Not long ago, I wrote a column that reminded readers of the Taliban's infamous 2001 destruction of the world's tallest standing statues of Buddha, which were then1700 years old and carved into a cliff in the Bamiyan Valley in the Hindu Kush Mountains of central Afghanistan. Conspiracy theorists may, in fact, recall that the world, outside of Kabul anyway, recoiled in horror in early March of 2001 as footage of the serial dynamiting flashed on screens from Al Jazeera to MTV. Later that year, when the Bush administration pointed to Afghanistan as harborers of those bastards who flew their planes into our towers, we Americans were quick to call for blood.
And blood we got, though we have spent mountains worth of blood-money to get it. So far, since 2001 (as of April 14, 2010, 10:42 and 43 seconds PM AZ time), the war against Afghanistan has cost taxpayers two hundred and sixty-five billion, five hundred and eight million, three hundred and twenty nine thousand and a steadily mounting mound of change. The lives destroyed and innocence lost has been incalculable.
But it seems when people have a strong religious faith and political power to wreak their will, they are capable of terrible things. The Taliban claimed the statues, not just the ideas they represented, but the very stone itself, which was the cultural icon for hundreds of millions, if not billions, around the world, that the images themselves on that sacred mountain were no longer tolerable to their particular vision of god and had to be eradicated before they could further infect the public.
Despite an outcry from voices around the globe, there was no dissent allowed. The country had become a theocracy, designed to honor what its practitioners believed to be the only true religion. It was as god intended it--the one true church worked hand in hand with the state to destroy all opposing ideas. As one cleric explained, the symbols once revered in that part of the world now "contradict our Islamic beliefs, we would not like to have them any more."
As elaborate of a setup as that was to introduce this week's column, I have not come to pillory the Taliban, nor to raze them about some long ago treachery of the past; but to warn of a possible parallel future. Once again strictly religious zealots, socially conservative to an extreme, madly wielding near blasphemous political power are threatening the very symbols of a society, nay, its very way of life. Once again, the stone images of that vision of a better world for mankind, the bedrock of a society, have been carved into a mountainside. Once again the world watches in impotent horror as fanatics attempt to destroy a country's massive monuments to its sacred ideals.
By now I am sure you've realized I am talking about the Tea Party's relentless efforts to demolish the images on Mount Rushmore--Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington, the top dogs, the final four, the veritable crème-de-la-crème super-duper stars of American presidents. Since they started keeping tabs on this kind of stuff back in 1948, none of these guys have been ranked below 7th place in any major public opinion poll. But so far, three of the four have had their faces blasted off by the Tea Party as being not true enough to the America the Tea Party claims the founding fathers intended. Of course, two of these guys were the founding fathers, but who has time to quibble over details when one has a vision to protect ... and another one to destroy.
At this point in history, the Tea Party believe they are poised to rightfully reclaim America for all their supposedly grateful worshippers so long oppressed by the twin evils of government social services and freedom of, and/or from, religion. They may not believe it, but it doesn't look like they're right about the rest of us waiting with bouquets. In fact a New York Times/CBS poll released 4/14/10 reveals that though 84 percent of Tea Partiers believe that "the views of the people involved in the Tea Party movement generally reflect the views of most Americans," as you may have guessed however the reality is actually that "only 25 percent of the general public, however, believe that the Tea Party reflects their views."
Some polls are claiming that perhaps as many as 28% of Americans are currently claiming Tea Party affiliation, hardly a majority, and definitely not a large enough percentage of the public to insist that their will be law. I know. I was once a member of a group that included 35% American public and even though we protested round the clock and, at times, in groups of millions, the government and the media ignored us. It was March of 2003 and we were protesting that Bush's claim of "Weapons of Mass Destruction" was a lie; and America should not attack Iraq, lest we find ourselves mired in a quagmire of Vietnamese proportions and you can see how well that went.
(BTW, as of 4/15/10, 9:23 and 44 seconds AM, AZ time, that war has cost the American public $717,523,330,929 and counting. And, by the time you finish this article, the combined total of moneys spent will have topped a trillion dollars, with trillions yet untold yet to come.)
