talk Radio.

Tonight, I welcome Monica Showalter of IDB, Stacy McCain, Jazz Shaw, and Dan Rhiel for a look at Obama’s choices to replace Justice Stevens on the Supreme Court, as well as other hot issues making news today.

The show will air from 7:00 - 9:00 PM Central time. You can access the live stream here. A podcast will be available for streaming or download shortly after the end of the broadcast.

Click on the stream below and join in on what one wag called a “Wayne’s World for adults.”

Also, if you’d like to call in and put your two cents in, you can dial (718) 664-9764.

Listen to The Rick Moran Show on internet talk radio

By: Rick Moran at 4:07 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

4/12/2010
My Kingdom for a Moderate?

This article originally appears on The Moderate Voice

Clive Crook is making way too much sense:

A moderate and intelligent opposition to the Democrats’ policies is badly needed. Apparently, nobody in the Republican party aims to provide it. Republican leaders seem intent on presenting the party’s angriest, most stupid and least tolerant face. Some leading Republicans who are moderate by temperament and conviction – John McCain, for instance – are being pushed to the right in primary election contests with more conservative opponents. Others, such as Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, are disowning their previously expressed views or just keeping their heads down.

Republicans are right to say that the Obama administration has over-reached. Democrats failed to convince the country that their healthcare reform was the right solution to an obvious and pressing problem, yet passed their law anyway. Many voters are angry about this, and entitled to be. Also, despite the administration’s denials, the reform will most likely add to public borrowing, which was on a dangerously high trajectory to begin with. Again, they are right to be concerned.

Disenchantment with Mr Obama and the Democrats is especially pronounced in the political centre. (Conservatives, of course, were dismayed before the evidence was even in.) You might have thought this would commend a centrist platform to the Republican party approaching November’s mid-term elections. Swing voters decide who wins, and they were up for grabs. Why are Republicans steering to the right?

Why, indeed. The easy answer is that the entire conversation on the right is being driven by ideologues who profit personally or politically from fearmongering, exaggeration, deceptive analogy, pandering to stereotypes, and sometimes, outright lying about the opposition.

What’s worse, the ideologues actually believe the rot their pushing. If it were simply a matter of saying whatever it took to get elected, or talking wildly about the evils of the Obama Administration in order to sell mattresses on the radio, that would be understandable. Such demonstrations of human frailty would actually be a relief, considering where these sometimes bizarre critiques of the Democrats are leading the GOP.

The Democrats do the same thing, of course. Referring to conservatives as racists or Nazis is par for the course these days on the left. I would certainly call that an exaggeration, and using deceptive analogies between the tea partiers and southern resisters to civil rights is outrageous to anyone who knows anything about that movement. So too, the political lie that the GOP has no new ideas, or that it doesn’t offer alternatives to the Democratic agenda. This simply isn’t true and the fact that Democrats say this with a straight face while deliberately burying bills offered by Republicans that are serious efforts to address our problems is maddening. Both parties indulge in this childish name calling and fearmongering, which is Illustration No. I of what is wrong with political discourse today.

But aside from allusions to a “vast right wing conspiracy,” the Democrats keep their stupidity on a familiar level - that of the normal eye gouging and nut twisting that has been occurring in politics since our founding. Making the other fellow appear as Satan may not be uplifting to political dialogue but is SOP when trying to score points against your opponent.

What makes the attack rhetoric so moronic from the GOP is that much of it is tinged with wild eyed hints of dark conspiracies and the evil machinations of unseen forces. Obama is out to “destroy the country,” is a familiar theme. If you want to know how something so nonsensical could be close to mainstream thought on the right, just listen to talk radio. Rush Limbaugh’s pet theory is that Obama and the Democrats are intentionally trying to ruin our economy so that we all become dependent on government for our lives and thus, become Democratic voters overnight.

