Backs to the Wall

No, the title doesn’t mean I’m writing about the Republicans right now. No, it’s (brace yourselves) about history. If you can wade through the BuggyQ verbosity, there’s a question I need your input on.

So I’m preparing for my favorite lecture, on World War II. I love the stories of the Blitz. Yes, I know–people going through hell shouldn’t be something you love, but I’m a disaster buff. I idealize human behavior in disasters. And yes, I know, sometimes they bring out the worst in people. But they also bring out the best. (And sometimes both at the same time…)

I remember on September 12, 2001 thinking that this was our chance to rise to the occasion. I really hoped that this was going to be my generation’s Blitz, and that people decades from now would look back on us with admiration.

Obviously, what really happened kinda sucked. Which is why I’m still angry at Bush. (Okay, okay, I’d be pissed at him for a lot of things. I hold grudges really well. I am, after all, still pissed at Yoko.) But the prime reason I’m still angry at him is for that missed opportunity. Because if he had really risen to the occasion like I’d hoped, maybe all that other shit wouldn’t have happened.

But I can’t just blame Bush. As much as I idealize the great figures of history, they were only able to be “great” because there were millions of not-so-greats enabling them. I do an assignment about guilt for the Holocaust, in part to remind my students that these things don’t happen in a vacuum. And as much as I want to tell myself, hey, you did try, you voted for the other guy–twice–and you knocked on doors and wrote letters and sent faxes and e-mails and, and, fookin’ and…

It just doesn’t feel like enough. And I worry that decades down the line, people are going to look back at me and say, “Jeez, why didn’t you just stop him?” On days like today, when I’m feeling gloomy, I think anything I say would just seem lame.

Then I pick myself up, dust myself off, and say, alrighty then. I may not be able to fix the last ten years, but by god, I’ll do what I can to remind people what September 12 really ought to be about. One of my friends went to a 9-12 Project meeting, and they were talking about the Constitution. As only loony Glenn Beck types can. (Did you know the Articles of Confederation have a clause that outlaws public education? My response? a) No, b) fuck no, and c) even if they did, you do realize the Constitution…oh fuck me, I’m arguing virtually with a freeper.) My friend suggested that the local Democratic Party office host a series of discussions about the founding of America and the Constitution. So that’s what I’m preparing for over the next few weeks. It may just end up being preaching to the choir, but at least the choir will be a counterweight to the 9-12 loonies.

All that is a long introduction to a question: What do you all think we should talk about?

23 thoughts on “Backs to the Wall

  1. Re: Founding: What did the founders want to achieve by making the US a sovereign? What relationship with Britian did they perceive to have existed in the past? Hoped for in the post-Revolutionary future?
    Re: Constitution:What are the values that are reflected in the Constitution? What did its author(s) think was important? Unimportant?
    Re: Both: Conservatives and liberals have been the two main political factions in the US, and were before it’s founding. What brought (at least some) conservatives together with (most) liberals to unite behind both establishing an independent nation, and in chucking the Articles of Confederation and writing and adopting the Constitution?

  2. How about, what is the role of the ordinary citizen, per the Constitution, and what happens when most ordinary citizens don’t attempt to fill that role and do it well? (Answer – George Bush becomes president)

  3. I think the public needs a refresher course in basic civics (the role and responsibilities of government). I also think you should devote as much energy as necessary to specifically countering the disinformation and outright lies being spread about the founders, the Constitution, and basic civics.

  4. “I love the stories of the Blitz.”
    The salient point in blitz stories, from my point of view, is that the true hero/victims of war are the protagonists: civilians. Women, children, the elderly, and men who are not engaged in war.

  5. One thing the freepers miss entirely is that the constitution is a matter of balances. Not just the “checks and balances” taught in civics, but the rights of the individual against the state versus the rights and responsibilities of the individual towards the states.
    Especially the idea that we are individuals versus the idea that we are a community. And how our growing population density is pushing us together which emphasises our communal existance.
    What does it mean to be a good society? See the book “The Good Society” by Robert N. Bellah, et al. (I believe from the late 1980s or early 1990s). Which starts with the idea that we drive to work past the unsavory parts of town. Seeing them we want to and have the feeling we should make change but know that as individuals we can’t – the problem is too large.
    I’d love to do (but realize that others may not share my passioin) the philosophical roots of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. How many folks really understand the meaning of even the preamble of the Constitution if they don’t know Aristotles Summum Bonum?
    Contemporary Issues: As a librarian may I suggest copyright in an electronic age? How many folks know the reason given in the Constitution for patents and copyright was to **promote** the dissemination of information (not to give the corporation power to quash dissemination).

  6. Well, short of a real life full-blown history course on the Constitution, what are the limits of what you can talk about?
    How much time do you have?
    Will a Q-and-A period be part of that time, or extend it?
    Who’s your audience?
    What’s the venue? Do you have support for e.g. a slide show or a film presentation?

