Young love is fickle. The great love affair between young Americans and the President is about to come to an end. While the 2008 election was like the rush of hormones and giddiness that accompanies new romance, the 2012 election was more like that phase of a relationship where one person says to the other “It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s just that I’m not IN love with you.” Obama still won the youth vote in 2012 because codependence is part of the college experience and because Romney wasn’t sexy enough to be the “other guy. ” That said, it’s still clear that the romance is gone. The break-up is inevitable.
Here are five reasons why:
1. The thrill is gone. Candidate Obama was a novelty when he ran as a modern, bi-racial incarnation of JFK. There was a mysticism about him that made him transcendent. His life’s story was somewhat bohemian. He was intellectual in discourse. He was cool under pressure. In essence, he was that guy on campus that was “different than the other guys.” His freshness made him attractive. Now that the Millennials have gotten used to him, the novelty has worn off.
Like a lot of young romances, it turns out that this guy wasn’t all that different after all. He’s just another smooth-talker, like all the rest. You wonder what you saw in him in the first place.
December 15th marks the 223 anniversary of the adoption of our Bill of Rights. James Madison, considered the Father of the Constitution, was instrumental in the adoption of those first ten amendments that we now consider fundamental to the protection of our liberties.
Madison, one of the youngest of our Founding Fathers, was considered by many of the Founding Fathers to be the most intellectual of the group. He was also a nerd. At least that’s what my daughter tells me. She was working on a middle-school project about the American Founding Fathers and asked me for a character sketch of the Father of the Constitution. After my brief description she concluded “Hmm. Sounds like a nerd to me.” (more…)
I love teaching students about the American Founding. I like the philosophical debates over the nature of liberty and necessity of government. I like the use of pen and paper as weapons in a war of ideas. I like the manner in which gentlemen addressed one another, even when they disagreed. I appreciate the emphasis on honor and duty exhibited by statesmen and soldiers. Everything about early America appeals to me – the architecture, the long coats, the tricorn hats. Even the weather. I always think of late 18th century America as perpetually stuck in autumn, with air that is cool and crisp, and a sun that always shines. I know that isn’t true, but that’s how I envision it.
It’s easy to romanticize the American Founding as a period of unbridled optimism, achievement, and glory. The truth is that the period right after the Revolution, before the Constitution was drafted, was a dangerous time for the United States. For about ten years, after the battle for independence was won, the fight for freedom gave way to the darker side of human nature. Had less enlightened forces prevailed, the American Experiment would have failed before it began.
Like Greece and Rome before her, the infant United States almost fell victim to a military cabal bent on using force of arms to take charge of the government. The incident involved soldiers who were angry about not receiving their pay. During the Revolution, citizen soldiers were often promised payment for their service only to be told later that no funds were available. In some instances, soldiers who had served five or six years in the fight for American Independence were still not paid when the war was won.
In 1783, some of our Founding Fathers, including Alexander Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris, concocted a scheme to use the unpaid, angry army as a means of pressing Congress to assume the power to collect taxes from the new American states. The Army was enlisted to march to the capital (then Philadelphia) and threaten to seize power by force if necessary in order to receive their back pay. Since Congress was broke, Hamilton and Morris wagered that the legislature would be forced to adopt strong taxation powers as means of quickly raising funds to buy off the besieging army. The plot, conducted in secret, was designed to use the army as a means of shaping public policy. In essence, what Hamilton, Morris, and their confederates planned was a return the principle of military involvement in government affairs that characterized much of human history, particularly the histories of Greece and Rome. Had the coup been successful and Congress subdued, American democracy would have been crushed before it began, and our subsequent history might look much different.
One thing, or to be more precise – one man – saved the infant nation. George Washington was recruited to lead the military coup by Alexander Hamilton. Washington received Hamilton’s letter to lead the charge, rejected the idea outright, and immediately called an impromptu meeting of his military officers on March 15th of 1783. The officers (unaware of his response to Hamilton) suspected that Washington was supportive of the plot and would announce his intention to ride at the head of the Army to collect the treasure that was rightfully theirs. He would, in essence, pull a Julius Caesar.