Think of it; 20 million people listen to this kind of crap from Limbaugh everyday:

The people that run our country now have a much closer proximity and they’re much closer to the world’s tyrants and dictators than they are closer to the people who founded the country. This is not accidental. They have chosen it. This is the ideology that they have chosen. This is what’s best for them. And you’re going to learn this if you stay focused and stay interested and keep learning as you grow older, you’re going to learn this. You’re gonna learn that they’re not innocent idiots. They are dangerous, devious central planners who have designs on everybody’s liberty and freedom. That’s what matters most to them because that’s where they derive their power.

There is no response possible to such idiocy. One can only marvel at the flight from reality that is necessary to say this and worse, believe it. It’s as if millions of conservatives don’t find life interesting enough and have to invent these extraordinarily dramatic reasons to oppose Obama when the simple fact that the president is a far left liberal Democrat should suffice for most reasonable conservatives.

Mr. Crook doesn’t see much reasonableness from the right:

The Democratic party, for all its faults, is a broad coalition. There is such a thing as a conservative Democrat. Ideologically, the Republican party is shrinking even as it gains popular support. The parties used to overlap in the middle. That is the part of the political spectrum where trade-offs can be admitted, where balances between what voters want and are willing to pay for can be struck, and where fiscal conservatives usually live.

Liberal Republicans were already a rare species. Healthcare reform, and the electorate’s reaction to the Democrats’ plan, seems to have extinguished the breed entirely. With that proposal now law, the acid test is tax reform. Is there a Republican out there willing to support a simplification of the tax system that, while lowering marginal rates, raises revenues significantly above their historic average? Even after every plausible economy on the spending side has been made, that is going to be necessary. So far as I am aware, not a single prominent Republican is willing to say so.

Why? Because reaching out to the center as a Republican is a zero sum game. For every centrist you pick up, you lose two conservatives who accuse you of being a “RINO” or “squishy.” Always looking for a sure thing, politicians would rather gather the votes from their base and hope that enough centrists come of their own volition rather than make an effort to actively seek them out.

And I’m not sure many Republicans would go for a “centrist agenda” anyway. Neither would many Democratic politicians opt for a middle of the road posture. This is the age of the ideologue in American politics and there simply isn’t room for reason, logic, and the desire to work together as a nation to solve our problems,

It was headline news this past weekend at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference when Ron Paul said Barack Obama is not a socialist, despite even Newt Gingrich using the “S” word to describe Obama at the same venue. That is the significance of having ideology govern a political party. Most Americans do not see the president that way and as I point out here, calling Obama a socialist flies in the face of the accepted definition of the word:

I detest conservatives throwing around the words “socialism” and “Marxism” when it comes to Obama as much as I get angry when idiot liberals toss around the word “fascist” when describing conservatives. I’m sorry but this is ignorant. It bespeaks a lack of knowledge of what socialism and communism represent as well as an ignorance of simple definitions. Obama will not set up a government agency to plan the economy. He will not as president, require businesses to meet targets for production. He will not outlaw profit. He will not put workers in charge of companies (unless it is negotiated between unions and management. It is not unheard of in this country and the practice may become more common in these perilous economic times.).

An Obama presidency will have more regulation, more “oversight,” more interference from government agencies, more paperwork for business, less business creation, fewer jobs, fewer opportunities. It will be friendlier to unions, more protectionist, and will require higher taxes from corporations (who then will simply pass the tax bill on to us, their customers). But government won’t run the economy. And calling Obama a “socialist” simply ignores all of the above and substitutes irrationalism (or ignorance) for the reality of what an Obama presidency actually represents; a lurch to the left that will be detrimental to the economy, bad for business, but basically allow market forces to continue to dominate our economy.

I wrote that before the election in 2008. I still believe it despite the fact that national health insurance reform puts us on the road to socialized medicine, the unforeseen consequences of which could lead to the kinds of government control most feared by conservatives. But we’re not there yet - not by a long, long shot. And the slippery slopes on such a road, if recognized, can be avoided if conservatives keep their heads and fight against them.

