Sunday, April 10, 2016

Zombie Issues In American History

"It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes..When the laws make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society...who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain...we can at least take a stand against...any prostitution of our Government to the advancement of the few at the expense of the many."
--Andrew Jackson, 1832

"Representatives...shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within the  Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons...three fifths of all other Persons."
United States Constitution, Article One.

The late Justice Antonin Scalia called himself an "originalist," claiming he reached his decisions about issues in the 21st century by examining the holy sacred text of those bewigged 18th century gentlemen who wrote the Constitution. Of course, he never addressed the problem of in which Constitution he found his Word--the original "original" Constitution, which contained Article One and its allusion to that 3/5 of a person, the Negro slave, or the Constitution as it was amended in 1868 to undo that 3/5 of a person notion with the 14th amendment which made the Congress represent all males over the age of 21, regardless of race, unless of course they were "Indians," who did not count.

Slavery was one of those issues in American history that would not die. It was there at the origins and it kept coming back to threaten the existence of the nation, a sort of zombie threat, over and over--in the 1830's and finally in the 1860's.  The racism which underlay the peculiar institution kept coming back into the 1960's and even in the 21st century.  

More subtle and more complicated was the issue of the subjugation of women, who could not vote and were not counted in the apportionment of representation in Congress, until the 19th amendment in 1920.

But the issue of disparity in wealth and the connection between wealth and political power, those who can buy favor, the best Congress money can buy, has persisted and recurred right up to the Occupy Wall Street and Bernie Sanders campaign. 

It is both comforting and disturbing this issue is not new. In the gilded age of the Vanderbilts and Rockerfellers and Mellons and Carnegies, wealth was accumulated in dizzying magnitude by a few dozen families and it has been argued before and since whether their accumulation of wealth resulted in the denial of wealth to others.

The resentment voiced by Bernie Sanders is not new and no matter what happens to Bernie Sanders, it will not end with his candidacy or even with a Sanders Presidency. 

There are simply some issues which will not die.  

But changing law, even if it cannot changes hearts and minds, can change some things:  Slavery, at least overt, beat and whip the slave slavery is not legal and does not exist in the United States and women can and do vote and in fact, are courted by those running for every office, and in fact occupy offices.  Both of these anathemas were brought to heel by persistent movements among the people. The causes suffered set backs, delays, defeats, but thousands of people convinced hundreds of thousands of their fellow countrymen (and country women) of the justice of their cause and, ultimately, laws were passed which made a difference, amendments to the Constitution, voting rights laws, lots of laws.

While the issue of disparity in wealth may never die, changing laws which affect how wealth is distributed may change the reality on the ground.  

The likelihood is no President can or will ever achieve more equitable distribution of wealth.  The great polemicist and flawed historian, Howard Zinn reminded us that seeking the great champion to deliver us from injustice is an unlikely scenario for real change in economic reform. That reform will have to come from the people themselves and their representatives, in the House and Senate. 

Which means the Presidential election, as eye catching as it may be, is not nearly as important as the Congressional races.

We should all be thinking about what returning Kelly Ayotte to the United States Senate would mean for this country.


  1. Mad Dog,
    Agreed, thankfully some causes, like income disparity, simply will not die and hopefully at some point things will be righted--or at the very least improved..Right vs might-the constant struggle that won't go away..New laws may not create a Utopia-but they make things better, as I can attest, since 100 years ago I wouldn't have been able to cast a vote for President or anyone else for that matter- but Trump could have..Which does make one wonder what convoluted thinking allows folks like the late Justice Scalia, who consider themselves Constitutional scholars, to insist on a literal interpretation of the original document..The document that allowed for slavery and the mistreatment of this line of thought any different than insisting on a literal interpretation of the Bible as first written. A violent text if ever there was one-if it wasn't calling for death by the sword, it was advocating burning or stoning your offending neighbor. Adopting this as reasonable guidance is widely, although perhaps not universally, considered crazy-as is the insistence that the Constitution is not a document that should be modified and improved upon as often as needed.

    I also agree wholeheartedly that Kelly Ayotte has to be returned to NH-not Washington-this November. Bernie Sanders has, more than any other candidate, emphasized that no substantial change can be made without major changes in the Congress. This means you Kelly. Hopefully Maggie Hassen proves to be a more formidable opponent than Senator Ayotte's previous one, Paul Hodes, who ran a pretty lackluster campaign-as well as some mighty bad TV ads..

  2. Maud,

    Hopefully,local Democrats are thinking now about how to unseat Senator Ayotte, who has the formidable strengths of good looks, careful positioning and the ability to vote like Attila the Hun, while sounding like Doris Day.
    As Governor, Maggie Hassan has been very solid, but she has already suffered two strikes, one of her own devising--she leapt on the keep those Muslims out until we can figure out what's happening thing. Hopefully, the people this offends will be smart enough to know the alternative, Ms. Ayotte would be worse.
    Mad Dog