On her program last night, Rachel Maddow did a piece on Mark Meadows (R-NC), the first-term congressman who wrote the letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) challenging him to push for a government shutdown, which in turn was supported by 80 of his fellow-Republicans. And which helped get us where we are today.
In the story, she ran footage of his campaign, in which Mr. Meadows cried out the standard far-right mantra of "I want my country back." This is a phrase that tends to curdle the rational corpuscles, and reminded me of an article I wrote for the Huffington Post three years ago (they've been ranting this for a long time, actually far longer than this...), on November 28, 2010.
The Noble 'I Want My Country Back' Thing
There's something inspiring about hearing far-right enthusiasts standing up in town hall meetings with tears in their eyes crying out, "I Want My Country Back." And seeing signs held high at rallies organized by the Tea Party corporations that read, "I Want My Country Back."
"I Want My Country Back." One's heart swells at this display. Wonderful! I'm ready to help. Let's go get it back!!
Okay, then, one question to start with: How far back do you want it?
Just asking. Does the radical right want us to take an easy step back, say, to the halcyon days of George W. Bush?
Good times, good times.
Although... okay, maybe not just two years back. That's too soon. Not time enough to get past the economy collapsing, two wars, the national debt doubling to $10.7 trillion, a U.S. city wiped off the map, warrantless wiretaps and ignoring the warning of an imminent terrorist attack. So, perhaps further back. Y'know, to more comfortable pre-9/11 thinking.
Back to the Good Ol' Days of Bill Clint... well, fair enough, we know that's not the country the radical right wants back. God forbid.
It's more likely that they want to return to the days of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Yes. Except -- well, the problem is that this is when President Reagan's Chief of Staff Dick Cheney (yes, that Dick Cheney) infamously said, "Budget deficits don't matter" -- and we know budget deficits are The Most Important Thing to the Tea Party corporation. And so, the budget deficit tripled. And the national debt quadrupled. And Mr. Reagan sold armaments to... Saddam Hussein (yes, that Saddam Hussein), and worse, sold Saddam material for making anthrax. (You know, that "weapons of mass destruction" thingy.)
So, eesh, this can't be what the radical right is pining for. And surely, they don't want to go back to the Jimmy Carter years. Or, God forbid, Richard Nixon.
Lyndon Johnson did have The Great Society. So, that sounds promising -- though it's what created Medicare and Medicaid and the National Endowment of the Arts, and when the Civil Rights Act was established, which included affirmative action. So, that's hardly the country the radical right and Tea folks wants back.
So -- what country do they want back?? Otherwise it's just empty yammering because you lost an election.
Well, listening closely, there is such an America they are referring to. And this is what appears to be what the radical right and Tea Party corporations want when they say "I Want My Country Back."
They want to go back to an earlier time, a friendlier time, a better time in America of our youth, a time when everything was taken care of for us by our parents, and the time of our grandparents. A time of that mythical Shining City on the Hill. A warmer time that we see in old movies. A happier time.
"I Want My Country Back," they say.
Back. To that good, gracious wonderful time in America back where there were --
Pride of country.
A handshake was your bond.
That's the country "I want back." That's the time I want back.
People went on hayrides and caroled together at Christmas and sat on the front porch drinking mint juleps, swapping yarns with grandma and grandpa.
Children respected their parents.
We the People.
We the People.
A time when there were horse and buggy rides.
A time when there was no loud, crazy music.
No intruding cell phones.
No computers crashing.
No cable TV. No color TV. No TV.
No vaccination for polio. No cure for tuberculosis. No remedy for smallpox.
No open-heart surgery.
No hearing aids, no pacemakers, no cochlear implants.
Womenfolk knew their place.
Blacks knew their place.
Mexicans knew their place was in Mexico.
Muslims were invisible.
No Social Security.
No eight-hour work day. No child labor laws. No minimum wage. No rural electricity.
No blacks in baseball.
No blacks in football.
No blacks in the White House.
"I Want My Country Back." I want --
Street cleaning. Garbage collection. Mail service. Public schools. The food supply protected. Water supply protected. Police protection. Firemen. Road repairs. Air traffic safety. The military.
But no taxes.
And a budget surplus.
And no black president.
"I Want My Country Back." Way back. So far back it's going backwards. Get rid of Social Security. Get rid of Medicare. Get rid of unemployment insurance. Abolish the 14th amendment. Repeal health care reform. Repeal Wall Street reform. "I Want My Country Back."
That's the country the radical right wants back.
Well... you can't have it "back." America doesn't go back. America goes forward. Trying to drag a great nation backwards and stripping it of anything you don't like just because it isn't for you alone and you're scared of others, and the rest of the country be damned, is not acceptable. America exists because this entire nation built it together, and the far right must accept what exists for those people, too. You can't pick and choose. This isn't a buffet. It's America.
The thing is -- I kind of figure it's my country, too. I kind of figure I'm part of that whole "We the People" thing, too. Just like all the others. Progressives, reactionaries, gays, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, agnostics, everyone.
That's not a touchy-feely bleeding heart liberal thing, by the way. It's -- We the People.
What "We the People" actually means.
The radical right wants its country back?
Me, I want my country forward.
And it will go forward, like America always does, despite selfish, mean-spirited, frightened little people who think that restoring "honor" is calling the president of the United States a socialist communist Kenyan Nazi Muslim who hates white people because he's an un-American terrorist.
Personally, unlike the radical right, which has been trying to gut America since the uber-conservative John Birch Society of the 1950s (founded by Fred Koch, whose sons fund Tea Party corporations today) and earlier, I actually like the ever-changing melting pot of America. I don't like everything about it. Some things in it infuriate me. Some make me burst with pride. But that's how America works. That's what America is.
"I Want My Country Back," the radical right cries. And that's the problem. It isn't theirs. It's ours.
All of ours.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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