Unfortunately, conservatives are not keeping their heads. Hysterical shouting and hand wringing about evil Obama may work this time around, as Crook points out, because the vast middle of the country is in a mood to punish the Democrats. But come 2012, someone on the right is going to have to come up with a rational, reasoned critique of Obama’s policies that the moderate righties and libertarians won’t think is the mouthings of some crazed paranoid inhabiting an alternate universe.

Otherwise, the GOP may find itself marginalized and on the outs for a long time to come.

By: Rick Moran at 1:57 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)

4/11/2010
HISTORY AND IDEOLOGY DON’T MIX
CATEGORY: History, Politics

This article originally appears in the American Thinker

Last month, the Texas State Board of Education tentatively approved changes in social studies’ texts that set off much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the academic and cultural left.

Would that changes made by the very same Board of Education back in 1997 elicited similar cries of outrage from the left when several jaw-dropping alterations were made to Texas school books in order to please liberal constituencies. The complaints back then came mostly from conservatives who saw our national narrative altered in order to appease the multi-culturalists. It appears that now that the shoe is on the other foot, a much bigger issue must be made of these ideologically inspired changes in history curriculum. Why this is so speaks more to our culture wars than any attempt to improve the accuracy of textbooks.

There is nothing new in complaining about the ideological tilt in the study of American history in our nation’s schools. And the debate certainly isn’t limited to Texas, as one recent poll shows nearly half of American parents with children in primary or secondary public schools believing that history textbooks are inaccurate while fully 60% believe that “most school textbooks are more focused on being politically correct than ensuring accuracy.”

There is a great misunderstanding by us laypeople over the significance of certain historical events and personalities. The confusion comes about when we start conflating the study of history with the teaching of history. The two are mutually exclusive propositions with the former being concerned with discovering what happened, and the latter concerned with passing on knowledge. It is the question of what knowledge gleaned from the study of history should be passed on that creates these ideological food fights and drives both sides to emphasize favored constituencies at the expense of objective accuracy.

Where we begin to get into trouble is in failing to recognize the enormous complexity of our history and substitute a “special narrative” that highlights a point of view driven by politics rather than scholarship. In this sense, it isn’t necessarily inaccurate to downplay the role of Thomas Jefferson in our founding as the Texas School Board voted to do last month. There will be nothing historically false in the text about Jefferson. He just won’t receive what many historians believe should be the kind of attention he deserves in the classroom.

Is this inaccurate? It can be argued as such but is perhaps not as egregious a sin as, for example, devoting more classroom time to the fight for civil rights as is spent examining the Revolutionary War. No doubt civil rights history is important but we should be constrained to point out that there would be no civil rights movement in the United States unless there was an independent nation to begin with. Such logic escapes most ideologues who seek to put their imprint on what our children learn of American history regardless of common sense or proportion.

Time is the key. There are only so many school days, so many lesson plans, so many personalities and events that can be squeezed into a school year. This invites this kind of controversy that plays out across the nation when states seek to alter history textbooks. By de-emphasizing Jefferson, the Texas School Board is going to give Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address a fresh look by comparing it with Lincoln’s address. There will be nothing “inaccurate” about this except that some historians believe it to be a waste of time to even make the effort when other events and people in American history cry out for recognition.

Other specific changes authorized by the Texas School Board deal with current arguments in the academy over issues like the role of religion in our founding. The passion of evangelical Christians who seek to justify a more dominant role for religion in civic society by interpreting the past in a less thorough manner than many academic historians may be admirable in some quarters, but is less than welcome when applied to changing history textbooks. The conservative Christians are shouldering their way into an academic debate by seeking to simplify a very complex issue in ways that border on dishonesty. There may indeed be differing interpretations about what the founders believed about the separation of Church and State. But by not recognizing opposing views, the Texas School Board is choosing a winner in a contest for which none has been declared.

