Tag Archives: Obama Administration

Endangered freedoms: speech and the press

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The concept of personal freedoms and rights have no greater defenders than those men that began to write the Constitution of the United States in the summer of 1782. First hand, they had witnessed the tyranny of King George III and Parliament in their combined attempts to turn the thirteen colonies into puppets.  Britain’s interests were not to preserve the rights of Englishmen living overseas, but to protect her financial interests. Various laws such as the Stamp Act, the Tea Act, Navigation Acts, and a few others bear the testimony that the British colonies in North America were regarded by many members of Parliament as a source of wealth for an empire needing financial resources to support its global reach.

These men had a firm belief in the ideals of personal liberty.  These men had witnessed first hand the effects on the individual when government begins to see itself as the grantor of rights and liberties.  The Stamp Act, which required that all printed materials in the Colonies be subjected to a tax which when paid would result in a stamp from the Crown being affixed to the document, literally affected everything from newspapers and political pamphlets to playing cards. Its reach included legal documents such as wills and deeds; literally everything printed in the Colonies had to bear the Crown’s stamp. The generation that fought and led the American Revolution saw the Stamp Act for what it was – a way to control what was being published and a means to discourage political discourse that the Crown found questionable.

As American independence was won, that generation of Americans were skeptical of a large national government.  The idea of a weaker national government with the  bulk of political action happening at the state level was seen as much more desirable.  Even when the Articles of Confederation were abandoned at the ratification of the new Constitution of the United States, there was a lengthy discussion on the role of the national government, rights of the individual, and the rights of the member States.  Any resistance to the ratification of the Constitution subsided as the framers added ten amendments, referred to as the Bill of Rights, as a means to place constraint on the national government.  Many of the framers of the Constitution, such as James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton objected to the Bill of Rights.  Not for the reason that they did not believe Americans had those rights, but because of the fear if the right becomes defined, then the government can interpret the definition to place limits on those rights.  In other words, the “laws of Nature and Nature’s God” that Jefferson had inferred within the Declaration of Independence as being absolute would now be defined by man.

Fast forward now to our modern times.  Earlier this week, a young woman from Harvard University, Sandra Korn, was lauded by some as she actually stated in an editorial for the Harvard Crimson, the university’s official newspaper, that free speech should be stopped since it distracts from the goals of liberalism.  She coined a phrase, “academic justice,” meaning that in the interests of creating the liberal utopia envisioned by the American Left, all ideas, research, and publications that do not support the liberal agenda must be silenced.  Add to this the introduction of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) plan to place government monitors in newsrooms across the nation as a part of an “official study” it was conducting.  According to the FCC, the study was to determine why there were not more minority owned television stations and networks. Many critics began to criticize the study as the Obama administration’s way of encouraging American media to report on stories favorable to the Affordable Care Act and the Obama administration, both are already experiencing low poll numbers.

The position taken by Korn is not a surprising one.  When I entered graduate school at Murray State University, not only did I come across students that had a similar mindset, but a few faculty members as well. Within the Progressive movement and beginning with the Wilson administration, there has been a desire to force a national consensus on the people.  The Espionage Act of 1917 combined with the Sedition Act of 1918 sought to enforce consensus among the American people.  Any critique of Congress, the President, or America’s war efforts during the First World War would be met with swift and excessive punishment.  To combat the problem of the free press, Wilson instituted the Office of Public Information (OPI) to ensure that only officially sanctioned news was reported to the American public.  Newspapers and magazines that violated the OPI standards were not permitted to use the United States Post Office services to distribute their materials.  By the end of the war, there were nearly a thousand periodicals that did not report on America’s war efforts for the duration of the war.  Freedom of the press had become a liability and the Wilson administration sought to find a way for the nation to enter World War I.

Similar policies were adopted under the F. D. Roosevelt administration as a means to direct American sympathies to a common goal. FDR saw American media, especially the owners of the newspapers and radio stations, as being enemies to his agenda and the harmony of the nation.  In his early efforts, he did actively woo the media by offering the press unprecedented access to him and his cabinet.  When those efforts began to falter, Roosevelt included what became known as the “newspaper code” to the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). As a part of NIRA, the press was not to report on the various strikes across the country that resulted from the NIRA and policies implemented by the National Recovery Administration (NRA).  Again, borrowing from the Wilson administration, the American media could only report on labor issues that placed the government and the NRA in a positive light. Beginning shortly after his third inauguration, he began to use the FBI and IRS as political tools to investigate the owners and shareholders of media outlets that were critical of his policies.

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The haunting specter of racial politics

obama-01Today’s political climate is no more hostile than in other times in our nation’s history. As an American historian, I can think of several periods in the life of our country where politics had become toxic and contaminated nearly every aspect of the lives of the citizen.  What makes it different is that instead of the political divide being over the clashing viewpoints of domestic and foreign policy and the traditional Democrat versus Republican arguments that Americans have become accustomed to, a new political divide has been forged by the supporters of Mr. Obama: any critique of the President, his policies, or his actions can only be because he is a black president.  Choose any issue from foreign policy to domestic energy production and anyone that disagrees with President Obama’s agenda is immediately discredited as a racist that wants to see the president fail.

There is a danger when racial politics are so easily exploited by any political entity within American politics. One thing that American history can teach both Republican and Democratic Party leaders is that playing racial politics is a risky game that no party ever truly masters.  In the years immediately after the American Civil War, it appeared that the Republican Party had the vote of black Americans for perpetuity because of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.  The Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Ku Klux Klan Acts of 1870 and 1871, plus several other legislative acts seemed to add to the support that the Republican Party enjoyed across the nation and in the South.  From 1866 to the turn of the century, the Republican Party “waved the bloody shirt” reminding all which party had been the defenders of slavery and traitors to the Union.  And the politics of race worked – for a while.

