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August 31, 2009

In Search of That Better America

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who passed away last Tuesday, was a stalwart force in national efforts to stop gun violence. Our country is better today for the work that the senator did to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and children. Senator Kennedy supported every major gun safety initiative since the Gun Control Act of 1968; including the Brady background check law, the ban on assault weapons, and ongoing efforts to close the gun show loophole. His wise counsel, gentle good humor, and steely resolve on these issues will remain in the hearts and minds of all those who work to reduce gun violence.

In addition, he had a tremendous impact on nearly every aspect of modern American political life. Some of his many legislative accomplishments were summed up in remarks at his "Celebration of Life" by Senator John Kerry, his colleague from Massachusetts:

“Ted Kennedy changed the course of history as only few others ever have. Without him, there might still be a military draft. The war in Vietnam might have lasted longer. There might have been delays in passing the Voting Rights Act or Medicare and Medicaid. Soviet Jewish Refuseniks might have been ignored—and who would have been there to help them as Ted did? Without him we might not have stood up against the apartheid government in South Africa. The barriers to fair immigration might be higher...

“Without Ted, 18-year-olds might not be able to vote. There might not be a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Meals on Wheels, student loans, increases in the minimum wage, equal funding for women’s college sports, health insurance portability, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the first billions for AIDS research, workplace safety, Americorps, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program...

“He stood against judges who would turn back the clock on constitutional rights. He stood against the war in Iraq. For nearly four decades, and all through his final days, he labored with all his might to make health care a right for all Americans."

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick added, "Ted Kennedy more often than not sailed into the political wind, in search of that better America. He did it with a grace and skill so typical of him and his family."

The Lion of the Senate understood that sometimes the toughest fights were the ones most worth fighting. In the future we can honor the memory of Ted Kennedy and the millions of victims of gun violence by sailing into the political wind and making Teddy's work our own.

August 24, 2009

What Do We Want Our Country to Look Like?

This summer’s Congressional recess has been marred by many incidents that raise grave questions about the current political climate in America and what that portends for the future of the Republic. One of the more jarring elements has been the presence of guns at town hall meetings on health care reform. Last week, we even saw a man openly carry an assault weapon outside a public appearance of the President of the United States.

In an excellent article about this issue, columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. has asked some appropriate questions about this development. His first query: "What would conservatives have said if a group of loud scruffy leftists had brought guns to the public events of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush?"

Dionne goes on to argue that the real question that must be addressed is what message the gun-toters are trying to send. As he sees it, “This is not about the politics of populism. It's about the politics of the jackboot. It's not about an opposition that has every right to free expression. It's about an angry minority engaging in intimidation backed by the threat of violence.”

This dovetails nicely with an excellent blog recently published by our executive director, Josh Horwitz, at the Huffington Post. In that piece, entitled, “‘Resistance Efforts,’ Guns and the Constitution,” Josh states, “If we let "the guys with the guns make the rules" then the very fabric of our democracy is up for grabs.”

I couldn’t agree more. All Americans need to take a close look at what is happening at these health care reform events and wonder what they want this country to look like for their children...

August 17, 2009

This Sounds Familiar...

Dr. Martin Luther King was a communist. The Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, had secret files to prove it. The entire "civil rights" movement was a Soviet Union-backed plot to lead induce race-mixing and thus weaken the fighting will of Americans. President John F. Kennedy was secretly set on disarming the United States. People who supported equal rights for non-whites were unstable, driven insane by mind-altering drugs and the devil's rock and roll music.

Listening to some of the charges being flung around in the current debate over health care reform, I can’t help but think that I’ve heard it all before. The charges above, of course, were some of those that we heard in America during the 1960s. People frightened by the changes taking place in our society were looking for a boogeyman and found it in the "Communist menace." Rightist politicians, organized hate groups, and some in the news media were quick to jump on the fear bandwagon. Civil rights supporters were shouted down in public meetings. Many universities were closed to certain speakers. Civil rights workers were openly harassed. Some were killed. Others were badly beaten or run out of town.

Despite these obstacles, dedicated civil rights activists—many of whom were students, both black and white—fanned out across the country to seek a change in the laws of the nation. Brave religious leaders stood up to speak truth to power. Advocates of reform organized and took action and eventually achieved great social change in America.

Now, once again, we seem to be on the threshold of major social change, and once again the threats, outlandish charges, and out-right thuggery are part of our public life this summer of discontent. Now there are new charges... President Obama isn't an American. He is part of a Muslim plot to destroy the country. The Democrats’ health care plan would create “death panels” to euthanize senior citizens, thereby reducing health care costs.

Again, the motivating factor is fear of change. I cannot help but believe that much of that fear is—just as in the 1960s—stoked by racial anxiety. It has finally sunk in that the election of Barack Obama is a reality and there is no going back to the “good old days.”

Another similarity is the stockpile of firearms in private hands. Only now the weapons are far more sophisticated and dangerous. I could not help but be alarmed by the New Hampshire man who recently showed up to a public forum held by the President of the United States with a 9mm handgun prominently strapped to his leg and a sign about letting the blood of “tyrants.” I am glad my colleague Josh Horwitz is keeping a close eye on such insurrectionist activity.

But there are two key differences between this upheaval and that of the 1960s. First, in the 1960s we did not have a 24/7 news coverage machine and the Internet to present unedited opinions instantly. Second, it seems that the majority of Americans are not buying into the scare tactics and will not stand (or fall) for such paranoia.

Ultimately, it is up to people of conscience to prevail against hate and intimidation and achieve the change we so desperately need. We can all have great confidence in our ability to reach this goal—those brave souls of the 1960s, who refused to bend against any opposition, proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt.