I Am Not A Radical

April 21, 2013

An offhand comment sets the blogger ranting about the Bill of Rights and the prescient observations of Alexis DeTocqueville

Some weeks ago I was in the company of two Albany elected officials, one of whom I particularly respect and get along with well. (Yes, there are a few.) They introduced me to a third person, giving the usual “He writes a blog” which serves also as a warning to the unwary. Then the friendlier elected official, the one I get along with well, told the third party that I was “a radical.”

Puzzled, I said, “That’s not true, I consider myself a centrist.” Both officials looked at me with raised eyebrows and then glanced at each other. Then they both nodded at the third party. “He’s a radical,” they both said.

Well slap me silly and call me Betty. Where does that come from?

Radical Liberals Engaged In Violent Action Radical Liberals Engaged In Violent Action

Nasty people say all kinds of things about me behind my back, I’ve learned to accept it as part of my lot in life. In contrast, these two elected officials were being upfront and honest with their assessment of me, so I can’t complain about their behavior. The two officials, or one of them at least, may have actually meant it as a sort of compliment. I don’t really know, all I’m left with here is the word and what it means to someone who hears it.

My understanding of the word “radical” is that it means I want to attack the root of society and thus destroy it… for some reason or other. As Wikipedia puts it, “radicalism denotes political principles focused on altering social structures through revolutionary means and changing value systems in fundamental ways.” To that I say no no no no and no. The absolute last thing I want to do is uproot and overthrow the society in which I live, for plenty of reasons but mainly because I don’t want to live with the consequences of revolutionary actions.

I consider myself a true liberal and a true conservative at one and the same time, I guess that’s why I call myself a centrist. I support the United States Constitution as a model or at the very least as a starting point for the best possible kind of government for human beings. Above all I believe that the Bill of Rights is not only the binding legal engine that powers the US Constitution, but also serves as a general guide to the best conduct of human affairs.

US Constitution With No Bill Of Rights US Constitution With No Bill Of Rights

I also consider it self-evident that if we remove the Bill of Rights or allow it to die, the US Constitution becomes an empty and worthless mockery of government. A car without an engine, no matter how polished and well maintained, is just a useless hunk of metal taking up a parking space. Every time a part of the Bill of Rights is repealed or simply discarded by the persons in charge of my government, I feel a great deal of distress for my nation and fear for my own personal future.

Somehow, during the course of my lifetime, fervent loyalty to the foundation principles of our nation (and of our empire) has disappeared from mainstream public consciousness. These days rare persons such as myself who profess such outmoded patriotism have become branded nutjobs and outsiders. My point of view, which as basic american liberalism can accurately be called true conservatism, is now readily labeled “radicalism.” How the hell did that happen?

Back in 2004 I participated in a public protest out on McCarty Avenue in Albany across the street from the fortress headquarters of the secret police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI.) It was a quite respectable demonstration, among the participants we had some elected officials, a bunch of lawyers, the director of the NYCLU along with a fair sampling of the local peace and justice groups. We were protesting the then perpetration of unconstitutional legislation such as the so-called “Patriot” Act and other pending acts of anti-american obnoxiousness that effectively allow the federal government to arbitrarily declare martial law anytime it wants.

The Blogger On McCarty Avenue, 2004 The Blogger On McCarty Avenue, 2004

So I stood there in the mud (typical Albany in the South End, no sidewalk) off by myself facing the blank, threatening walls of the FBI holding a homemade sign, “Bill Of Rights, Now And Forever.” I thought, that’s about as uncontroversial as anyone can get. I mean what could be more patriotic, right?

Then something astonishing happened, or rather, astonishing to me. A white working class fellow in a not-so-new sedan slowed down to read my sign. He then shook his head at me vigorously No. And he drove off angrily peeling rubber, leaving me with my jaw literally hanging.

Up to that point in my life I had never imagined that an American could be opposed to the Constitution of the United States and still call him or herself an American. At the time I decided the fellow must be mentally ill or stupid, and I’m sure he watched a lot of TV and couldn’t think for himself. But since then I’ve learned to my horror that this particular stupid craziness, this opposition to the Bill of Rights itself, has actually gone mainstream and become acceptable!

Somehow my own personal support for the Bill of Rights has become a fringe notion, so politically incorrect that I’ve become a “radical.” Our entire society seems to be rejecting the basis of our rights and freedoms. All three branches of our federal government are riddled with people who are opposed to the Bill of Rights, some of them openly, proud of their anti-americanism. Has anyone else noticed besides me?

Albany Demonstration In Support Of The Bill Of Rights, McCarty Avenue 2004 Albany Demonstration In Support Of The Bill Of Rights, McCarty Avenue 2004

Consider this. When the Republican Teabaggers took control of the House of Representatives in 2011, one of the first things they did was try to repeal the 14th Amendment, which among other things guarantees the rights of citizenship to women and Black people. Seriously. They tried to take citizenship away from women. In 2011.

The Supreme Court is dominated by the activist judge Antonin Scalia, who calls the Bill of Rights “an afterthought.” And don’t get me started on President Obama, who has done more to curtail the Bill of Rights than any other president in history.

When I look at Obama, or at Scalia, or at that profoundly stupid teabagger Rand Paul or his sleazy comrade Paul Ryan, or at corporate propagandists like Bill O’Reilly and Michelle Bachman, or for that matter at Neo-Nazi white supremacists… when I look at any of these people I see the same person, they’re all a bunch of corporatists. That’s right, I have trouble distinguishing between President Obama and a white supremacist.

All of these people, each in their own way and in their own fashion, are working to shut down the Bill of Rights and replace our representative government with a corporate dictatorship. They all have differences in style and slightly different motives, but all are working for the same shutdown of freedom and prosperity and the imposition of corporatism throughout every corner of our society. As far as I’m concerned these corporatists are the real radicals who are “attacking the root of society.”

Alexis DeTocqueville Alexis DeTocqueville

I’ve seen the rise of corporatism and the retreat of american liberalism during my lifetime but I still don’t understand why it happened. Not completely, not so I can explain it to myself in a few words. How did the enemies of the Bill of Rights take over our government? How did hating the philosophical foundation of our nation become politically correct? Why do we put up with it? What is wrong with us?

Lately I’ve been reading Alexis DeTocqueville, the aristocratic Frenchman who observed our young nation on assignment from his government. Despite his elite social status somehow he had the ability to see exactly what we were and what we would become. Indeed he was sympathetic to the young country that he was observing, and he was treated like an honored celebrity everywhere he visited.

No doubt much of what he wrote about the United States back in the 1830s seemed at the time abstract and esoteric. But to us moderns there is nothing puzzling in what he wrote, somehow without imagining automobiles, atomic bombs, or the debilitating effects of the corporate media the man saw precisely the sort of people we Americans would become by 2013.

Reading DeTocqueville is like looking into an unforgiving mirror, it is unsettling. This passage from Part 2 of his great work Democracy In America, composed after a long and thorough tour of our nation around 1831, describes the future causes of our present national self-betrayal better than I ever could. So rather than bore you with my opinion I present his prescient observations.

To begin with he repeatedly made the observation that Americans, like his fellow Frenchmen, value equality more than they value their freedom! Let that one sink in for a moment, what was true in the 1830s is perhaps more true today and explains a lot of things. With that in mind, he understood that Americans would eventually sacrifice their freedom in an attempt to maintain equality at all costs. Now let that one sink in. From Democracy In America:

I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest. His children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind; as for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them but he sees them not. He touches them, but he feels them not; he exists but in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.