Indeed, conservatives seeking to put their imprint on the curriculum - just as liberals are known to do - are demonstrating a basic ignorance of history as an academic discipline. Ron Briley, Assistant Headmaster, Sandia Preparatory School, writing for the History News Network, gives both a teacher’s perspective and an historian’s sense of proportion to the problem:

The question is not simply which facts, but whose facts. It is a matter of perspective. The history of Western settlement may differ depending upon whether the story is told from the point of view of a pioneer or Native American. In fact, it seems to be the concept of multiple perspectives that most frightens those seeking to impose absolute standards upon the schools.

What Briley is proposing is the radical notion that history should be taught to children in such a way as to develop their abilities to think for themselves by presenting differing perspectives on the same event:

It is the fostering of critical thinking to which the Texas State Board seems most opposed. Rather than encouraging students to investigate the role of religion in the forging of the American nation, students are instructed to accept that the founders envisioned a Christian nation. According to the Texas standards, the Second Amendment is to be treated as an absolute, rather than presenting alternative interpretations and letting students reach their own conclusions. After all, the First Amendment freedom of speech is not recognized by the courts as absolute. It is important to examine the role of Ronald Reagan in ending the Cold War, but it is equally essential to appreciate the emergence of Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, for American history must be placed within the global context in which students will be living during the twenty-first century.

Teaching is not dictation. It is not the simple transference of knowledge from one person to another. That kind of straight line thinking leads to automatons, not critically thinking, independent minded citizens. Rather, teaching should be about encouraging student’s minds to expand and grow. The very best teachers lay out a path that motivates students to choose their own road in the journey to enlightenment. Those are the teachers you remember from your own school experience. The process of learning was almost effortless, and there was excitement not in passing a test or achieving some class award, but in the sheer joy of knowing something you did not know before.

But conservatives in Texas and liberals in many other places don’t quite see it that way. Their notion of “education” consists of imparting an ideologically tinged set of “facts” in the classroom that seek to narrow rather than expand a student’s mind. As it is with elevating the role of Ronald Reagan in ending the cold war (at the expense of Gorbachev who many historians believe had a large role in that process), so it is with the over-hyping of the role some minorities have played in American history in order to slavishly satisfy an instinct to be politically correct. Both approaches are wrong. Both lose sight of how American history should be taught. And both fail to grasp the simple notion that there isn’t enough time to fully satisfy everyone’s idea of what our children should learn.

Most people who are interested in American history learn far more about this country from reading outside the classroom than inside. The great biographies of great men and women, along with compelling narrative histories about great events fill in the gaps in our knowledge that a limited classroom experience put there. Some of us may even be curious enough to read more academic treatments of history where the great debates over people and events reveal schisms that date to the founding of the republic.

It is perhaps too much to ask to divorce ideology entirely from decisions on what to teach our students about the American experiment. These school board decisions are, after all, exercises in democracy. If the board members were not elected directly by the people, they are appointed by someone who was.

But we can ask those responsible for more forbearance as it relates to what should be one of the goals of teaching American history to our children in the first place; the opportunity to pass on to the next generation the incredible story of our founding and growth while inculcating a national identity in the minds of those who will be responsible one day for keeping and holding that patrimony of liberty.

By: Rick Moran at 4:18 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

4/10/2010
PALIN TAKES ON OBAMA AND DEMS IN NEW ORLEANS
CATEGORY: PJ Media

I have another report from New Orleans up on Pajamas Media.

A sample:

Indeed, Steele can thank Palin for sucking the oxygen out of any other storyline at the conference. And that includes the retirement of Justice Stevens; not one speaker has mentioned that yet. The atmosphere in the Grand Ballroom prior to Palin’s entrance was thick with anticipation and excitement. She followed Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, whose speech proved that while cultural issues like abortion may have been downgraded by some — or, more accurately, de-emphasized by some of the more pragmatic Republicans — the pro-life issue is still near and dear to the hearts of most in the GOP. Perkins received a prolonged standing ovation for his rousing defense of the pro-life position. Some Republicans may wish the issue to merge into the background, but that wouldn’t be the choice of most attendees at this conference.