Meanwhile the Tea Party is preparing an assault of their own, and on April 19, a date non-coincidentally chosen to commemorate the first time Americans took up weapons against their government (the "Shot Heard Around the World!" fired at Lexington and Concord in 1775), to honor or possibly replicate the day. While may claim such talk is empty hyperbole, their vendors were selling pins calling for armed revolution at the Phoenix Glen Beck rally April 10 (more on that next week). So, on the 15th anniversary of Timothy McVeigh's attack on the national government in Oklahoma City (also times to commemorate Lexington and Concord, also styled as a legitimate revolt of right wing anger) after 15 months of grumbling, the Tea Partiers will take the ultimate plunge and launch an armed march on DC ... well, the outskirts, to show America they have the right own guns, an assertion none but their own media arm actually question. Unfortunately for them and fortunately for the rest of us, the weapons carrying contingent of the Tea Party has hold their rally outside the city limits of DC, since the city has a ban on handguns.
We will observe a five second pause for those who must choke on this irony.
And now back to our regularly scheduled satire:
Meanwhile inside the Beltway, supposedly over one million right-wingers will rant and rave on the National Mall about how their federal government has no idea of their idea of the Constitution regarding gun rights. Just to be sure, the supposedly embattled Second Amendment reads, "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." To some the "not be infringed part" means any American four-year old (physically or mentally) should be allowed to possess a gosh-darned bazooka if they flippin' want one and just see what happens if you try to stop 'em! To others "the well-regulated" part means that gun owners can and should strictly policed. The vast majority of Americans fall somewhere in the middle, so for most it is not an issue.
Lord knows guns are everywhere. Though gun fans forever fear that the American government is forever trying to strip them of their weaponry and their fears aren't reflected by a terribly sparsity of firearms available in America, currently estimated to be about 350,000,000 weapons overall. As a result about 35% of the Americans are ever-ready to kill their neighbors and next of kin at a moment's notice. And, in fact, those are the very people they most often murder. Of course, since gun owners are the good Americans with a healthy sense of patriotism (as reflected in the respect they give their duly elected president and the taxes which support the country they claim to love) and a strong sense of high moral values, the rest of us have nothing to fear of a gathering of thousands of angry armed people advancing on our nation's capital.
But before we let these supposedly religious people (who routinely omit the "thou shall not kill," "steal," "lie," "covet thy neighbor's wife," or "take the lord's name in vain" from their personal interpretation of the strict orthodoxy they insist that others follow) treat our nation's capital the same way they have been treating our national heroes, we should review their cases against our most popular ex-presidents and the majority of Americans for that matter, in order to figure why they hate the faces on Mt. Rushmore so much.
Of course if you talk directly to rank and file Tea Party members they will promise you, they are the true believers. They love their country more than any of the rest of us could even imagine possible and they are not simply about destruction, hatred, violence, cruelty or unfairness. Which is why their various members so frequently call for all liberals, all foreigners, all minorities and all Democrats to be rounded up and exterminated "like vermin" [hyperbole theirs]. That is, in deed, one way to make peace, to kill all your opposition. As biologist and philosopher Jean Rostand (1894-1977) once noted, "Kill a man, and you are an assassin. Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill everyone, and you are a god." And if you are god, you get to set the rules and no dissent is possible: the people can't argue with god. They can only be sacrificed for his will, or, if heretics, sacrificed to his wrath.
And, boy howdy, has the Tea Party been doing their damndest to kill off the legacy this quartet of presidents, men most Americans had loved with a near religious fervor. If only the rest of us understood the treason and treachery of villains we once thought heroes. So, let's recap:
First, curiously, was Teddy Roosevelt, one of the most successful Republican presidents ever, in terms of contemporary and lasting popularity and success in accomplishing his political agenda. Among Roosevelt's many sins were: his creating the National Park system, building the Panama Canal, and winning a Nobel Peace Prize. We all know what Tea Partiers think of peace and especially of Americans who are Nobel Peace Prize winners: take for example King, Carter, Wilson, and now Obama.
