Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Voice of Experience


A False Unity


As I watched His Majesty, King Hussein Obama the First, deliver his State of the Union address, I got the feeling that instead of hearing a speech on the problems facing our great nation, I was witnessing a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  My discomfort grew with each pathetic attempt of His Majesty to win back the favor of his assembled minions and the nation's serfs with such bromides as:


·         We must answer history's call.

·         We do not give up.

·         I do not accept second place for the United States of America.

·         Let's try common sense.


And my personal favorite:


·         It's time the American people get a government that matches their decency


I would not have been shocked if His Majesty would have finished his speech by reminding everybody to brush their teeth before they went to bed.  Of course, the utility of the advice would have been somewhat limited considering that the majority of the viewing audience was probably already asleep by the time His Majesty mercifully stopped talking.


The King's address contained something for everybody.  If you're a fiscal conservative, the King announced a spending freeze.  If you're a wacked out liberal, the King urged the Senate to pass the cap and trade bill.  Do you need a job?  Don't worry.  The King wants a jobs bill, right now.  Concerned about Iran?  The King's on it.  Are you a gay American who wants to be all you can be?  No sweat.  His Majesty will fight to end the military policy of "don't ask, don't tell."  Yes sir, the King's address had something for everybody, even though a number of these policies are contradictory


By the end of the King's speech, I was so numb that I could barely get up from my chair.  Responding to it in any coherent fashion would have simply been impossible.  The numerous commentators and reporters who have since pointed out all the distortions, half-truths, and out-right lies in His Majesty's rambling, convoluted speech deserve our sincere thanks for performing this yeoman's task of dissecting his confusing oration.  My purpose today is simply to add the following observation, which as of this writing has not been discussed.


Near the beginning of His Majesty's address, the King reached back into our nation's history to provide examples of how American's have met and overcome great challenges. 


It's tempting to look back on these moments and assume that our progress was inevitable – that American was always destined to succeed.  But when the Union was turned back at Bull Run and the Allies first landed at Omaha Beach, victory was very much in doubt…These were times that tested the courage of our convictions, and the strength of our union.  And despite all our divisions and disagreements; our hesitations and our fears; America prevailed because we chose to move forward as one nation, and one people.


Now I can certainly forgive His Majesty lacking a full understanding of American history.  After all, I don't know a whole lot about the history of His Majesty's native land of Kenya either.  But you don't have to have a doctorate in history to know that it was impossible for our nation to move forward as one nation after Bull Run because the country was split in two at that time and engaged in a civil war.


At this point, I'm sure royalist defenders of the King would point out that this observation is mere sophistry.  The King was not referring to the entire country but simply the North or in other words, that part of the country that remained in the union.  But even in that argument, these royalists would be wrong. 


From the beginning of the war, Lincoln faced a strong and determined opposition within the North.  He once said that he was more concerned with opposition behind him than the armies that were in front of him.  Lincoln was savagely attacked.  He was called a buffoon, an ape, a butcher.  Probably no American president was ever subjected, been or since, to such virulent and sustained criticism.


With each Union defeat, this opposition, known appropriately by the name of Copperheads, grew stronger.  By 1863, this opposition had grown to such strength that riots broke out in New York City, a notorious Copperhead stronghold, over the draft.  By 1864, Lincoln feared that he would lose the presidential election to former Union General George McClellan, a Democrat running on an anti-war platform.  And Lincoln had good reasons to worry. 


The Army of Potomac's march to Richmond stalled at Petersburg.  The army's commander, General Grant, suffered disastrous defeats along the way, including the loss of 5,000 men in less than an hour at Cold Harbor.  The Army of Northern Virginia, under the command of General Lee, was entrenched outside of Petersburg and all of Grant's effort to break through the Southern lines had failed.


In the western theater, the Union armies under General Sherman were on the move through northern Georgia but failed to gain a decisive victory.  Lincoln feared that he would be the last president of the United States.


Only Sherman's smashing victory in Atlanta in September saved Lincoln from defeat.  He won a clear victory in the Electoral vote but in the popular vote, a substantial percentage of the public voted for his opponent.  Lincoln received about 2.2 million votes.  McClellan received 1.8 million votes.  In other words, about 45% of the country did not pull together as one, did not support Lincoln and the war, and were willing to vote for a man who would have negotiated for peace with the South.


By the way, after the Union defeat at Bull Run, Lincoln's response was to call for 500,000 new recruits to serve for up to three years.  And he didn't tell Jefferson Davis that this army was going to fight as hard as possible until 1862 and then quit.  Lincoln's exit strategy was simple:  victory.


His Majesty calls for unity but it is a false unity.  Some ideas simply cannot be reconciled.  In the antebellum period, the belief in a strong federal union was incompatible with the belief that the nation was a loose confederation of independent states.  The belief in enslaving human beings could not exist indefinitely side by side with a belief in freedom and equality.  As Lincoln famously said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."  One set of beliefs or the other set had to triumph.


We find ourselves in a similar situation today.  His Majesty's continuous draining of the Treasury is incompatible with our belief in fiscal restraint.  His Majesty's belief in socialism and regulation cannot be reconciled with our belief in the power of the free market.  His Majesty's undying confidence in the power of government to solve all of our problems cannot coexist with our belief in allowing the individual to choose their own path in life.  One set of beliefs or the other must ultimately guide our public policy.  With the recent series of defeats the King and his royalist forces have suffered, it's becoming increasing clear that the people prefer our belief in freedom to His Majesty's belief in despotism. 

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