Instead, Washington spoke gently but firmly to his fellow officers about duty, honor, and love of country. And then, in the most well-staged use of theatrical flair to ever save a nation, Washington asked to read from a letter he had received from Congress. In doing so, he pulled from his breast pocket his new reading glasses, which he had just received. In fumbling to put them on, he asked his men to forgive his clumsiness, as he had “grown both old and blind in the service of my country.”
The guilt and shame of seeing Washington – the hero of the Revolution, who had sacrificed so much for others – in this humbling and human condition, shamed the officers into reconsidering their motives and plans. According to witnesses, men openly cried and asked Washington for forgiveness. The coup that could have been, never was. The republic was saved.
The future of American democracy wasn’t guaranteed by the rhetoric of the Revolution or the victory at Yorktown. The United States could have gone the way of Greece or Rome, systems based more on power and might than principles of liberty and equality. Our nation is an experiment – an experiment to see if men really can govern themselves by “reflection and choice, rather than accident or force.” How this experiment ends is largely up to us.
Washington won’t save us this time.
By Chris Hammons, PhD
Professor of Government
Texans love to remind people that we were once an independent republic. We throw that around a lot. People from California, Hawaii, and even Vermont like to push back that they too were once sovereign nations. But Texas is bigger. And we were an independent country for almost a decade. California didn’t last a month, though they did get that cool bear-flag from their republic days. Texas had its own flag as well. It was a single star on a field of blue. It’s the origin of the “Lone Star State” nickname. Our current flag still has the lone star to remind us of our days as an independent republic. Did I mention that we were once an independent republic?
We have a pledge that goes along with our state flag. Texas school children learn it in kindergarten and say the pledge every day, right after performing the same ritual to the American flag. Some people might call it brainwashing or indoctrination. I like to think of it as an act of appreciation for those who came before you, and the land you call home.
For non-Texans, or new Texans, the emphasis on everything Texas takes some getting used to. But Texas isn’t like other states. It has an identity that transcends regional culture. It’s neither Southern like Georgia or Alabama, nor Southwestern like New Mexico or Arizona. It has a distinct culture that is a product of the Anglo-Celt men and women who settled the region when it was still part of Mexico. Most of the people who came here were pioneers, drawn to Texas for two reasons – land and liberty.
Land was plentiful and so cheap as to be free. To attract settlers, Stephen F. Austin and other land agents commissioned by the Mexican government could offer immigrants a league of land (about 4000 acres) and protection under Mexican law if they swore allegiance to the flag of Mexico. Apparently, pledging allegiance to a flag has a long tradition in Texas.
The other reason people came to Texas was liberty. Settlers in Texas could expect to be left alone on their land. The Mexican government was decentralized and ineffective. Local governments were almost nonexistent. Civilization was carved out of the wilderness with a short-axe and long-rifle. When Mexico centralized power under Santa Ana and tried to run the Anglo settlers off their land, the Texians (as they were called back then) defended their land and liberty to the death. And you all know the story of the Alamo, the most sacred of Texas shrines.
The most important part of the Texas story is the one that is usually overlooked. None of the people who fought and died for Texas land and Texas liberty were from Texas. They were all immigrants. Stephen F. Austin, a son of privilege and education, came from the Arkansas territory to make money and something of himself. In a story worthy of a Jane Austen novel, Sam Houston came from Tennessee to escape a broken heart and a damaged reputation. Also from Tennessee, David Crockett left a dying political career and a young family to find a new home. The early Texians weren’t just displaced Americans either. There were numerous immigrants from Europe and Great Britain. One of these, Henry Fanthorp, came from England to escape the sorrowful loss of his wife and children from disease. He started an inn where many of these other men stayed during the early days of the Texas Republic. The inn still stands today. I took my children on the 4th of July weekend to sit on the front porch, watch the Spanish moss blow in the warm summer breeze, and wait for the stage coaches that come no more. Now people come by car, moving van, and air plane. And this is the mystique of Texas……
Over 150 years later, people still come to Texas for the same reasons as the old fellows. They come for a fresh start. They come for a chance to make something of themselves. They come for cheap land and affordable housing. And they come for liberty.