  7. Thanks for the comments so far, everybody! This is exactly what I was hoping for–smart people giving their takes on the Constitition, etc.
    The Other Sarah, this is all very much in the development phase, so I think all those questions are kind of up to me, at least to a point. Bob wants this to be a series, so we can address all sorts of things.
    My ideal would be to have powerpoint to provide some introductory remarks, then open it up to discussion. I doubt if I’ll be either the smartest or most well-informed person in the room, so I see my role as more facilitator than lecturer.
    I’m thinking no more than an hour or two per session, with the majority of time spent in discussion. The audience will be well-informed, I’ll bet–this is through the local Dems, so anybody that comes will likely be a) a Democrat or fellow-traveller, and b) interested enough in this stuff to want to talk about it more. (Though there is a possibility that we could have some freeper types show up, I guess. I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it.)
    Essentially, I’m looking for some specific themes to talk about each night. My original thought was to do one session on habeas corpus, and why it matters so much. I’d also considered doing one on Locke and the philosophical principles behind the separation of powers (I’m with you, MapleStreet!). Another possible theme I’d considered was classical liberalism, with its emphasis on the rights of the individual, and why we need to protect those rights from abuse by the government.
    MapleStreet, I also love the idea of talking about copyright–that’s a sensitive topic for me, given that my job as a teacher depends on access to information. But I have a healthy respect for intellectual property. It could make for a very interesting discussion.

  8. BTW, MapleStreet, I teach both halves of Western Civ, and in the first half, I talk about the grand theme being the tension between the individual and the collective (Plato and Aristotle’s ideas about government are a reflection of that, as is the development of Christianity–up to and including the Protestant Reformation). In WCiv II, that takes on a more particular form–liberalism (with its emphasis on individual rights and limited government) and nationalism (with its emphasis on identification with the group and sublimation of the individual to the needs of the nation).

  9. Random thoughts:
    — the meaning of equality under law
    — the responsibilities and obligations, written and unwritten, of a citizen and how the latter can or cannot be gleaned from the text of the Constitution (& amendments, of course).
    I’ll see if I can come up with some m ore.

  10. This sounds great. I agree with daryljfontaine.
    specifically countering the disinformation and outright lies being spread about the founders, the Constitution, and basic civics.
    When someone says “I’m preaching to the choir” I always respond that not everyone in the choir knows as much as the Preacher. They might know their part, but they don’t know the whole picture.
    And I love the idea of having arguments and data to back up the lies spread by freepers.
    In fact I would recommend you INVITE a freeper to the event to practice on.
    If you don’t have a real one you can get audio clips or text from Freepers to use.
    Here are the ones I want to get responses too. All are based on my listening to wing-nut radio so I know they are used by the hosts and guests.
    Second amendment. What is the background for its inclusion (why not in the constitution? What was the intent of amendment? What were they responding too? Why were certain words chosen for use? Were certain words rejected for use (specifically the word Militia. How did they define it?)
    How does this relate to recent Supreme court ruling?
    Of all the amendments this one is the one they all seem to have boned up on but I have no data to disagree with them and say, ‘Actually in the Constitutional convention Blankaty Blank was arguing with Mr. Whatist on standing armies and what the British yada, yada, yada. Blankety Blank won this argument but…”
    Congress vs. a Unitary President. WHY were certain phrases or words included? In the development of rules? What were they afraid of? What had happened before they were addressing?
    Religious background. Which religious abuses were they responding to with the constitution? What was the religions that the founders were members of and how is that different from what those religions are today?
    Finally I like to learn (and I remember) history in the form of stories with real people. Give me some names and traits to cling to as memory aids. Who was their “freeper” who was their “liberal” who “won” the day in certain phrases and philosophies? Why?
    Xontext for things helps a lot. When I studied the New Testament I found that understanding the world of First Century Jews helped me understand the gospels much better.
    Finally, what is your favorite funny story or song that will illustrate a principle or history of the constitution discussion. If you are “preaching to the choir” a good song with some clever rhymes helps. Humor also helps memory. Trust me on this.

  11. Wow – by any chance do you offer your Western Civ class over the internet (so I could take remotely)?

  12. Hee, spocko–we must be separated at birth. I use the Constitution Song from Schoolhouse Rock to introduce my constitution section in my classes, and a few years back I found this great song about the Reformation (to the tune of Supercalifragilistic: “Papal bulls, indulgences and transubstantiation!”.) Singing in class has become my schtick. And we have very similar philosophies about history and real people–I introduce myself to classes by saying that I’m much more about the “story” than the “hi.”
    Those are some great ideas–tho having a freeper there makes me nervous. I just don’t do well when I’m mad, and I get mad easily. Sigh. The religion thing is really interesting–I’ve been reading Steven Waldman’s Founding Faith for about a year (it’s interesting, but I keep having to read other things that are higher on the priority list). The part persecution of Baptists played was a real shock to me.
    I haven’t tried the online thing yet, MapleStreet. I must admit, it makes me nervous. As a part-timer, I don’t think I’d be able to give it the attention it would need. Someday, maybe. When I’m retired from my full-time gig. But thanks for the interest! 😉

  13. The protection of minority opinion, even reprehensible minority opinion, from majority rule, and how actions can be made criminal but thoughts cannot.
    This could lead to a discussion of incidents like the Dixie Chicks, where it wasn’t the government that silenced them (as they did Lenny Bruce) but a small handful of corporations.
    That’s a class I’d like to attend, anyway.