Palin seemed at times to rush her address a little, stepping on applause lines so that the flow of her speech was a little choppy. But she made up for it with some real zingers tossed at President Obama, including a sarcastic response to the president’s dismissal of her knowledge regarding nuclear weapons:

“And President Obama, with all that vast nuclear expertise he acquired as a community organizer, a part-time senator, and a candidate for president, has accomplished nothing to date with Iran or North Korea,” she said.

Read the whole thing.

By: Rick Moran at 10:12 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

4/9/2010
I’M IN NEW ORLEANS AND YOU’RE NOT
CATEGORY: PJ Media

They actually have me working this time - no slumming allowed.

I’ve had a few posting at PJM that you may not have seen. First, a preview of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference:

The dizzying progression of scandals, charges of misuse of party funds, personnel changes, and high-profile calls for Steele to step down threaten to take the focus off what should be the conference’s main purpose: to rally the troops and send them off to the midterm wars with confidence and enthusiasm. Instead, they have the chairman of their party basically accusing them of racism for questioning his job performance, a national organization in painful disarray, and the entire party waiting for the next scandal or embarrassment to drop. Although there have been a few calls for Steele to step down, most of the national committee seems to be solidly behind him, so there is little chance they can force him out. But it won’t take much for that to change. Steele has been given just about all the rope he is going to get, and with midterms approaching, the absolute last thing the party needs is this kind of turmoil at the top.

What kind of reception can Chairman Steele expect on Saturday? The chairman has never been very popular with the rank and file, but the attendees will mostly be leadership types who look for results. And when the organization you head can raise $11.4 million in March, you’re not doing half bad. Steele will be greeted politely but not enthusiastically.

Actually, the Steele thing is not quite as bit an undercurrent today what with Palin speaking. I summarized Thursday night’s proceedings here:

[T]he attendees at the SRLC appear to be in no mood to dwell on the past. The first general session last night was marked by enthusiasm and excitement at the prospects for victory in November’s midterm elections. For comparison, I attended the 2009 CPAC event and can report that the difference in mood between the two confabs is astonishing. There was much defensiveness at that CPAC conference as well as a subdued atmosphere that reflected Obama’s recent ascension to the presidency. The contrast with the eagerness for combat expressed by the speakers and attendees here in New Orleans is striking.

That combativeness was best illustrated by two of last night’s speakers: Liz Cheney and Newt Gingrich.

Ms. Cheney gave a speech that took the Obama administration to task for its foreign policy retreats. At times, her criticisms were a direct challenge to the Democrats’ narrative of her father’s tenure as vice president. Her biggest applause lines came when she defended the use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques by the CIA, saying that “foreign terrorists do not have constitutional rights.” She also skewered Attorney General Holder for going after interrogators of the terrorists while dithering about setting up the new interrogation regime at the Justice Department.

But Cheney saved her harshest criticisms for the administration’s Israeli policy:

And I liveblogged Sarah Palin’s speech this afternoon:

Summary:

A good, workmanlike effort. I’ve seen her do better as recently as Wednesday when she brought down the house in her appearance with Michele Bachmann. She did seem a little rushed, even running out of breath at a couple of points. Her timing was a bit off as well as she stepped on her applause lines regularly.

I’m sitting next to a Bloomberg photographer. He got a shot of Palin’s hand with “who dat” written on the palm, as well as what appeared to be a cryptic French name. No doubt you’ll see it on lefty blogs tomorrow.

But her message was very well received by attendees, which is all that’s important.

Going out tonight to sample the nightlife. Can’t be too rambunctious because I have to work tomorrow too. But I guarantee I will have as good a time as one can have without ending up arrested and manhandled by New Orlean’s finest.

