Obama's Spirit of '76
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 03:55:09 PM EST
President Obama's Second Inaugural Address accomplished something I have not seen any other major politician even try:  To make clear that the Religious Right does not own the definition and meaning of the Declaration of Independence.  

This was an important moment because the Religious Right has increasingly relied on the Declaration as a source of justification for their views, since having lost the argument that God is in the Constitution and that separation of church and state is not.  

The Declaration, a revolutionary manifesto that was read aloud in town squares to rally people to rise-up against the King of England, included some explicitly religious language, albeit generic for its day and very far from any variety of orthodox Christianity.  But as we consider all this, it is important to recall that the Declaration was a political and not a religious document (although the Religious Right does attempt to construe it as a justification for Christian Nationalism.)   And although it embodies the thinking of the revolutionary leaders of 1776 and contains inspired language that resonates down through the ages, the Declaration also has zero legal or Constitutional significance.

Throughout the speech, Obama references, echos and updates the Declaration's memorable phrase, revolutionary for its time, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."  I have seen many comment on the significance of the president linking the civil rights struggles of women, African-Americans and LGTB people, but no one I have seen has discussed the hitching all of these struggles to the guiding star of the words of the Declaration:

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths -- that all of us are created equal -- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

One does not have to believe that the declarative, aspirational language of the Declaration means that we are or have ever been anywhere near the kind of equality that many of us would like to achieve. Obama certainly doesn't. (The notion that all men are created equal, was too revolutionary, even for most of the revered Founding Fathers.)  Obama's presidency is an obvious historic achievement in moving beyond some of the worst aspects of our history, and offering hope for a better future in this regard.

In any case, the words and ideas of this ancient revolutionary manifesto are of continuing significance -- as is the Religious Right's largely uncontested effort to cast itself as the inheritors of the intentions and values of the Founding Fathers.  (The antiabortion movement's use of the Declaration's phrase "right to life" is an excellent example.)

While I think it is fair to describe Obama's second inaugural speech as an updated, and even distinctly liberal Christian approach to what used to be called civil religion, (as Diane Butler Bass did in The Washington Post) I think there is much more going on, as Obama contends for the meaning of American history broadly, and specifically a living interpretation of the Declaration.

"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."  

Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.  For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.  The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob.  They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.

Obama also invoked the words of the Declaration to highlight, albeit obliquely, the problem with the contemporary political alliance between theocrats and plutocrats and to add dimension and meaning to the notions of equality that live beyond ancient, cursive script on parchment.  Obama recognizes that while we have come a long way together, we have a long way to go, both in terms of advances in equality, and in recognizing the nature of massive resistance and the ongoing struggles.  

He went so far as to call the Declaration "our founding creed" and went on to tell us the meaning of that creed and how we should not substitute cramped literalisms for a more transcendent spirit:

We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.  We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.  We must act, knowing that today's victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
 



Display:
Of a lecture that Melissa Harris Perry once gave where she point out how Thomas Jefferson held his own children in inter-generational chattel bondage, and wrote the Declaration of Independence which says that all men are created equal. I think that it is a nice reminder that even great people in history that we admire were very much human and a product of their time.

by Hirador on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 09:01:15 AM EST
Jefferson was fiercely anti-slavery as a young man, and called for abolition in his draft of the Declaration -- but that part was edited out by his fellow Founding Fathers. If you follow the link in the text, there is a long article form Smithsonian magazine about Jefferson and slavery and why later in life, he went silent on the subject.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 01:20:28 PM EST
Parent




WWW Talk To Action


Exile Excitement: Some Fundamentalists Seek Escape From Decadent Society
OK, now we've done it. Those of us who advocate things like separation of church and state, secular government, LGBT rights and self-determination when......
By Rob Boston (1 comment)
Controversy Over White Nationalist GOP Candidate Still White Hot
The 2004 Constitution Party candidate for president Michael Peroutka's current race for County Council in Maryland -- as a Republican -- it is still......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Race, Republicans and the Religious Right
The Republicans have a race problem, and by this I don't just mean that racial minorities don't much vote for them, particularly in the......
By Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
Rev. William Barber on Religious/Political Inclusiveness
A few weeks ago, I posted about the extraordinary oration of Rev. William Barber at Netroots Nation. (A transcript of the speech is now......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Short Takes
Salon.com  Columnist Thomas Frank considers how snark can cut more than one way. What does it mean when being "on the left" is defined......
By Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
David Brat as a "Libertarian Catholic" is an Oxymoron
David Brat, the Tea Party Young Turk who recently shocked the GOP establishment with his primary win over Majority Leader Eric Cantor, is reportedly,......
By Frank Cocozzelli (2 comments)
Kountze Cheerleaders Take on the Courts
The entire town of Kountze, Texas is in a frenzy with business banners, suv window paintings and legal action supporting their local cheerleaders. The......
By wilkyjr (2 comments)
A Talk to Action Anthology on Neo-Confederacy, Nullification and Secession (Updated)
A number of posts over the past year have addressed the growing Neo-Confederate movement, the advocacy of nullification of federal laws, and even the......
By Frederick Clarkson (5 comments)
Good Incentives Gone Awry: Kentucky Officials Are Adamant About Propping Up The 'Ark Park'
I've lived in the Washington, D.C., suburbs since 1986, so when it comes to museums, I am spoiled. Just a short subway ride away......
By Rob Boston (2 comments)
White Hot Controversy for a White Nationalist GOP Candidate
The controversy over Michael Peroutka's theocratic, white nationalist candidacy for county council, in Anne Arundel County, Maryland -- has gotten white hot after he......
By Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Not Just Whistling 'Dixie': Peroutka Stands Up for Southern Secession - UPDATED x2!
Cross-posted from The Huffington Post. Michael Peroutka, the Republican candidate for Anne Arundel County Council, stood up for secession and the white nationalist League......
By jhutson (1 comment)
Short Takes
Pando Daily:  Journalist Mark Ames has published a must-read story about how Reason,the flagship magazine of libertarianism, published a special issue in 1976 promoting......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
GOP Leader Questions Candidate About Hate Group That Advocates Death Squads - Updated
Cross-posted from The Huffington Post. The head of Maryland's Republican Party, Joe Cluster, has called local candidate Michael Peroutka to the woodshed for a......
By jhutson (3 comments)
Short Takes
Bilgrimage:  Bill Lindsey discusses "an outstanding series of articles" by Frank Cocozzelli here at Talk to Action, originally posted in 2007, about the close......
By Frederick Clarkson (3 comments)
An Opus Focus on SCOTUS? (Part 1)
In light of the recent US Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby -- which exempts, closely held corporations that invoke "sincerely held......
By Frank Cocozzelli (4 comments)

