No Comment — July 3, 2007, 2:46 pm

A Message for July the Fourth

I read the columns of my Doppelgänger, Glenn Greenwald, over at Salon compulsively and often find myself wondering why he’s scribbling the thoughts that went through my mind earlier in the day. His piece this morning is perfect, and it’s just the note for the important commemoration on the threshold of which we now stand: Independence Day.

This is the time for all of us to pause and think – Where is our country headed? How did it come loose from the moorings of its Founders? What can we, as engaged citizens, do to resurrect their cause and concept? I have pulled out for today and the coming week some thoughts of the Founders that seem to me to be close to our problems and that merit being thought over with some care.

Benjamin Franklin’s great speech from near the close of the Constitutional Convention is up for today. He shows the wisdom of his age in a commitment to skepticism, knowing that no one, no matter how sage (and in this there was no competitor for Franklin) can know everything – that modesty is a becoming virtue. He tells us that a government of limited powers is an important thing, but that we must all approach the new nation with a spirit of compromise and good will towards our fellow citizens, a commitment to the core values of a democracy, and a recognition of our own limitations. If we cannot do this, the slide towards a despotic government will be inevitable and unstoppable. Franklin’s vision was defining for the country that emerged from that convention, and his warning was also well taken – he saw the challenge and how it had to be confronted. And the slide he foresaw is now well advanced.

And now Glenn Greenwald (faulty orthography corrected):

The political press — the function of which was envisioned by the Founders to investigate and hold accountable the most politically powerful — now fulfill the exact oppose purpose in our country. They are slavishly protective of our highest political officials, and adversarial only to those who investigate, oppose and seek to hold those officials accountable. Hence, in official Washington, the Real Villains are Patrick Fitzgerald, Ken Silverstein, Russ Feingold and his Censure resolution, Pat Leahy and his disruptive subpoenas — our Beltway elite reserves their venom for those who want to turn the lights on what our most powerful political officials are doing.

What kind of country do we expect to have when we have a ruling Washington class that believes that they and their fellow members of the Beltway elite constitute a separate class, one that resides above and beyond the law? That is plainly what they believe. And we now have exactly the country that one would expect would emerge from a political culture shaped by such a deeply insulated, corrupt and barren royal court.

In Federalist No. 70, Alexander Hamilton described the defining power of the King which made the British monarchy intolerably corrupt: “In England, the king is a perpetual magistrate; and it is a maxim which has obtained for the sake of the public peace, that he is unaccountable for his administration, and his person sacred.” Thomas Paine proclaimed in Common Sense “that so far as we approve of monarch, that in America THE LAW IS KING.” But little effort is required to see how far removed we now are from those basic principles.

Yesterday, Bush commuted the sentence of his felonious national security advisor, Scooter Libby. Today, he has Tony Snow announce that he may yet extend this to a full pardon. Bush justifies this by Libby’s long career of public service. On the other hand, on Friday in Montgomery, Alabama, a judge appointed by Bush sentenced a former Governor, Democrat Don Siegelman, to over seven years in prison, noting that he had lengthened the sentence because of Siegelman’s long career of public service. These two deeds, and indeed the juxtaposition of them, demonstrates the farce that has been made of justice in the Bush Administration. No longer can we say with Paine that “The law is King” in America. Rather it is the old motto of Charles I, the Stuart tyrant who provoked the Civil War: “Rex est lex,” namely “The King is law.” No patriot should be silent in the face of his contempt shown to our institutions.

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Many comedians consider stand-up the purest form of comedy; Doug Stanhope considers it the freest. “Once you do stand-up, it spoils you for everything else,” he says. “You’re the director, performer, and producer.” Unlike most of his peers, however, Stanhope has designed his career around exploring that freedom, which means choosing a life on the road. Perhaps this is why, although he is extremely ambitious, prolific, and one of the best stand-ups performing, so many Americans haven’t heard of him. Many comedians approach the road as a means to an end: a way to develop their skills, start booking bigger venues, and, if they’re lucky, get themselves airlifted to Hollywood. But life isn’t happening on a sit-com set or a sketch show — at least not the life that has interested Stanhope. He isn’t waiting to be invited to the party; indeed, he’s been hosting his own party for years.

Because of the present comedy boom, civilians are starting to hear about Doug Stanhope from other comedians like Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, and Louis CK. But Stanhope has been building a devoted fan base for the past two decades, largely by word of mouth. On tour, he prefers the unencumbered arrival and the quick exit: cheap motels where you can pull the van up to the door of the room and park. He’s especially pleased if there’s an on-site bar, which increases the odds of hearing a good story from the sort of person who tends to drink away the afternoon in the depressed cities where he performs. Stanhope’s America isn’t the one still yammering on about its potential or struggling with losing hope. For the most part, hope is gone. On Word of Mouth, his 2002 album, he says, “America may be the best country, but that’s like being the prettiest Denny’s waitress. Just because you’re the best doesn’t make you good.”

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