The Constitution of the United States of America (preamble) We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The big thing right now is partisanship. It's the red-blue America smackdown! For those blissfully unaware of the thoughts coming out of punditland, "red" is Republican (with all associated "red neck" stereotypes) and "blue" is Democratic (with...I dunno, "blue blood" stereotypes? Or "blue collar"?) And the geographical distribution (inland red, coastal blue) causes the country as a whole to vaguely resemble a sandwich of... moldy bread wrapped around raw, bloody meat? No, let's try that again. A layered party snack with two blue cheeses sandwiching sundried tomato cream cheese.
Now, I'm the first person to suspect the media of seizing on every little statistical blip or possible trend and exaggerating its significance just so they'll have something to write about. But, I think there's also some truth to this notion, and I think it's driven by larger trends: the extraordinary mobility of the American populace, the increasingly generic aspect to the American landscape, and the breakdown of traditional community ties. In other words, if you are a "blue" person who grew up in a "red" town, you have no particular reason to stick around and try to change things, and vice-versa. You just pick up and move where people think more like you.
But I also think the red-blue dichotomy is too simplistic, and involves cultural stereotypes that actually have very little to do with politics. And, I don't think it's helpful to view the country as increasingly partisan, divided, contentious, non-cooperative and intractible. I actually believe that most Americans are decent and well-meaning people who want to uphold the values established in our Constitution. I believe it's possible for decent and well-meaning people to disagree on the best way to go about upholding and furthering those values. So, it's Independence Day -- our national holiday where we remind ourselves of who we are as a country, and who we want to be. Let's stop focusing on all that isolated red and blue, and look at the places of intersection -- the purple. (Or the maroon, if you think purple sounds too girly.)
Who doesn't love this document? People the world over love this document. And this document is why our national day is July Fourth -- Independence Day, the day the declaration was officially signed. It was revolutionary in more than just the obvious sense of declaring our forefathers' purposes in launching a revolution -- it was intellectually revolutionary in ways we can't even imagine now because they have been so thoroughly incorporated into our culture. The notion of "unalienable rights" was fundamentally radical. The idea that you have rights just by virtue of being a human being born on this planet? What madness! That would include the peasants!
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Plus, don't forget all that wonderful calligraphy on the original document. The most fun you can have celebrating The Declaration of Independence is to watch 1776, a musical comedy about the signing of the declaration.
Yeah, a lot of the time Red America acts like the First Amendment isn't even there. And Blue America knows the Second Amendment is there, but really wishes it weren't. Well, Purple America should take a closer look at both of them -- they're first for a reason.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Whew! That's a mouthful. You have freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly, and bugging your government all guaranteed right off. Sometimes we're not so good at adhering to this one. Like, violent crackdowns on peaceful protesters busy petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. Sometimes our press isn't as free as it should be. But this amendment establishes a standard that we can recognize, and know when we're veering away from it. These rights are always under attack by social forces of one kind or another; that has probably been true since they were written. Otherwise we wouldn't have to have put them right there at the start of the Constitution. The temptation, usually driven by fear, to relinquish some of these rights will continue to resurface. But, I'm with Ben Franklin on this one.
"Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."
And now, here we are at that troublesome second amendment:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
This one isn't nearly as clear as the first. Possibly it has a comma error. Is it talking about individual gun ownership, as the NRA is so certain? Or is it really talking about the formation of citizen militias? I'm not sure, and neither are many constitutional scholars. But I gained a new understanding of what it might mean the last time I read Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw. I think, especially taken with the Declaration of Independence, that it is designed to ensure that, should a revolution ever be necessary, the peasants are all armed. Further, I believe that by ensuring the ruling classes always know that the peasants are armed ('cos it's right there in the Constitution), they will be more inclined to share, thus preventing the necessity of a revolution. Because it could happen any time, it doesn't have to.
I remember a discussion I had once, around a bonfire, with a young college student. He explained his political position to me something like this:
"Well, really, I'm a Libertarian. But because they could never win, I vote Republican. Except that I don't vote."
I said, "It is your sacred duty as an American to get out there and vote Libertarian in the next election. People died so you would have the right to vote. Show a little respect."
I think right there you have the reason that the largest single party in the US right now is the party of non-voters. Here was somebody who was educated, and knowledgeable enough about politics to know he supported the Liberatarians, but he had internalized the hopeless "third party can't win" message to the point where he didn't even bother to try anymore. Not voting is an act of despair. People who don't vote say they don't vote because they don't have the time, but if people have the time to vote for the next "American Idol", they have the time to vote for the next president of their country. People find the time for things they think are important. If they don't vote, it's because they don't think it's important. And why wouldn't they think it was important? I suspect it's because they recognize that the game is rigged, and so they just stop playing. But you can't stop playing this particular game. If you stop being an active player, you are still a pawn being moved around on the chessboard. Which would you rather be? A player, or a pawn?
If every non-voter voted for a so-called "third party" candidate, those candidates would win.
Voting gives you the right to complain, feel patriotic, and wear a little flag emblem without shame. Here, MTV will try to make it easy for you to register. Voting is the one thing that rich people in this country don't (or shouldn't, anyway) get more of.
Happy Independence Day.