What else? Well, Roosevelt was also guilty of the shameful heresies of caring about the struggles of the working man, restraining corporate abuses, insisting that companies stop lying to their customers in their advertising and create products that were not hazardous to their health. He established safety standards for workers and players. (He created the NCAA and, according to the Theodore Roosevelt Association, "Roosevelt convinced them that the rules needed to be changed to eliminate the foul play and brutality.")
Clearly the work of a villain, obviously a liberal, and for a party that claims to be all about liberty, the worst thing one can be is a liberal. Worth noting, from Wikipedia: "Liberalism (from the Latin liberalis, "of freedom") is the belief in the importance of liberty and equality." Though of course, if you can dictate the only acceptable visions of governments and gods, then I guess you can rewrite the definitions of words as well.
Even worse Roosevelt eventually left the Republican party (like Tea Partiers appear to be doing) and took a good deal of the GOP with him to create the Progressive Party. Of course there are a couple of differences between the Tea Party and the Progressive Party of Roosevelt. For one, the Tea Party hates progress almost as much as taxes. They long for a purer vision of America before all those liberals and their damnable progress started mucking things up.
You know back in the day when black were for slaving or raping, women were for abusing and misusing, and brown people were for target practice. Back when most of society had no idea of the daily news, and religions were burning people at the stake for questioning the exact count of angels astride a pin. When the wealth and direction of the nation were controlled by the privileged few, when less than 8% of the population was allowed to vote, and your life expectancy was that you would die young, poor, and in debt. Sound like the Tea Party vision of America to a tee.
Another difference, according to historian Ted Van Dyk on Crosscut.com, was that Roosevelt's radical Republicans, left the party "rebelling against what they saw as their party's too-close association with big financial and industrial interests." But Tea Partier leaders are all about the Benjamins. For example, though appalling mildly liberal by today's standards, Roosevelt's intervention the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902 did improve miner's lives. In comparison, Tea Party boasts Massey Energy's own Don Blankenship who has ended at least 29 miners' lives and laughed at over 3000 safety violations and $50,000,000 in fines because worrying about miner safety is "as silly as global warming."
But Blankenship is just one example: Their movement's organizers and many of the materials are paid for through a lobbying group called Freedom Works, run by health industry lobbyist, former TX rep. Dick Armey, who receives the majority of his funding from big health care and oil interests. The fabulous Koch brothers, bilious billionaire right-wingers, have pumped over fifty million alone into conservative causes and the list just starts there. With donations from big Pharma and big oil to grease their wheels Tea Partiers can now roll roughshod over any non-believer who questions their crude message of absolute liberty to screw everyone over in business and absolute restriction of personal behaviors. Using these kinds of standards, everyone's an enemy. Even Teddy Roosevelt, a man generally ranked by most liberals and most conservatives as the 5th best president of all time, or as Glen Beck referred to him in his CPAC speech, "a cancer."
Then there's Thomas Jefferson whom, as many historians know, could be seen as a comparatively easy target compared Roosevelt. Chronically in debt, famously a slob, an opium poppy grower and probably admirer, a slave owner who kept his dead wife's black half-sister as his lifelong concubine, and an apparent serial philanderer--there is much to question about the man from Monticello; but most of us tolerate such mischief due to his impressive presidency, his founding of the University of Virginia, and an incidental essay or two.
Their purported near monomaniacal devotion to Declaration of Independence be damned, Jefferson is still a blasphemer as far as the Tea Party is concerned, the Texas Tea Party that is, and needed to be banished not just from their hallowed halls, but from the very pages of American History. Thanks their position as the nation's leading textbook buyer and thus market taste setter, the Texas school book mullahs may have marginalized Jefferson nation-wide for the next ten years. That's right, as the New York Times' Russell Shorto reported from the Texas state textbook approval process:
"Thomas Jefferson [is] no longer included among writers influencing the nation's intellectual origins .... Among the intellectual forerunners to be highlighted in Jefferson's place: medieval Catholic philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas, Puritan theologian John Calvin and conservative British law scholar William Blackstone."
