Rachel Maddow spoke Monday in Little Rock at the Clinton School of Public Service. I was told that when she announced the passage of the health care reform legislation the audience rose for a standing ovation, and Maddow said something like, "Does your senator (referring to quasi-Democrat Blanche Lincoln) know you exist in her state?"
I have been away from Arkansas for more than seven years now, and the political landscape has changed dramatically. I would like to remind my readers that in the early 1970's Arkansas had the most powerful delegation in Congress, with Senator John L. McClellan as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator William Fulbright as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Congressman Wilbur D. Mills as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee -- all Democrats and all strong leaders, no namby-pambies among them. The only elected Republican from Arkansas in D.C. at the time was from the northwest corner of our state, where hard-core white survivalists The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord eventually lived and had their siege (in which a surrender was finally negotiated without a firefight) with Federal marshals in 1985. That was the only real Republican part of the state, and look who populated it.
Notice I said white. I want to make a racial identification here, because there is no other color for these misfits. From Wikipedia:
The CSA also had links with other radical organizations, including the Aryan Brotherhood, The Mountain Church, and The Order, all dangerous white supremacist organizations which advocated the violent overthrow of the United States Government.
(For more information about hate groups and civil rights, check out the Southern Poverty Law Center by clicking here.)
Arkansas happily elected William Jefferson Clinton as Attorney General and then as governor for 12 years, loved Hillary (for the most part), and adopted little Chelsea as their own. But while Bill Clinton was happily governing Arkansas, a cancer was growing in American society. Propaganda was being manufactured that was sowing the seeds of hatred in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities.
Today, Arkansas has become a microcosm of what has happened to America at large. This change in the U.S. mindset was largely spearheaded by the grandfather of low-down dirty campaigns, Lee Atwater, whose lack of morality and public responsibility became the foundation for the autocratic attitudes and policies that President George W. Bush and his official team of liars built upon.
What did Atwater finally believe of his life's work when he died on March 29, 1991, of a brain tumor? From Wikipedia:
In the months after the severity of his illness became apparent, Atwater said he had converted to Catholicism, through the help of Fr. John Hardon and, in an act of repentance, Atwater issued a number of public and written letters to individuals to whom he had been opposed during his political career...."my illness has taught me something about the nature of humanity, love, brotherhood and relationships that I never understood, and probably never would have. So, from that standpoint, there is some truth and good in everything."
In a February 1991 article for "Life" magazine, Atwater wrote:
My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood. The '80s were about acquiring -- acquiring wealth, power, prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power, and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty. What power wouldn't I trade for a little more time with my family? What price wouldn't I pay for an evening with friends? It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime. I don't know who will lead us through the '90s, but they must be made to speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul.
This article was notable for an apology to Michael Dukakis for the 'naked cruelty' of the 1988 Presidential Election Campaign.
Atwater might be sad to learn that the ruthless ambitions and moral decay he apologized for on his deathbed have not only infected the society like a cancer, but his own beloved Republican party has lost any shred of decency it once had. Not one of Lee Atwater's cohorts learned on his dime. Karl Rove and Dick Cheney (with daughter Liz not far behind) have out-deviled the devil himself.
My father, W.J. "Bill" Arnold, was a Democratic politician in Arkansas until his tragic and untimely death in 1969, and if he were still alive today what he would see and hear in the American political system would make him sick at heart. My father was of the old school of men and leaders who studied the great thinkers and philosophers in an effort to come to an understanding of both history and themselves. In this way, they developed the roles they would take in life, the stands they would make. My father built a firm foundation of ethics, morality, and thought as his framework. He taught my two brothers and me to respect every man and woman's dignity. And this is the message our children should be learning through their families, schools, communities, and national leaders. Instead, they're receiving a message of hate.
Morality is the application of virtue and virtue is the respect for things and beings.
No responsible leader of any movement or party should be spreading hate as a message or commodity. In hearts filled with darkness, darkness will prevail. But if we look for the light, we will find it by opening a different door. And the more such doors are opened, the brighter the light -- and the more of us who will be able to see, feel, and know it deep in our hearts. To lead is to inspire to see the light...not to go down the dark hate-filled path. What kind of society do we want to build in the U.S.?
As Paul Krugman says, when Sarah Palin distributes a map with Democratic leaders in the bead of a rifle sight, and the Republican National Committee sends a fund-raising appeal with a picture of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi surrounded by flames, it's time to question what they are actually inciting. (Read Krugman's excellent piece here.)
What is the difference between these American leaders and extremist Muslim imams who call for terrorist actions? Have you read Philip Gourevitch's fine book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda? This genocide that took place in Rwanda -- the mind-numbing idiocy, waste, and wrongness of 800,000 people killed in 100 days (Hutus methodically exterminating Tutsis) -- was a case of friends and neighbors killing their own, and even a minister setting up the murder of his church congregation. How could this have happened? Try hate being infused into the culture for decades and then complicit approval from leaders to go out and murder, especially women and children.
Did you hear about the school in Florida where one teenage boy was set on fire by some of his classmates and a teenage girl was almost beaten to death by another classmate who said he was going to snap her neck. This in the same school in the same community in the same state. And what about the others? Why would Florida be any different? What is the message our culture is sending for these young people to even entertain the idea of killing someone? Think of the hate they must have felt in their hearts to commit such violent acts. Every single U.S. citizen should be alarmed by this.
The Republican Party, which has not only gone along with the raping of the American psyche but has actively promoted such rape, has sold its soul and those of every other American for all the things Lee Atwater spoke against on his deathbed -- money, power, and greed. And with the GOP's total lack of morality, it has convinced our American worker bees that they should hate their friends and neighbors who look or think differently than they do. Republican propaganda has convinced the blue-collar men and women -- again, the bedrock of the American psyche -- that not only do they not deserve to be able to go to the doctor and receive the medications and medical care that they need, but those who are even less fortunate than they also don't deserve any brotherly or Christian love or societal care. They have been whipped into a frenzy of being mad as hell. And on some level, they have come to believe they are not worthy.
We have become a savage nation. We have sold the American soul.
Beth Arnold lives and writes in Paris. To see more of her work, go to www.betharnold.com.