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The Unfortunate State of the Union

Three Branches Separate, but Definitely not Equal 

I hope you all had the opportunity to catch the State of the Union on Wednesday.  If you frequent my blog, I assume you take interest in such things.  However, if you found yourself otherwise engaged watching reruns of Snooki getting knocked out on Jersey Shore, I’ll fill you in on what happened (and if you’d like the chance to watch it yourself, I’ve provided the entire speech in the video below).  Teaser: a replay of Obama’s swipes at the judiciary is equally entertaining, although admittedly less violent.  

 There was a clear focus in the 71-minute address (sixth longest in presidential history): jobs.  Obama proposed an agenda that would key in on economic growth, development of green technologies and business practices, and tax incentives to companies willing to invest in the economy –all centered on creating jobs.  Unemployment overwhelmingly dominated the early part of his speech (approximately 30 minutes), a move that seemed to please the conservative base that has eagerly awaited a shift away from healthcare. 

Speaking of healthcare, it was addressed…briefly.  Despite the issue’s pithy treatment, Obama did state that if Congress will not work to modify the healthcare system in America, he’ll consider invoking his executive power to see that changes are made. 

Now it’s getting personal

Obama addressing Congress with the State of the Union

Courtesy of the New York Times

He addressed the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, promising to repeal the 1993 policy that forbids homosexuals from serving in the military.  He also addressed what he termed “the deficit of trust,” and had strong words for a legislature that just can’t seem to get along.  Rather than summarize, I’ll let Obama do the talking. 

“We face big and difficult challenges. And what the American people hope – what they deserve – is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics.” 

“Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it’s time for something new.” 

“We have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust – deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years.” 

If you think Obama sent a strong message to the legislative branch, just wait until you hear what he had to say to the Supreme Court justices seated directly in front of him. 

“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our election,” said Obama. 

He continued “Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill to correct some of these problems.” 

Talk about a hung jury

Obama’s assertion ruffled the, well…ruffles adorning the robes of a few of the justices; most noticeably scathed was Justice Samuel Alito, who broke the centuries old tradition of Supreme Court stone-faced detachment during the address to noticeably mouth the words “that’s not true.”  

Now if you haven’t already received a Facebook group invite asking you to join “Team Obama” or “Team Alito,” then allow me the opportunity to persuade you before you choose. 

Much to the surprise of no one, Fox News immediately described Obama’s actions as reprehensible and unprecedented.  This opinion is based on the principle that Supreme Court justices are appointed for life in order to facilitate an environment where their decisions are uninfluenced by outside political actors who could theoretically hold them accountable for making an unpopular decision.  Traditionally, Justices go through a rigorous appointment process that makes a CIA background check look like 10-question survey.  After they’re approved, they’re on until they retire or die

Here’s where I have a beef with that logic.  Our Constitution created three “separate but equal” branches of government that would act as watchdogs in case one of the branches decided to go rogue.  This system was adopted from political theorist John Locke, who first described it in his Two Treatises of Government

Our adoption of Locke’s theory required that we account for political influence and, sadly, corruption.  The branch that protected the Constitution was the easiest target, and thus, became the only branch that is unimpeachable/un-punishable.  I have no problem with that. 

What I take issue with is the argument that their decisions cannot be criticized when, as was the case in this instance, personal political agendas dictate the course of the Court proceedings.  The Court approached the plaintiffs and asked to rehear the case nine months ago, an extremely activist move that is almost unheard of in the annals of Supreme Court history.  The 5-4 ruling essentially allows corporations the unlimited right to fund campaigns, even with stockholder shares, creating a scenario where your investments in a company could potentially be used to fund the campaign of a politician you don’t support. 

The audacity of equality

U.S. Supreme Court

courtesy of academic.regis.edu

Regardless of my feelings about the specifics of the case, the fact remains that the Supreme Court is being held in higher regard than either of the other two branches.  Critics say Obama was rude to call out the justices who were in attendance as Obama’s guests.  Does that mean the Congress should be untouchable as well?  He sure was critical of them, and supposedly, they’re on the same plane as the Supreme Court.  Does that mean Congress can’t criticize the President? 

By the way, this isn’t the first time a President has been critical of a Supreme Court decision during his State of the Union address as some would have you believe, including columnist Mary Kate Cary of U.S. News and World Report. 

“Imagine if Ronald Reagan had given a State of the Union address and turned to the justices in the front row to say that Roe v. Wade had been wrongly decided. Unlike this time, I don’t think the Democrats in the chamber would have stood and applauded.” 

Unfortunately, Ms. Cary, Reagan did just that in both 1984 and 1988, criticizing the Supreme Court for its rulings on prayer in school and Roe v. Wade.  You can find his comments in full at mediamatters.org.


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The Attack on Patriotism

Why Patriotism and Conservatism have become Synonymous in Contemporary Politics

I am going to deviate from my usual analysis of political issues in the news, and instead discuss a broader issue that has bothered me for years.  The problem is abstract and difficult to summarize, so I will begin by posing a question that I often ask myself.