And it's not as if they are revolted with the list of typically outrageous behavior described above. But if raping your dead wife's sister whom you'd imprisoned as a sex toy for a couple of dozen years was not offensive enough for them, then just what was Jefferson's crime? Well, as Shorto quipped, "Jefferson, a deist who helped pioneer the legal theory of the separation of church and state, is not a model founder in the board's judgment." And instead, "Heavy emphasis is also to be placed on the founding fathers having been guided by strict Christian beliefs." The Texas Tea Partiers have thrown Thomas Jefferson, the author of our national founding document completely out of our national history for committing their ultimate sin: not being Christian enough.
Like many of the famous founding fathers (Ethan Allen, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Thomas Paine, and George Washington--to be downright alphabetical about it), Thomas Jefferson was not in fact a Christian and worked hard to end the reign of terror the religions of his time imposed upon the citizenry. At the time of the revolution as oppressive as King George was, he had nothing on the various state sanctioned religions in the various colonies. The King's men could only torture and kill you. The sanctimonious church leaders could do all that AND THEN condemn you to burn in Hell for all eternity.
Jefferson was so proud of his efforts at thwarting the power the church had claimed over the state that on his tombstone, of the three accomplishments he had listed, besides the Declaration and the university already mentioned, he included his authorship of "The Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom," omitting the Louisiana Purchase and, in fact, his presidency entirely.
Of course, Jefferson was not the only devil desiring to separate church from state. While it is widely discussed that the Writers of the Constitution gave the issue top billing when they drafted the Bill of Rights; earlier and more profoundly, in Article VI, Madison makes clear that the government of men in America shall not be a tied to anyone's vision of any one's god when he concludes by saying, "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
Obviously however, if you are going to brew your new theocracy on intolerance and steep it in a strict Christian allegiance as the Tea Partiers seem intent on, a voice like Jefferson's has to be silenced. Wiley old scoundrel that he was, it is almost like Jefferson saw it coming when he wrote in 1809, "Our Constitution... has not left the religion of its citizens under the power of its public functionaries, were it possible that any of these should consider a conquest over the consciences of men either attainable or applicable to any desirable purpose." Yes, since no men are angels, neither amongst the citizenry nor inside the government, the price of freedom remains eternal vigilance, but it hard to have eyes in the back of one's head and, with these Tea Party types, it's to guess who or what they'll be attacking next. At least Jefferson wasn't shot in the back like Lincoln was recently, figuratively speaking, by Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.
As the Post noted, Governor McDonnell "quietly declared April 2010 Confederate History Month, bringing back a designation in Virginia that his two Democratic predecessors -- Mark Warner and Tim Kaine -- refused to do." To make things even more interesting, McDonnell's proclamation spoke eloquently of the sacrifices Confederate soldiers made defending the South, while making no mention of slavery. When a furor kicked up over the missing mention, McDonnell's office claimed it wasn't "significant," and fellow southern governor, former leader of the GOP, Mississippi's Haley Barbour called it a "nit."
Considering that Lincoln himself was among the over 600,000 who died over the issue, it is small wonder that until the Tea Party came along to free us from our foolish ways, most Americans thought slavery was significant and considered anyone who thought otherwise a nit, a nitwit that is.
And so, with Lincoln bushwhacked, Jefferson excommunicated, and Roosevelt roundly pulverized, that leaves only one face on our sacred mountain of Rushmore; and, as noted, armed Tea Party rebels have announced their intention to kick off a second "revolution" [quotation marks theirs, I hope] by advancing on Washington in a pincer movement. Understand, as of yet, no actual presidential virtual visages, stone or otherwise, have been reduced to gravel ... as of yet. Of course, if they find out General George was not only a heretic, but also a hemp smoker, South Dakota might soon be missing a monument.
But like the devastated Afghan Buddhas or demolished statue of the lost leader in the famous Shelley poem "Ozymandias," the sad part isn't the loss of the downed stone idol, or even the man or the ideals he represented, but erasure of the very country which once thrived in his image. Sure, the Tea Party tells us they, not we, see the real America, and feel the only true and worthy patriotic love of country. But after blasting off the faces of 75% of our national patron saints, I worry how patriotic they will actually be come this April 19 with Washington in their gun-sights, when they fire their shot heard around the world.
--mikel weisser writes from the left coast of AZ.
PS: as of 4/16/10, 2:06 and 45 seconds AM, AZ time, those wars have cost the American public $983,381,287,923 and counting.