It was not until after the 1930s and the introduction of several New Deal programs that the political tide began to turn for the Democratic Party.  By the time of the War on Poverty and the Johnson administration, the black American vote had almost completely left the Republican Party and was now firmly voting for Democratic candidates in local, state, and national elections, just as generations had voted for Republican candidates in the past.  Instead of owning up to its racially charged history of open hostility to black Americans, the Democratic Party leadership used the same tactics successfully employed by the Republican Party – open and frequent accusations of being a party entrenched with racism.  Now, since 1964, the Democratic Party has counted on votes of black America to retain its political edge, but at a very high price. To maintain itself as being seen as the party that is compassionate to the needs of black America, it now finds itself in a unique place – discrediting those black Americans that dare to disagree with the fundamental issues of the party.  In the end, the party that promotes itself as the “party of tolerance” becomes intolerant.

Since the election of 2008, the American mainstream media has carried numerous articles, editorials, and even panel discussions with loyal Obama supporters decrying that the only reason that a portion of the American population does not like the president is because of his race.  Even more stunning was a recent interview conducted by David Remnick, of the New Yorker Magazinewith President Obama.  During the interview, the president was on record stating:

“There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black President,” Obama said. “Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I’m a black President.”

Regardless of the political party affiliation of the president, he is the President of the United States of America.  The occupier of that office, regardless of their race, gender, sexual status, or political party is to be the leader of the American people, and as such, should diligently seek ways to unite all Americans behind national goals.  To dismiss opposition to any administration with a wave of a hand and conferring the title of “racist” to the opposition does not unite Americans for the common good, nor does it instill feelings of goodwill.  While I am sure that there are a few that description may fit, there are many more Americans that are critical of President Obama’s policies based on substance and concept rather than the racial identity of the president.  When the “racist” label is applied to those that are genuinely questioning the policies and agenda of the current administration all it does is to silence legitimate critique.

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The ongoing transitioning of America

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When I was stationed in Europe in the early 1990s, I spent a great deal of my leave time travelling around to various places in that I had heard about or studied.  One of the places I visited was Athens, Greece, and was amazed at the number of classical Greek ruins still visible as a testimony to the greatness of the Greek empire and later Roman domination of the region.  These buildings were (and am presuming still are) the focus of many various projects to maintain them for future generations to enjoy and to be inspired as I have.



As a historian and with an academic background in the study of sociology and psychology, I believe that one of the things that led to the collapse of both the Greek and the Roman Empires was that of a transitioning culture.  What past generations once held as dear and as being the bedrock of their society.  What had been built by the older generations was neglected by the next generations; by the time the younger generations began their rise to power, there was a disconnect from the traditions and customs that had allowed Greece, and later Rome, to rise to prominence as a Mediterranean power.  All that remains as a tribute of those empires’ greatness are ruins, legends, and other intellectual achievements.  Outside of education, most people never think of the impact of those people from so long ago have on our world.

In the twenty-first century, the United States is undergoing a transition of its own. Beginning in the 1960s, the “new” American Left, wrapped in the ideas of free speech and the rejection of “traditional” mainstream values began making its way on the college campuses across the United States.  Learning from the lessons of the Civil Rights Movement, the New Left focused on delivering its message to those in society that had become disillusioned with the demands of the American capitalist system.  It is during the 1960s, specifically the Lyndon B. Johnson years, where the New Left and the Democratic Party will claim the victory for the Civil Rights Movement – something that the Democratic Party had actually been in opposition to since the late 1860s (there was absolutely no Democratic Party support for the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, or Fifteenth Amendments, the Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1875; had it not been for Republicans and the wide base of Republican support, the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 would not have passed).

There were a lot of things that the New Left claimed that needed to change in the United States; there were issues that did need to be addressed such as the racial and sexual discrimination and inequality that had become the standard. However, the assault against American society did not end there but continued to assault the things that had made America different from the rest of the nation. The free market system was one of the first things to come under attack; it was claimed that the capitalist system in America had created an unjust distribution of wealth and had left out a large percentage of the citizenry.  Also under attack was the role of the church – both as a public institution of the community and as an influence within that community. Besides the structure of the economy and religion, they also targeted the concept of the American nuclear family.  The New Left adopted a tone that not only discouraged other points of view from being expressed, they also began to craft the notion that any attempts to defend those social norms were attempts to enforce conformity of a minority to the will of a majority – and that this concept was distinctly – anti-American.

The current generation of publicly educated youth and college students have now grown up without an objective education about our nation.  Instead of teaching of how this nation was founded by a generation facing odds that many believed at the time was hopeless, they ventured out into the danger.  Through the blood and sweat of Americans of every socio-economic status and every race, they fought and won independence for a nation that the political theorists of their day deemed folly – no common people had ever governed themselves successfully.  Governance was reserved for the crown and the aristocracy, not the common man.  Anything else was deemed to be against the natural order of mankind.  Instead of focusing on the achievements of those men, the modern college history course and textbook teach that it was a group of white men who had no concern for the fates of women, free blacks, slaves, or even American Indians.  The textbooks discuss that it was a revolution that had to be sold to the common American colonist by the merchant class.  The “New Left” revisionist history of the United States not only denies the odds that generation faced, it also disregards the social norms of European society of that era (no nation allowed the common woman to take part in politics nor did any nation allow slaves or others outside the prescribed citizenry any sort of rights), but it also ignores that the American Revolution was truly unique – it was the first time that the entire strata of a society shared a common vision.

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