Friday, September 5, 2008

The Egalitarianism of John McCain

"We're dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal and endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights."
--John McCain said this with ease.

The white man of substantial means said this with ease to the crowd of wealthy white men at the RNC in Saint Paul last night. Oh, sure, there were some white women there too, and a few people of color, of a certain class. But as he said these words, McCain was talking right at a black person "and his supporters"; I'll review the fuller context of the white man's words below. (And you'll get lines from poems towards the end of the post).

But first I want to note four things:
1) John McCain has translated rhetorically;
2) it has come easy to him because others, mavericks who were outsiders, have paved the way;
3) it has come easy for him because he's always been an insider to the Euro-American-male wealthy class;
4) it sounds unremarkable to the white men of wealth in America who listen because they think he is saying something "dynamically equivalent" to what others, outsiders, have said. It's their very own egalitarianism.

What do you think?

McCain has translated something Martin Luther King, Jr., a black man of humble means, wrote on scraps of paper that he had to sneak past the white male guards of a Birmingham jail, an eventual letter to white men with religious and social power; King said this in part:
Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
McCain has translated something a white man wrote as he deeply grieved the position of most other white men relative to most black people in America. McCain has translated what Abraham Lincoln wrote on a scrap of paper, addressing a small crowd of black and white men in a field near Gettysburg where black men and white men have died fighting so that black men and black women and black children can be free from white wealthy men:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But,....
McCain has translated something Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Coffin Mott co-wrote, as women both white, which the former read aloud in Seneca Falls to a convention of women and men, black and white, rich and poor:
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer. while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled. The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
McCain has translated from 18th century British English something Thomas Jefferson wrote on behalf of wealthy white men whose possessions--women and children and black slaves (men, women, and children)--were threatened by red men and red women; those white men of wealth were declaring with their signature in Philadelphia their independence from their king in London:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness...

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
McCain has translated something from the ancient Hebrew scriptures, from the beginning, told by a Jew, most certainly a man, humbled to be created equal to a woman of whatever means and whatever race, in the image of the Creator:
וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמֹו בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא
אֹתֹו זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בָּרָא אֹתָם׃
So the question is, What do you think? Have McCain's translations been dynamically equivalent? Can he an insider speak to the other, the outsider, as an equal, as if using equivalently and dynamically the words of others, the maverick outsiders? (Or is his subtext this: "Change Washington so things don't have to change for the white wealthy men anywhere in America" ?)

--- as promised, here's the fuller context of McCain's translation:
Finally, a word to Senator Obama and his supporters. We'll go at it over the next two months. That's the nature of these contests, and there are big differences between us. But you have my respect and admiration. Despite our differences, much more unites us than divides us. We are fellow Americans, an association that means more to me than any other. We're dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal and endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights. No country ever had a greater cause than that.

And I wouldn't be an American worthy of the name if I didn't honor Senator Obama and his supporters for their achievement.

let there be no doubt, my friends, we're going to win this election. And after we've won, we're going to reach out our hand to any willing patriot, make this government start working for you again, and get this country back on the road to prosperity and peace.
--- and the poetry:

a couple of lines from Larry Norman's "The Great American Novel":
you say all men are equal all men are brothers
then why are the rich more equal than others
and a few more from Jon Foreman's "Politicians":
I pledge allegiance to a country without borders, without politicians
Watching for my sky to get torn apart
We are broken, we are bitter
We're the problem, we're the politicians
Watching for our sky to get torn apart
C'mon and break me
and the fragment of a line from Sappho (translated also by Anne Carson):
Μνάσεσθαί τινά φα<ί>μι καὶ ἕτερον ἀμμέων

someone will remember us
-----I say
-----even in another time
and a bit from Joy Harjo and her "Mercy":
Forget the massacres, proclamations of war
-----rumors of wars.
I won't pour rifle shot through the guts of someone
I'm told is my enemy
-----Hell, my own enemy is right here.
Can you look inside, see past the teeth worn down
by meat and anger,
-----can you see?
and then Audre Lorde shows up on a blog since she wasn't invited to the convention:
The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.

1 comment:

Hugo Schwyzer said...

Dazzling post and analysis, Kurk. Very well done. I love the Harjo, which I didn't know!