By: Rick Moran at 1:32 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

4/7/2010
IS THERE ANY ROOM IN OUR COMMON HERITAGE FOR THE SOUTHERN SOLDIER?
CATEGORY: History, Politics

This article originally appears at The Moderate Voice

They were typical Americans of their time; proud, independent, industrious - and obscenely racist in their view toward the black race. They embarked on, what in hindsight, was a suicidal rebellion against the United States government and fought with uncommon courage and a determination that eventually precipitated the extermination of their way of life, and the economy upon which they all depended.

But not until 600,000 lay dead and 4 million bondsmen were unmoored from their familiar surroundings and habits of life - set adrift in a country that despised them - did the South finally surrender. Ever since, we haven’t quite known what to do with them. Were they evil racists, forever stained by the sin of having kept slaves? Or were they gallant knights forever holding their flag high despite the fact that they were fighting in a lost, ignoble cause?

Today’s Southern Traditionalists hold that the rebels should be remembered for their courage in battle, as should the sacrifices made by citizens of the confederacy be recalled. There are several Southern patriot organizations that care for confederate graves, tend the statues of confederate heroes, and generally keep the flame of memory alive for each generation who grows up below the Mason-Dixon line.

Like it or not, agree with the traditionalists or not, this is part of our heritage. You can’t just erase from history the millions of southerners who lived, fought, and died during the Civil War because of slavery. Neither can we erase the original sin of slavery as it was practiced in the south, or the casual, nauseating racism so commonly displayed in the north. It is nearly forgotten today that several regiments of union soldiers deserted as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation and with the exception of some New England regiments, most of the union army was, if not opposed to freeing the slaves, then certainly were ambivalent about the matter.

Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell has cracked open a hornets nest by re-instituting a controversial recognition of this heritage by declaring April to be “Confederate History Month” in Virginia.

The two previous Democratic governors had refused to issue the mostly symbolic proclamation honoring the soldiers who fought for the South in the Civil War. McDonnell (R) revived a practice started by Republican governor George Allen in 1997. McDonnell left out anti-slavery language that Allen’s successor, James S. Gilmore III (R), had included in his proclamation.

McDonnell said Tuesday that the move was designed to promote tourism in the state, which next year will mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the war. McDonnell said he did not include a reference to slavery because “there were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia.”

The proclamation was condemned by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and the NAACP. Former governor L. Douglas Wilder called it “mind-boggling to say the least” that McDonnell did not reference slavery or Virginia’s struggle with civil rights in his proclamation. Though a Democrat, Wilder has been supportive of McDonnell and boosted his election efforts when he declined to endorse the Republican’s opponent, R. Creigh Deeds.

What then, do we do with these people? How should we see them? They are our countrymen, after all, most of them fighting not for slavery but to protect their homes from what they perceived was an invading army. More than 90% of southern soldiers didn’t even own slaves. Dimly, they may have been fighting also for the maintenance of a way of life - a life made possible by slavery. But few historians wouldn’t argue that the southern soldier - dirt farmers and landless tenants for the most part - gave no more thought to preserving slavery as the northern soldier gave to freeing them.

Of course, this doesn’t let the confederate government off the hook. If you want a villain, look no further than Jefferson Davis and the Fire Eaters in Congress who agitated for secession when the election of 1860 went against them. One might argue that it was the nation of the confederacy that was evil and deserves our disapprobation in that the preservation of slavery was both a cultural and economic necessity to them. The institution was so weak that they feared anyone who spoke of limiting it in any way. So they worked themselves up into a fine paranoid lather over what Lincoln might do as president and followed South Carolina over the cliff - all 11 states.

There are those who, for a variety of political and cultural reasons, wish to lump all southerners who fought or supported the Civil War together and brand them “bad as the Nazis.” This kind of generalized condemnation means that there is the belief that we should refuse to recognize a common heritage with those who fought for the confederacy.

