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The War on Enlightenment
By Judith Gayle | Political Waves

As the court of public opinion wrestled with the prospect of mandating or subsidizing health services for all Americans in recent weeks, those who objected put on quite a show. Rush Limbaugh threatened to leave the country if such a law was passed, prompting a liberal group to begin raising money to send him to Costa Rica. A Texas House representative told a group of Tea Baggers gathered on Capitol Hill that "demons -- yes, demons -- have invaded the Capitol (and likely the souls of Democrats), forcing lawmakers to mislead the public about the content of the health care bill."

The crowd took his words as their marching orders. A rowdy group walked the halls of Congress, spit on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, called civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis a 'nigger' and Rep. Barney Frank a 'faggot.' Not to be left out, Rep. Ciro Rodriguez was branded a "wetback." Rep. James Clyburn, third-highest ranking House member and civil rights icon, said he hadn't witnessed such treatment since he led civil rights protests in South Carolina in the 1960s. Karl Rove has dismissed these assaults as "unsophisticated." Indeed!

Glenn Beck declared war on social justice, calling it a perversion of the Gospel and a "rallying cry on both the communist and the fascist front." He urged his listeners to run screaming from the churches that preach it and "report" it to their Bishops. With social justice a basic tenet of Catholic and Protestant Christianity as well as Jewish and Muslim faiths, Beck's attack on social justice proved to be his Rubicon.

Both liberal and conservative churches considered Beck's stand a rejection of faith itself. His own church, The Latter Day Saints, issued a statement that social justice is essential to Mormonism. Beck countered by calling progressive Evangelical minister Jim Wallis a Marxist, and defended his stand against churches acting as "political arms" by asserting his belief in the separation of church and state. To appreciate the irony of that statement, visit Jon Stewart's glorious send-up of Beck, showing that he uses logic as expertly as Sarah Palin uses language.

Along with death threats against those who supported Health Care Reform, there have been acts of vandalism orchestrated by a Virginia tea party organizer. Nationwide, five House members have had their office windows and doors smashed, and the FBI is investigating a cut propane line at the home of a Representative's family member. For months, FOX News has added fuel to this fire with faux-statistics, disinformation and outraged opinion. FOX should be held accountable for this skewered and delusional worldview. It seems clear that the GOP that organized the Tea Baggers has lost control of their creation.

In a poll of protesters at the Capitol, Bush speechwriter David Frum found that the majority thought they were paying substantially more taxes under Obama, although they are, in fact, paying less. While protesters claim not to belong to a particular party, their sensibilities align with GOP poll findings that 67 percent of Republicans think Obama's a socialist, 57 percent think he's a Muslim, 45 percent question his citizenship, and 38 percent believe he's "doing many of the things Hitler did." Last, but surely not least, 24 percent think that Obama "may be the Antichrist."

Unreasonable, you say? Consider the socially conservative Texas Board of Education, the largest publisher of textbooks to the nation. Customizing the content of social studies texts for the state's five-million schoolchildren, Texas aims to rewrite American history on topics like the NRA, Phyllis Schlafly, Confederate Jefferson Davis, and Senator Joe McCarthy. According to Think Progress, "The Texas Board of Education is trying to create an alternate universe where McCarthy's dangerously slanderous allegations were true, Ronald Reagan was the greatest president in U.S. history, the separation of church and state doesn't exist, global warming is a myth, and people of color barely exist."

Texas downplays altogether the accomplishments of Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. President, author of the Declaration of Independence who spoke with authority about the dangers of mixing church and state. It is clear that there's a brand-new danger at the Texas School Book Depository. The Texas Board of Education has launched a bold attempt to take us back into the essential split between the Founders over Federalism.

While in-depth discussion of the Founders' differences is too lengthy for this article, let's just say that deeply-religious, second President John Adams was a Federalist, and represents the sentiments of today’s minority party. Jefferson was the other guy, more concerned with social issues than matters of property and wealth. Adams and Jefferson squabbled viciously, theirs a love/hate relationship. Federalists today -- like Supreme Court Justices Roberts, Scalia and Alito -- still battle over the same unresolved issues, clinging to the idea of an inflexible Constitution.

Jefferson was a man of the Enlightenment, known as the Age of Reason. His philosophy encouraged critical questioning of traditional institutions, customs and morals, a philosopy evident throughout Jefferson’s writing. Progress would come through scientific inquiry, resulting in improved society and ever-advancing human understanding. Jefferson was a bona fide mover and shaker, His influence on a young America was monumental. His ideas had firmly taken hold when John Quincy Adams, John Adams's son, became our sixth president. Personally as religious as his father, John Quincy took his presidential oath of office on a law book containing the Constitution because, he said, he swore that as president he would uphold the Constitution, not the Bible.

The old Federalist wrangle may seem like ancient history, but it isn't. Not if we're still in the business of forming a "more perfect union." This month Virginia Thomas, wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, joined with a top official of the Federalist Society to form a new lobbying group called Liberty Central. Virginia declared herself fascinated by the wit and wisdom of Glenn Beck and eager to tap the energy of the Tea Party crowd, whom she calls "citizen patriots." It isn't illegal for the mate of a Supreme Court Justice to engage in political activity, but it is worrisome. Like Scalia, Thomas has a history of refusing to recuse himself due to conflicts of interest. It should be noted that thanks to Thomas's Supreme Court ruling, his wife's group can use corporate money to run ads advocating the election or defeat of candidates.

In the end, the only way forward with health care reform in our politically divided nation was to make it a budgetary issue. That seems appropriate, as the acquisition and distribution of money is the founding principle of this nation. It was why there was a Tea Party in Boston Harbor, why an audacious colony went to war with King George. We are still fighting over the Constitutional interpretation of the right to social and economic equity over the protection of wealth. We are still deciding if the Constitution is a static, unchangeable document or one that can grow and shift to meet the challenges of time.

This week, with the passage of what will someday be considered initial civil rights legislation, Jeffersonian politics won the day. The attack on social justice that brought the conscience of the church into the conversation may have helped Obama rally his troops to do the 'moral' thing. But it should be no surprise, in a nation that has never seen eye to eye, that attorneys general from 13 states have filed a lawsuit challenging the bill's constitutionality. Evidently, we're not as enlightened as we think we are.

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