  14. I teach Intro to Philosophy at a community college, and when we cover political philosophy, I spend a class each on John Locke and John Stuart Mill. For Locke, I show how the U.S. Constitution is the world’s longest running philosophy experiment. For Mill, I feature the famous quote, “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” The Republicans hate Locke, and Faux Noise hates Mill, and the sad thing is that most Americans have no idea what I’m talking about.

  15. There’s a lot of discussion, especially relating to the Supreme Court, about the “intent” of the founders. I wonder how relevant their intent is. Our world is so completely different from theirs, it’s almost beyond imagining. The changes in my own lifetime sometimes boggle my mind. So – my question is, should we consider making changes to the constitution to reflect some of the changes of the past almost 250 years? Are we under any obligation to honor the founders intentions? What kind of constitution would they write if they were sitting down to do it today?

  16. BuggyQ. Glad to here it about the songs. No doubt cool people think alike on this topic.
    And the Freeper isn’t necessary, I can provide you with some audio and I’m sure Jude can give you some Freeper constitutional quotes. What I think is important is to provide rebuttal info for the areas they love to quote.
    I’ve found the 2nd Amendment is the most difficult one because the NRA has spent years educating people and most people don’t want to engage gun nuts.

  17. it’s a good thing i liked history cause MY teachers sucked. ceot middle school. teach had a minor in WWI-FRAN FERNINAND and all that.
    sept 11, i knew it was gonna be bad. the republikkklans got the ball and ran over the ‘opposition’. and the GNEWS are collaborators.
    still waiting for the fog of the rite to lift fully. well, it’s nice to read my 1891 EBs. it sucked a lot way back when.

  18. A lot of what interests me is the risks the Founders were taking. Glenn Beck and his bullshit patriot artists are all risking exactly nothing by showing up in a park and yelling about taxes. It’s hard for us to comprehend, I think, just how fragile our country once was, how easily it could have been wiped out. How easily it could have all gone the other way.
    People like Beck and his followers like to talk big about revolution, like to talk about putting their asses on the line. Their asses could not be less on the line. The men and women who made this country were our ages or not much older, Bug, were young. Were so young and made this thing that changed the world.
    I’d talk about their humanity, and how it might have influenced their “intent.”

  19. Total lurker jumping in here. Great post. I kept nodding my head. I love people-coming-through-disaster stories, hate George W. Bush, and had high hopes for us after 9/11.
    What I’m fascinated by right now is the idea of the Constitution as a living document. You know how the wingnuts love to blarty-blar about “strict Constitutionalist” stuff, but there’s the whole idea that the Constitution was meant to be more pliable than they like to crow about. Well, usually, except when they don’t like it, in which case, it’s just a “goddamn piece of paper.” I loathe those people.
    Anyhow, I’m sure you’re way knowledgeable about that stuff, so I won’t try to sound like I know what the hell I’m talking about, but I think it would be an interesting topic.

  20. Lurk no more, The Dol! It’s lovely to hear from you. I’m delighted the post got you out here.
    And A, that asses-on-the-line thing is part of what prompted this whole thing–Bob wanted to talk about the signers of the D-of-I and what happened to them. Then we started talking more, and it’s just getting bigger all the time. Which is cool–and scary. It’s one thing talking about this to students, but there’ll be, you know, ADULTS there.
    Sheesh. Here I am at 41, and I’m still feeling twelve. My biggest fear is there’ll be lawyers there. I had Constitutional History 20 years ago, and beyond that, I’m self-taught.
    I’ll probably be back here bouncing ideas off y’all for weeks to come.
    Anyhoo, thanks to everyone–this has given me a great deal to think about, and lots and lots of research to do.

  21. Well, if you can set it up to support any learning tech you can afford (that’s a bonus, btw) it sounds like you are on your way. These students will be a little different — adults, so some of them will know and most of them will think they know — some of the material already, so I’d try things like “graphic novel” style handouts and filmstrips/videos in the powerpoint, if you can find the ones you want.
    The thing is they’re not resentful of spending the time to learn. That’s a huge plus.
    (also, ADULTS are not a separate species from students, really.)

  22. I want to say something about you feeling that you didn’t do enough. Our system is constructed to make it tough for the irresponsible to push the responsible out of office. The problem with that is, of course, that it also makes it tough for the responsible to push the irresponsible out of office. The failsafes that would have gotten rid of Bush, would have used to get rid of Clinton – indeed, they tried very hard.
    Within the realm of what is available to ordinary citizens, I think we did pretty well. We were up against vote theft, senators dying at election time, terrorist attacks and a completely lawless executive branch. That’s a full court press by people who’d spent their lifetime figuring out how to do it. I think it’s the unholy alliance of Rove and Cheney that proved so impossible to topple once they were in the White House.

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