Patriotism: You're either a conservative Republican or an effing terrorist

courtesy of indrayam.com

What does it mean to be patriotic in America?  Is it an adherence to the principles conceived by our Founding Fathers in the drafting of the Constitution?  Is it the propagation of freedom and equality to every corner of the world?  Does it include the privilege to be contrarian in expressing one’s views without fear of being vilified?

These concepts may once have been almost universally regarded as being elements of patriotism, but this appears to no longer be the case.  They have instead been marginalized by petty novelty gestures.  The contemporary definition of patriotism for many people places greater importance on flying a flag than volunteering in a soup kitchen.  It requires citizens to adopt a jingoistic mindset and repudiate the idea that any other nation could be on par with their own.

It has become a word used to attack a person’s political affiliation.  I have been called unpatriotic for objecting to the war in Iraq, where some individuals have asserted that  my opposition to the war is an act of disloyalty to our soldiers.  I have been called unpatriotic for believing in legislated constraints on business practices, where objectors have asserted that unbridled capitalism is the only way to truly be free in America.  I have been called unpatriotic for suggesting that this nation was not founded on religion, but rather freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

I will put it bluntly.  While almost all Americans consider themselves to be patriotic and place great value on their love of country, in the eyes of many conservatives, only people who think as they do deserve to be called patriots.  This sad truth is evidenced by recent events.

But he’s just too liberal to be an American

President Barack Obama has come under fire on numerous occasions for not being patriotic enough.  Fox News pundits rejoiced when video surfaced of Obama not holding his hand to his heart during the national anthem, claiming it as evidence that he is secretly anti-American.

During the presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain ripped Obama for not wearing an American flag pin on his lapel.  Obama asserted that his rationale for not wearing the pin was that it had become a substitute for “true patriotism.”

I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest,” said Obama. “Instead, I’m going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testament to my patriotism.”

Shirt reads "The last thing America needs is a President who is ashamed of the American flag: Nobama in 08."

courtesy of conservative-t-shirts.com

His campaign later issued this statement: “We all revere the flag, but Senator Obama believes that being a patriot is about more than a symbol. It’s about fighting for our veterans when they get home and speaking honestly with the American people about this disastrous war.”

When military service just doesn’t cut it

In Obama’s case, the consequences of the attacks were not especially devastating (although they did augment the outlandish claims that he’s an undercover Muslim extremist and foreigner).

However, the outcome for Sen. John Kerry during his 2004 presidential run was a bit more significant when the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT) launched a television attack ad that questioned Kerry’s service record during Vietnam.  The group claimed he was undeserving of his Purple Hearts, Bronze Star and Silver Star medals.  They also attacked his post-war record and accused him of being unpatriotic for protesting the war after his time in the service had ended.

The group’s advertisement was actually created by Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm, a company that creates ads for Republican political candidates.  Investigations into Kerry’s records proved that the claims made by the SBVT were totally unfounded, but enough damage was done to ensure that Kerry could not win the presidency.

The SBVT questioning Kerry’s patriotism likely cost him the presidency.  When Sen. C. Saxby Chambliss questioned Sen. Max Cleland’s patriotism, it nearly cost the man his life.

It’s a bit tougher to claim that this guy didn’t earn his Purple Heart

Max Cleland

courtesy of tulane.edu

Sen. Cleland of Georgia, like Kerry, had received the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Silver Star awards for his courage during the Vietnam War.  Cleland lost both legs and an arm when a grenade exploded by his feet.

Cleland entered politics in 1971 when he won election to the Georgia State Senate.  In 1996, Cleland won a U.S. Senate seat, and remained in that position until he was defeated for re-election in 2002.  He was beaten by Saxby Chambliss, who ran a controversial attack ad that featured Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and questioned Cleland’s record on issues regarding the war.  The ad implied that Cleland, the Vietnam War vet and triple amputee, was not concerned for America’s safety.

Cleland lost the election, and was driven into a deep depression.  His fiancée left him, and he became a patient once again at Walter Reed Hospital.  There, he “cried uncontrollably for 2 ½ years,” bewildered by the fact that his service to his country had been belittled and his patriotism impugned.  Once he recovered, Cleland published a book entitled “Heart of a Patriot: How I found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove.”

“Give me liberty, or give me patriotism,” because apparently I can’t have both

Fireworks behind the Washington Monument

courtesy of blogmedown.tv

Thomas Jefferson said that “Patriotism is not a short frenzied burst of emotion, but the long and steady dedication of a lifetime.”  America was not built on sparkling fire-crackers, homemade apple pie and magnetic “support our troops” bumper sticker ribbons.  It was built on the backs of patriots who stood up for their beliefs without admonishing others for theirs; patriots who believed in dying for their country, not just dying for a flag.


Filed under National Politics