Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Time Magazine Explains the Founding

Jay Carney of Time magazine puts Gov. Palin in her place for knowing less about the Pledge of Allegiance than he thinks he does. As a gubernatorial candidate, Mrs. Palin was presented with a questionnaire asking, “Are you offended by the phrase ‘Under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not?” She answered, “Not on your life. If it was good enough for the founding fathers, its good enough for me and I’ll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance.”

Carney condescends to Palin over this. She “seems not to be a keen student of American history,” he says. He chides her for being unaware that the Pledge and, in particular, its “under God” phrase “both were written long after the founders (and the framers, for that matter) were dead and buried.” He then offers an additionally condescending explanation for her failure to match his understanding of American political history: “My guess is she was conflating one conservative conviction, adherence to ‘original intent’ when interpreting the Constitution, with another, the belief that the separation of church and state has gone too far. If so, her confusion is not limited to the history of the Pledge.”

The problem is that Palin’s exuberant response to the questionnaire reflects a more informed understanding of the Pledge and the founding fathers than Carney’s snarky one. As James Piereson argued, the addition of the phrase “under God” to the Pledge in 1954 reached back to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “[We] here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Piereson connects Lincoln’s use of the phrase “under God” to Jefferson and Washington. In “Notes on the State of Virginia,” Jefferson wrote, forebodingly, “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.” As for Washington, in the general orders he circulated to his troops on July 2, 1776, he wrote, “The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army.”

Carney’s assumption that the original intent of the Founders was a republic uncomfortable with the non-sectarian invocation of God’s providence and support cannot be reconciled with even a cursory examination of the historical record. The Declaration of Independence, famously, speaks of “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” and holds the truth to be self-evident that all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Less famously but as eloquently, George Washington closed his letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island of August 1790 by saying, “May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.”

Depending on the outcome of the election, we can look forward to either two months or four years of people who know less about America than Sarah Palin arrogantly imagining that they know more.

Discussions - 21 Comments

The cheap shots against Palin pile up. Psuedo scandals, invasion of family privacy, accusations of membership in seccesionist and radical political movements. Unsubtle attempts to paint her family as a collection of backwoods freaks. Along with legit questions about her experience. Contrast this with the incredibly kind media reception Biden got last week.

Well what did we expect? Decency and fair play? Come on people. Palin is a little known, populist, conservative, outsider. This is how those politicians are treated by the liberal leaning journalistic institutions when they get near national power. Take Jindal. The national media has actually treated Jindal pretty well so far. He gets friendly interviews on the late night shows. If McCain had picked him you could expect the media to be all over every element of his religous life (in an inverse proportion to their interest in Obama's). These are just the shots Palin has to take if she is really going to take on the Washington system (but it sure doesn't make it fair). Palin has to give a dazzling speech. If she appears in control of herself and the issues, this media barrage will be overcome. Right now there are alot of basically apolitical people who are wondering who this Alaska woman about whom all these weird stories are being told is all about. Only Palin can speak over the heads of the media and answer the doubts planted in the public mind. The good news is that she has a chance to do just that with her own performance.

Memo from Carville to Kos: Now is the time, my pretties. Draw upon all of our sources. Use every blog, find every innuendo. If Palin checked out a book, if she glanced the wrong way at another man, every image, every comment. Every old business she ran. Now, my minions, find and exploit every reference. Young people read this blog. Do not worry about your academic credibility or humanity. Just destroy. Palin is responsible for everything the AIP ever believed, everything Dobson ever mentioned, and Bush ever botched. She is responsible for everyone her family has ever read or associated with or been photographed with. Come, my dark forces. Now, now is the time. The emptiness of political discourse knows no bottom to its limitless, fathomless descent.

We have a drinking game where we have to down a shot of tequila whenever an NLT blogger quotes a founding father. So here's to you Mr. Voegoli. Actually, it seems questionable to rustle up some God-quotes from founders and then claim to 'know more' about america. Were they even talking about the same God? The phrase predates W & J by centuries, and seems to provide no secret claim to owning the original intent of the founding documents, or anything else, for that matter. Mythologizing founding documents is like studying the first, discarded stages of one of those saturn rockets in a museum. We marvel at the structure for its time, but smile at its antiquated materials, and can infer little as to the purpose or direction or present orbit of the vehicle it launched.