In Texas we pride ourselves in staying out of peoples’ way so they can benefit from their own labor. It’s no wonder that industrious people from all over the world still see Texas as a bulwark of opportunity in an increasingly regulated world. A quick drive around Houston will reveal business, law offices, and medical practices operated by people from Viet Nam, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Mexico, China and numerous other countries. These people now proudly call themselves Texans. And Texas continues to be a magnet for people seeking a better life than in the states which they leave behind – places like California and Louisiana. With the downturn in the economy, a whole new wave of Americans have painted GTT on their doors (Gone to Texas) in the fashion of the pioneers who came here when there was little but trees and prairie.
Texans don’t expect much from government. They’re independent-minded and place a high value on self-sufficiency. That’s the Texas way. It’s what political scientists call our “political culture.” It explains why there is so much opposition to government expansion in Texas politics and why there is such a high rate of gun ownership. People who are self-reliant choose to provide for themselves, and defend their land and liberty in the same manner, rather than rely on local authorities.
While this independent attitude sounds harsh to some people, it also means that if you work hard and are successful, nobody in Texas will hold your riches against you. We have no state income tax. Your money is yours to keep. And there is an old cowboy rule among Texans – you never ask the size of man’s ranch or how many cattle he has. It’s his property. There’s no good reason to ask.
Texas is still the great magnet that it was almost 200 years ago. I understand why people come here. And if you do come, it would be nice if you learned the little pledge that goes along with our flag. Its short, and it’s the neighborly thing to do.
Honor the Texas flag;
I pledge allegiance to thee,
Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible.
By Chris Hammons, PhD
Professor of Government
How could anybody be opposed to the plight of the tired, poor, and wretched refuse of Central America? Some on the left invoke Christian obligation to help those in need. A few on the right, most notably George Will, have noted America’s long tradition of welcoming the oppressed.
The fact that people fleeing bad situations come to the land of milk and honey is completely rational. Easy access, free social services, and lack of law enforcement encourage entry. That parents would send their children unaccompanied to America speaks to the desperate situation of those who come, and the promise of the nation to which they flee. Opposition to the plight of these illegal immigrants unfortunately gives the impression of racism, as if there is fear of too many brown-skinned people arriving on top of La Bestia. But disapproval of those who enter the country illegally is not racially motivated. It’s cultural.
Many Americans are suspicious of those who enter the country illegally because for most of us fair play is a hallmark of civility. The concern is that people who show up uninvited and illegally might not make good neighbors. Such attitudes sound old-fashioned or parochial to some, but it’s human nature to be suspicious of people who don’t play by the rules. Cutting-in-line in America is taboo, and border hopping is the ultimate line-cutting. Most of the people I know who are really incensed about the situation are naturalized citizens who waited in line, paid the fees, passed the test, and swore an oath to become Americans. They did it the right way. No one likes the guy who cuts in line at the movie theater. It’s not an endearing quality.
A deeper concern is that people who enter illegally into the country have little respect for the law. It is not unreasonable to assume that if you come from a country where people routinely flout the law, dodge taxes, and bribe public officials, combined with the fact that you entered this country illegally, that you might bring those attitudes and practices with you. The concern is not that these folks are intent on breaking the law, but that they have little experience in upholding it. It’s a cultural concern that isn’t much different than the misgivings a devout Jew might have about their daughter marrying an evangelical Baptist. A way of life is at stake. For people to whom religion (or in this case the rule of law) doesn’t matter, this might all seem trivial. But for those of us who care, it’s a big deal. Ultimately the rule of law, like religion, is a cultural aspect that erodes if it’s not preserved.
The vast majority of the illegal immigrants who come here aren’t coming to make trouble. But most are not coming here to become Americans either. They’re more concerned about being in America because of the immediate benefits they receive – safety, shelter, sustenance. But if they continue to live here without a fundamental understanding of what makes America special, they lose out on becoming American, will continue to exist in the shadows, and may unfortunately fall back into the darkness from which they fled.
America is a big nation with lots of money that can surely serve as refuge – as has been our tradition – for those in need. But doing so shouldn’t come at the expense of the principles that fuel the lamp of liberty which guides people to our shores.
As tens of thousands of people wait idly in holding facilities across the nation – guests of the American taxpayers – now might be a good time to start reading the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. They’re short. You’ve got plenty of time on your hands. And there is nothing this country loves more than to help people who want to be Americans …. and who want to do it the right way.