I don’t see how this is possible. McDonnell is dead wrong not to mention slavery - preposterously wrong by saying that he focused on issues that “were most significant for Virginia.” Of course slavery was a very significant issue and it’s dishonest for him to say otherwise. Beyond that, McDonnell’s not mentioning slavery is a slap in the face to African Americans.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

A lot of you have e-mailed me to note that Virginia governor Bob McDonnell has decided to honor those who fought to preserve, and extend, white supremacy. I don’t really have much to say. The GOP is, effectively, the party of willfully unlettered Utopians. It is the party of choice for those who believe global warming is a hoax, that humans roamed the earth with dinosaurs, and that homosexuals should work harder at not being gay.

That the party of unadulterated quackery also believes that Birth Of A Nation is more true to the Civil War than Battle Cry Of Freedom, is to be expected. Ignorance does not respect boundaries. It is, at times, qualified and those who know more, often struggle to say more. But people who believe that the Census is actually a covert attempt to put Americans in concentration camps, are also likely to believe that slavery was incidental to the Civil War.

Interesting that Coates takes the most fringiest of the fringe beliefs (that’s actually the first I’ve heard of the census being used to imprison Obama opponents and I pride myself on keeping track of the latest lunacy of the right - a sure sign that Coates is being hysterical) and smears his opponents. I doubt very few conservatives who might approve of this recognition of our common heritage by McDonnell believe in a version of the war as portrayed in Griffith’s Birth of a Nation as opposed to McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom. Coates may have forgotten - or may not have even read - McPherson. If he had, he would know that the historian went to great pains to document northern racism - the kind of casual obscenities that appeared in Democratic newspapers where (talk about weird), it was printed as fact that Abraham Lincoln was 1/4 black and cartoons of the president routinely portrayed him as a monkey.

But that doesn’t fit the narrative so forget about it.

Truth be told, both sides were fighting for “white supremacy.” Any doubts along those lines would be answered by the draft riots in New York city in July of 1863. Irish immigrants, fearing that an influx of cheap black labor as a result of emancipation would take their jobs, ravaged the city, pulling blacks out of their houses or attacking them on the street, lynching several dozen. The proximate cause of the trouble was the draft, and the ability of the fairly well off to buy there way out of military service. The Irish were refusing to fight in a war that they believed would lead to their ruin.

The New York Irish were not alone. The feeling was widespread in the north, fed by racist Democrats who sought to make political hay of these fears. The idea that white northerners were fighting for black equality is belied by Lincoln himself, who casually remarked to a friend that there may even be a few freed blacks who might be smart enough to vote.

The northern soldier, like his southern counterpart, had very personal reasons for joining up and fighting. In the end, they were all Americans. You can blame the soldiers of the south for the sins of their government - or excuse northern soldiers because of the more noble, although far from perfect goals of the Lincoln administration. But you cannot ignore the common heritage for which we are all a part. The good, the bad, the noble, the base - all our stellar qualities and all the imperfections that shame us - matters not when remembering what unites us; those “mystic chords of memory stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land.”

McDonnell is a fool for not including any reference to slavery or even civil rights in his proclamation. But I don’t fault him for the effort to acknowledge our common heritage with those southern soldiers who were greatly admired by their foes, and who fought bravely for what they saw as the protection of their hearth and home.

By: Rick Moran at 11:53 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

4/6/2010
THE RICK MORAN SHOW: NUKES? WHO NEEDS ‘EM.

You won’t want to miss tonight’s Rick Moran Show, one of the most popular conservative talk shows on Blog Talk Radio.

Tonight, I welcome Steve Green of Vodkapundit and Rich Baehr of the American Thinker as we examine the president’s new nuclear policy as well as kick around some political news.

The show will air from 7:00 - 9:00 PM Central time. You can access the live stream here. A podcast will be available for streaming or download shortly after the end of the broadcast.

Click on the stream below and join in on what one wag called a “Wayne’s World for adults.”

Also, if you’d like to call in and put your two cents in, you can dial (718) 664-9764.

Listen to The Rick Moran Show on internet talk radio

By: Rick Moran at 4:26 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)