With any luck this is the 'potatoe' in Ms. Palin's life.

Still, if you're an intern 'Under God' beats the heck out of 'Under Bill.'

Stert-man, Thanks for showing your fair and balanced side.

William: I can't understand why you would try to erase the distinctions between the evangelical end-times-ism of the Wasilla Bible Church and whatever it was that Jefferson and Washington thought worthy of belief or rational assent.

I doubt Jefferson's Bible is part of the WBC library. Nobody is served by ignoring that fact, or by attempting to negate the vast differences between "Nature and Nature's God" and the warrior Jesus of contemporary evangelical christology. Volkstuemlichkeit isn't a good retort.

Dave P., you make so clear how you can come up with your many silly comments.

Brett, are you actually, like David P., saying that the God of the Founders is not the same God as that Sarah Palin or other modern Christians worship? You would be surprised, as I have been over the years, at the variety of theological understanding within American Protestant churches. You can not presume orthodoxy nor consistency now any more than you could then, in the early republic. Among home school mothers explaining belief I have heard echoes of all the old heresies, but who am I to tell those ladies they speak heresy? They have a right to see God as they wish. We guarantee freedom of conscience in America.

It is the same God, even when apprehended differently, as Washington knew and Lincoln did and even Jefferson.

Had Sarah Palin ever been a member of the AIP that would be in her favor. That she spoke to their convention this year via video is in her favor. The centrism of modern two party politics is absolutely stupefying. The AIP elected a Governor of Alaska not too long ago. Ohhh... what a bunch of scary boogie men.

Take a look at the platform of the AIP and please tell me what part of it, as assumed conservatives, you disagree with. The AIP is full of good people if not necessarily politically savvy ones. The AIP is not technically an affiliate of the Constitution Party, but in 2004 they placed the CP presidential nominee, Michael Peroutka on the ballot. This year they are placing CP nominee Chuck Baldwin on the ballot.

My reference to not being savvy is because the secessionist AIP delegation to the CP Convention actually supported Lincoln loving anti-secession Alan Keyes. I tried to point the irony of this out to them, but my pleas fell on death ears.

Re. the Founder's, while there were some big name Deists, the vast majority as far as we know were orthodox (small o) Christians who attended orthodox denominations. Read Bradford's "A Worthy Company" for example.

Re. the Pledge, I actually agree that her statement was a bit embarrassing. While one must tread lightly here, there are significant problems with the Pledge. It was written by a Socialist who felt the country was still not unified enough years after the War to Prevent Southern Independence. The Pledge is arguably quite contrary to the spirit of the Founders. Obviously, the average patriotic Pledge sayer today is not familiar with this background.

Dave, as I note in my "book of the week" "Hurricane of Independence," religion infused most of the Founders' world-view and view of the American Revolution, as well as that of most of the populace.

Their "sacred" liberties were from God, and that is certainly not just from the Declaration. Their Revolution was presented in stark moral terms, with ministers preaching the idea of God-given liberties that must be defended because God was on the side of his Chosen People, liberty, and natural rights, whereas the tyrannical British that violated those rights were on the side of wrong, and even the Devil. Congress held Days of Fasting and Thanksgiving, had a chaplain, and attended religious services around Philadelphia together, while the army, under a commander-in-chief that constantly thanked God's providence for giving the Americans the miracle of victory, had mandatory religious services and chaplains.

The point is, it is hardly "cherry-picking" the Founders and the Revolutionaries to note that the founding of this country was deeply rooted in religion, and it is the modern world that has strayed from their vision of a self-governing republican people that were virtuous primarily because of their religion.

So, have another shot, I guess, while I kick back and sip my single-malt. Cheers!

They have a right to see God as they wish. We guarantee freedom of conscience in America.

Freedom of conscience so long as it doesn't reject the idea of a personal, Providential "God". I long for the day the text on my money or the pledge of my country doesn't remind me of America's lost promise to such a "freedom".

