I have just returned from watching Steven Spielberg's Lincoln and couldn't help reflect on the ironies of the Republican Party.
The Declaration of Independence proclaims the self-evident but oft-ignored truth that all men are created equal. It took the United States, under the guidance of Lincoln, nearly a century to realize that "all men" referred to, well, all men (I'm following their lingua franca; I mean "men" generically). Such delayed consciousness should come as no surprise since three of the five committee members overseeing the development of the Declaration of Independence including Thomas Jefferson, its author, were slave owners.
Sometimes self-evident principles, for all their self-evidence, can be impossible to see through the distorting lenses of dehumanization and greed.
Lincoln recognized that many people believed that "all men" did not apply to "the negro" because they didn't consider them men; black people were considered beneath men just as men are beneath God and the angels. White people were of such an exalted state they were granted dominion over non-human slaves and farm animals.
Lincoln, he of the Republican Party, inveighed against this impoverished understanding because of its "tendency to dehumanize the negro -- to take away from him the right of ever striving to be a man." Of course, negroes needn't strive to be men; they are men, and so are self-evidently created equal.
Not only are all men equal, the Declaration declares, they are also "endowed by their creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." So important are these rights, it is government's God-given job to secure them.
When Lincoln came to office men who were created equal were being held as slaves. He understood his Declared task as Chief Executive of our commonwealth to secure their natural rights. Holding such unpopular self-evident truths required plunging the US into a civil war the likes of which had never been seen.
Thank God Lincoln lent a deaf ear to the polls when he determined to honor the Declaration of Independence's self-evident but oft-ignored truth that all men are created equal.
Now to the irony: the Party of Lincoln failed miserably to recognize and honor the Declaration's claim that all men are created equal and thus endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights.
On Tuesday, December 4, 2012, a day that will live in infamy, the Senate, due entirely to Republican obstinacy, rejected a United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled.
This treaty, modeled on the Americans With Disabilities Act, would require nations to protect the rights and freedoms of the disabled. Because only eight Republicans voted to approve the treaty, it failed to achieve the two-thirds vote it required and went down in defeat.
The Party once so determined to secure the rights of all men that it risked splitting the country in two, is now the Party that refused to recognize that it is wrong, everywhere and always, to discriminate against the disabled. The self-evident truth -- all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights -- was nowhere to be seen.
Enacting the United Nations treaty would cost the United States precisely nothing. We already have a disabilities act. It would have required very little political courage to vote in favor of a largely symbolic Treaty which would discourage discrimination against the disabled. Yet only eight Republicans could muster up that much courage.
Now let's double down on the ironies. As we approach the so-called "Fiscal Cliff," the Republican Party has asserted what appears to be its sole governing philosophy -- don't tax rich people.
So now the obvious: the party that once risked it all for a group of people who many considered subhuman, is now the party that risks it all only for its richest citizens (economic superhumans, one might think). The party that once went to war over the lack of rights of the negro, is now the party that lacked the courage to ratify a treaty to secure the rights of the disabled.
The party of the poor and dispossessed is now the party of the rich. Of course, being the party of the rich ensures benefits from the rich. From donations to insider stock advice, there are benefits to being the party of the rich. Not so many benefits and maybe even some costs in securing the rights and freedoms of the disabled.
Jesus, who many of those who voted against the UN treaty profess to follow, offers advice on whom to invite to the Party. Republicans would have done well to heed his advice: "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed."
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