Recollections of Liberty on the Eve of Bastille Day

The inestimable Charles Pierce reminds us that John Boehner is still not pining for the fjords:

Earlier this week, Boehner pretended he was leading the House when Steve King and the flying-monkey caucus pretty much killed off the possibility of immigration reform for the balance of the president’s second term. Republican senators wanted a bill. Republican power brokers wanted a bill. Hell, Boehner wanted a bill. But the House is not being led by John Boehner at the moment. He is no more the actual Speaker Of The House than Julia Louis-Dreyfuss is vice-president of the United States. The House Of Representatives is being led by the vicious and demented Id of one of the two major political parties that we have allowed ourselves to have in this country. The House Of Representatives speaks with the savage vocabulary of ancient and durable prejudice. The House Of Representatives speaks with the twisted syntax of frustrated white supremacy.  The House Of Representatives speaks with the cruel and singular voice of unreasoning prejudice and inhumanity. There is no Speaker Of this House. The Id speaks, and it speaks for them all.

As Pierce goes on, he notes that the target du jour was again the Farm Bill. No, the Farm Bill was the vehicle du jour — the target is something else entirely.

Last week, a traditional Farm Bill failed to pass the House because the flying-monkey caucus thought it was insufficiently harsh on people who use food stamps. So, yesterday, as Democrats went fairly far up the wall, the flying-monkey caucus went one better. They simply took out the food stamp provisions entirely and passed a Farm Bill containing all those sweet, gooey subsidies and gifts to big agribusiness.

Why, you ask? Mr. Pierce thoughtfully lays it out as only he can:

Do we need to mention that this bill has no chance of passing the Senate, or of being signed by the president, or of ever becoming law in this country? Of course, we don’t. That isn’t what this brutal act of maladministration was about. That isn’t what this House is about any more.


[The Flying-Monkey Caucus does] this to demonstrate that government cannot work. They do this so that they can go home and talk at all the town halls and bean suppers to audiences choking on the venom that pours out of their radios and off their television screens about how government doesn’t work, and how they stood tall against it, and against Those People who don’t want to work for a living. (When Stutzman says he’s a “fourth-generation farmer” who doesn’t want the Farm Bill to be a “welfare bill,” the folks back in LaGrange County don’t need an Enigma machine to decode what he’s saying.) They do this out of the bent notion, central to their party’s presidential campaign last fall, that anyone on any kind of government assistance is less entitled to the benefits of the political commonwealth.

There’s the target. Cloaking their efforts in the language of The People, the Flying Monkey Caucus does everything in their power to undermine the concept of We, The People. To them, it’s all about protecting what they’ve got and to hell with the rest of the the nation. For the Flying Monkey Caucus, there is no good reason for government, and it must be killed.

It’s a pity that none of these folks who work in the heart of the history of this nation know anything about that history.

Two hundred twenty six years ago, on July 13, 1787, the Northwest Ordinance was enacted under the Articles of Confederation. It set the stage for (among other things) both the creation of public education in the United States and also the creation of Boehner’s state of Ohio. “Schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged,” said the ordinance, which stands in stark contrast to the cut, privatize, and sell off mentality of the Flying Monkey Caucus. The Northwest Ordinance endorsed the expansion of the reach of liberty, expansion of the reach of a government that protects the rights of all, and expansion of the size of government to one befitting of the size of the nation. The Flying Monkey Caucus, on the other hand, rejects these things out of hand. They’d rather lock up those they disagree with, not deal with them as equals.

Which brings us to Mount Vernon. . .

As one enters the home of George Washington, one sees a large old iron key encased in an old glass, hanging on the wall in the entryway. It is the key to the Bastille, which came to Mount Vernon from France as a gift. Accompanying the gift was a letter:

Give me leave, my dear General to present you with a picture of the Bastille, just as it looked a few days after I had ordered its demolition,- with the main key of the fortress of despotism. It is a tribute, which I owe, as a son to my adoptive father, as an Aide-de-Camp to my General, as a Missionary of liberty to its Patriarch.

— Marquis de Lafayette to George Washington, March 17, 1790

Washington did not fight the British to end government — he and his soldiers and the people who stood behind them sought to turn government from an instrument of the protection of the wealthy and powerful few and into an instrument that lifts up and protects of the life and liberty of the whole people. The Bastille stood as a symbol for the former; that key on the wall of Mount Vernon is a reminder of the power of the latter. Lafayette knew this, and thus made the gift.

The Flying Monkey Caucus wants to rebuilt the Bastille and fill it with Those People: undocumented workers, women who wish to exercise authority over their own bodies, journalists who raise up ugly truths, protesters who demand the Wrong Things, and others. They want a government that exists only to build walls and imprison those with which they disagree. Their prayer is simple: Protect me and my stuff, Amen.

On this eve of Bastille Day, I’ll stand by the vision of liberty I wrote of a while back. Justice. Domestic tranquility. Common Defense. General Welfare. Liberty. All these, combining to form a more perfect union. Washington, Lafayette, and the rest of the revolutionary generation did not accomplish perfection, but they set us on a path toward it.

It’s a long, long path. But every step along it is a step toward justice, a step toward equality, a step toward freedom and liberty for all.


h/t to Jon Smiley for the photo of the Key to the Bastille, and used under Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

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