Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Self-evident truths

Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land Is Your Land" as a counterbalance to the horror that is Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." Berlin's lyrics don't really say anything about why we love this country.

Woody Guthrie wrote a song for everyone, a song about the promise of America, and also a song about what still needed to be done to fulfill the nation's promise:

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me

As I was walking a ribbon of highway
I saw above me an endless skyway
I saw below me a golden valley
This land was made for you and me

I've roamed and rambled and I've followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
And all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me

The sun comes shining as I was strolling
The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
The fog was lifting a voice come chanting
This land was made for you and me

As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no trespassin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.
The concerns about poverty and the accumulation of wealth by the few are still with us today. And there are other concerns from even longer ago that we've yet to fully address.

We always remember the stirring opening of the Declaration of Independence ("When in the Course of human events, in becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them…"") but we forget that most of the document consisted of a list of grievances. It's worth thinking about how familiar some of those grievances have become, and how people named "George" tend to be targets of this sort of criticism:

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. …

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.…

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.…

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments…

A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Guys named George have a habit of favoring a unitary executive. We are blessed, of course, that the nation founded to end that past George's depredations has strong courts and legislatures which are willing and capable of standing up for the principles laid forth 230 years ago today. This land was indeed made for you and me, crafted with wisdom by great men many years ago, and protected not just by the systems they created, but by the enduring good will and wisdom of the people.

Happy birthday.