Tony - you didn't mention the founding part where the Puritans come over to escape persecution and kill all the Indians for this great, God-given land of ours. Or how the Spanish believed that the reason all of the Central/Southern Americans were dying when they arrived was because God was helping them (when in fact it was disease . . . But I guess that could be God if you think He's that much of an Asshole). Or maybe you could talk about all of the mounds and mounds of B/S Providential-Christianity rhetoric which supported the holding of slaves and subjugation of pretty much any race of people other than white, Anglo-Europeans. Much of this was before the official "Founding," but I certainly wouldn't exclude it from a real discussion of America's understanding of its place within Jesus's "plan."

How we've all suffered so dearly once we made God and Christianity a marginal (yet still irritating) past-time, instead of an active, constantly "in-your-face" Jesus-patriotism. We are certainly on a steep, moral decline.

One last thing, Tony. You're so bold as to spew silly things like:

while the army, under a commander-in-chief that constantly thanked God's providence for giving the Americans the miracle of victory,

Did he thank God for all the civilians that were killed too? Or was that just the Devil? Did the Brits thank God for victories too? Which side does God pick usually, the good guys (clearly - us) or the bad ones (clearly - anyone else)? I'm hoping what you said was sarcastic, but I'm worried it's not.

Red - yeah. Frances Bellamy, wasn't it? His socialist brother has a great book called "Looking Backwards" that everyone (with an open mind) should read. Interestingly enough, it justifies a lot of socialist economic doctrine with religion (kind of like an American Simone Weil).

Oh, come on. I go along with "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance because I personally don't mind it, although I would not miss its removal because I can be persuaded by arguments over whether or not a secular government can implant such a phrase in the pledge (a debate in one class last year covered the following questions: 1. Can Congress insert Jesus into the Pledge? (General answer: no). 2. Can Congress insert God into the pledge? (Most people yes, but good answers for no too).

But, come on. Adding "God" to the pledge was more of a political stunt to show that we were on the "good" side juxtaposed to the atheistic Soviets than a reach back to Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson. And I doubt that Palin was considering your connection to the Founders when she made that comment.

But, in any event, the GOP should be somewhat happy about this. The Democrats are now seeing the electoral college in this election increasingly in favor of the Republicans, are getting scared, and are pulling whatever they can to try muddy the McCain-Palin ticket as much as they can. It's on the verge of being blatantly desperate.

That was a powerful posting by STERTINIUS.

Clearly evidences a man's disgust with what's going on, for what passes for sophisticated political discourse on the nation's airwaves.

What's been going on for the last 36 hrs is beyond unfortunate.

Wonderful comeback. It's always a pleasure to see another elitest fool skewered. Thanks.

One of the great things about the (dicey) Palin pick is the renewal of cultural warfare. The rabid left, which is far more than a fringe, will stop at nothing to discredit this woman. They may well succeed. We need to fight this one hammer and tongs, which means fighting her detractors by any means necessary. If we win the election, it will mean all the more because it will mean Palin, a serious threat to the left, has been successfully defended, for now.

Kate: You're right, I think: people are all trying to worship the same god. I don't think that means that William's defense of Palin's "informed understanding" was accurate.

Actually, Brett, I wasn't making much comment about Palin, only that the natural rights republic created by the Founders was a pluralistic one that was rooted on virtue and religion if it were to survive being a new order for the ages and never meant for religion to be taken out of the public square. The above just gave many examples of that.

"only that the natural rights republic created by the Founders was a pluralistic one that was rooted on virtue and religion if it were to survive being a new order for the ages and never meant for religion to be taken out of the public square"

Good grief Tony, does anyone really talk like that? What, prey tell, is conservative about a "new order for the ages?" I thought conservatives were supposed to defend the old order. Was our "Revolution" just the French Revolution a few years earlier?

Natural rights republics, if there ever really has been such a creature, may not intend to remove religion from the public square, but they sure intend to neuter it. They place the Church in subordination to the state.

William-your argument here is straight up sophistry; I love it.

All conservatives ultimately defend beliefs that at one time were revolutionary. The American Revolution was a radical event, as Gordon Wood has illustrated.

"The American Revolution was a radical event, as Gordon Wood has illustrated."

Well whether or not that is true is one of the main issues in the paleo/traditionalist vs. neo debate, is it not? You can't just assert its truth.

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