Share on Google Plus Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn Share on PInterest Share on Fark! Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon Tell A Friend 2 (2 Shares)  
Printer Friendly Page Save As Favorite View Favorites View Stats   4 comments

OpEdNews Op Eds

Obama's Spirit of '76

By (about the author)     Permalink       (Page 1 of 1 pages)
Related Topic(s): ; , Add Tags Add to My Group(s)

View Ratings | Rate It

opednews.com Headlined to H2 1/27/13

President Obama's Second Inaugural Address accomplished something I have not seen any other major politician even try:  To make clear that the Religious Right does not own the definition and meaning of the Declaration of Independence

This was an important moment because the Religious Right has increasingly relied on the Declaration as a source of justification for their views, since having lost the argument that God is in the Constitution and that separation of church and state is not.  

The Declaration, a revolutionary manifesto that was read aloud in town squares to rally people to rise-up against the King of England, included some explicitly religious language, albeit generic for its day and very far from any variety of orthodox Christianity.  But as we consider all this, it is important to recall that the Declaration was a political and not a religious document (although the Religious Right does attempt to construe it as a justification for Christian Nationalism.)   And although it embodies the thinking of the revolutionary leaders of 1776 and contains inspired language that resonates down through the ages, the Declaration also has zero legal or Constitutional significance.

Throughout the speech, Obama references, echos and updates the Declaration's memorable phrase, revolutionary for its time, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."  I have seen many comment on the significance of the president linking the civil rights struggles of women, African-Americans and LGTB people, but no one I have seen has discussed the hitching all of these struggles to the guiding star of the words of the Declaration:

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths --- that all of us are created equal --- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.


One does not have to believe that the declarative, aspirational language of the Declaration means that we are or have ever been anywhere near the kind of equality that many of us would like to achieve. Obama certainly doesn't. (The notion that all men are created equal, was too revolutionary, even for most of the revered Founding Fathers.)  Obama's presidency is an obvious historic achievement in moving beyond some of the worst aspects of our history, and offering hope for a better future in this regard.


In any case, the words and ideas of this ancient revolutionary manifesto are of continuing significance -- as is the Religious Right's largely uncontested effort to cast itself as the inheritors of the intentions and values of the Founding Fathers.  (The antiabortion movement's use of the Declaration's phrase "right to life" is an excellent example.)

While I think it is fair to describe Obama's second inaugural speech as an updated, and even distinctly liberal Christian approach to what used to be called civil religion, (as Diane Butler Bass did in The Washington Post) I think there is much more going on, as Obama contends for the meaning of American history broadly, and specifically a living interpretation of the Declaration.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." 

Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.  For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.  The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob.  They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.


Obama also invoked the words of the Declaration to highlight, albeit obliquely, the problem with the contemporary political alliance between theocrats and plutocrats and to add dimension and meaning to the notions of equality that live beyond ancient, cursive script on parchment.  Obama recognizes that while we have come a long way together, we have a long way to go, both in terms of advances in equality, and in recognizing the nature of massive resistance and the ongoing struggles.  

He went so far as to call the Declaration "our founding creed" and went on to tell us the meaning of that creed and how we should not substitute cramped literalisms for a more transcendent spirit:

We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.  We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.  We must act, knowing that today's victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
 
Crossposted from Talk to Action

 

Frederick Clarkson is a Senior Fellow at Political Research Associates, a progressive think tank in Somerville, MA. He has written about politics and religion for thirty years. He has written many ground breaking exposes. He was the first to (more...)
 

Share on Google Plus Submit to Twitter Add this Page to Facebook! Share on LinkedIn Pin It! Add this Page to Fark! Submit to Reddit Submit to Stumble Upon

Go To Commenting
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Follow Me on Twitter

Contact Author Contact Editor View Authors' Articles
Related Topic(s): ; , Add Tags

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Real Religious Liberty is Not Oppression

Democratic National Committee Cuts Ties with Latino Christian Right Leader

Hallelujah, Mike Huckabee, Hallelujah

Obama's Spirit of '76

Huckabee Strikes Again

Comments

The time limit for entering new comments on this article has expired.

This limit can be removed. Our paid membership program is designed to give you many benefits, such as removing this time limit. To learn more, please click here.

Comments: Expand   Shrink   Hide  
3 people are discussing this page, with 4 comments
To view all comments:
Expand Comments
(Or you can set your preferences to show all comments, always)

The historical revisionism of the Religious Right ... by Frederick Clarkson on Sunday, Jan 27, 2013 at 10:19:28 PM
You need to be arrested for treason. That is all y... by Kansas Bright on Monday, Jan 28, 2013 at 12:27:24 PM
Given Barack Obama's record of "dissing" our civil... by Walter F. Wouk on Monday, Jan 28, 2013 at 9:03:26 AM
You are confusing what his speech writer wrote to ... by Kansas Bright on Monday, Jan 28, 2013 at 12:21:21 PM