Republican infighting in Mississippi
After a bruising GOP runoff election for U.S. Senator, current MS Senator Thad Cochran has retained his position and will face Travis Childers (Democrat) in the next senate election. The MS GOP is fractured......
COinMS (1 comment)
America's Most Convenient Bank® refuses to serve Christians
Representatives of a well known faith-based charitable organization were refused a New Jersey bank’s notarization service by an atheist employee. After inquiring about the nature of the non-profit organization and the documents requiring......
Jody Lane (3 comments)
John Benefiel takes credit for GOP takeover of Oklahoma
Many of you know that Oklahoma has turned an unrecognizable shade of red in recent years.  Yesterday, one of the leading members of the New Apostolic Reformation all but declared that he was responsible......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
John Benefiel thinks America is under curse because Egyptians dedicated North America to Baal
You may remember that Rick Perry put together his "Response" prayer rallies with the help of a slew of NAR figures.  One of them was John Benefiel, an Oklahoma City-based "apostle."  He heads up......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Yes, that's right. We have totally lost our religious freedom in Mississippi and it must be restored by our legislators. ......
COinMS (1 comment)
Bill Gothard accused of harassing women and failing to report child abuse
Surprised no one's mentioned this, but one of the longest-standing leaders of the religious right is in a world of trouble.  Bill Gothard has been active in the fundie movement for over half......
Christian Dem in NC (1 comment)
Eugene Delgaudio may lose his day job as Virginia county supervisor
Surprised no one's noticed this, but one of the nation's most virulent homophobes is in a fight to keep his day job.  Eugene Delgaudio is best known as the head of Public Advocate......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)
Starkville Becomes First City in Mississippi to Pass Resolution Recognizing LGBT Residents
This caught me by surprise. I guess times are a changin in Dixieland. ------------------------------------- Cross posted from the HRC blog. Starkville Becomes First City in Mississippi to Pass Resolution Recognizing LGBT Residents January 21,......
COinMS (0 comments)
Robert Knight: Running against evolution could potentially be a winner for the GOP
In one of the starkest instances yet of how far gone the religious right is, one of its leading activists thinks that he's found another potential wedge issue that could drive more people into......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
First Catholic official convicted in child sex abuse scandal has conviction overturned
Last year, Monsignor William Lynn, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's secretary for clergy, was convicted of reassigning a priest whom he knew had molested a young boy to a parish that had a school attached......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)
Quotes From Sarah Palin 'War on Christmas" Book v. Quotes From 1920s Anti-Jewish Propaganda
The point of this comparison is not to cast Sarah Palin as a Nazi. Rather, my intent is to underline uncomfortable similarities between contemporary "war on Christmas" talking points propagated by elements of the......
Bruce Wilson (0 comments)
Francis sets up commission on how to deal with pedophile priests
Late yesterday Pope Francis announced--apparently after some prodding--that he will set up a panel to advise him on how to deal with child abuse by priests. The announcement was a forthright acknowledgment by the......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)
John Hagee: Jews will make deal with Antichrist before End Times
When John Hagee opens his mouth, you expect to hear lunacy.  An appearance earlier this month on TBN was no different.  On Friday, People for the American Way stumbled on a special prophecy-focused edition......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)
Doug Phillips Resigns From Vision Forum over "Inappropriate Relationship"
Doug Phillips resigned as president of Vision Forum earlier this week, citing an "inappropriate relationship."   Phillips posted an announcement on the Vision Forum website, stating, There has been serious sin in my life......
Rachel Tabachnick (2 comments)
A Wiccan Witch In Salem
Since it's only two weeks from Halloween, I made my usual foray into Christian Right Country to find out what their plans are for this Halloween. I don't know where to be sad or......
irishwitch (0 comments)

More Diaries...




All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.