Tag Archives: democracy

The New Attack on Democracy: What the Founders Knew But We’ve Forgotten

constitutionOne of the foundational principles of American democracy is under attack.

When the nation’s Founders crafted the United States Constitution in 1787, they were careful to include a requirement that:

“The Senators and Representatives shall receive a compensation for their services, to be ascertained by law, and paid out of the treasury of the United States.” (Art I, Sec. 6, Clause 1).

A similar provision for compensation applies to the president:

“The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.” (Art II, Sec. 1, Clause 7).

The Founders understood that providing compensation for the new government’s elected officers was not a trivial matter, but an essential and cutting edge principle of the new democracy that they were striving to create — and one that directly and profoundly affected the kind of people who would be willing and able to serve as representatives of the people.

They knew too that no other nation on earth insisted on compensation for its elected officials.

In England, members of parliament as a rule served without pay.  In colonial America, candidates for public office usually followed the practice of their English counterparts and promised to serve without compensation.  In the states themselves, only Pennsylvania provided for “wages” from the “state treasury” to “all lawmakers.”

The Founders knew that this English aristocratic practice of not paying public officers created an enormous disadvantage for less wealthy candidates who could not afford to serve without receiving an adequate income for their efforts.

The Founders did not want public service to be a genteel avocation reserved for men of independent wealth, as it was in England, but wanted instead to create a system in which – as James Madison said – public office would be open to “those who have the most merit and least wealth.”

Fueled by the rhetoric of anti-government and anti-egalitarian demagogues (mostly in or allied with the Republican Party), this foundational and deeply American egalitarian principle is now under attack in this country – especially in California, where voters are responding to the state’s budget crisis by cutting the salaries of legislators and city officials, and where our billionaire governor constantly rails against legislative salaries and supports a 10 percent pay cut in legislative compensation.

But as the Founders knew – and we clearly have forgotten – adequate compensation for public officials is an essential element of a democratic government.

Cutting the salaries of public officials will mean that only the rich will able to serve – and when only the rich can serve, we will have the opposite of the government that Madison envisioned – one in which our representative have “the most wealth and the least merit.”

The Founders would not be pleased that the people are now so willingly – even eagerly – abandoning one of the fundamental principles of the American democracy that they fought to create.

For Memorial Day, 2009: The Lesson of the Four Chaplains, 1943

chapins1

When I was child, my father, a World War II Navy veteran, taught me the story of the four chaplains of the USAT Dorchester.

I thought of the four chaplains during the presidential election when I listened to former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell explain why he endorsed Barack Obama for President of the United States.

In stating why he could not support the candidacy of John McCain, Powell referred to the death of U.S. Army Corporal Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, a 20 year old from Manahawkin, N.J., who was killed in Iraq and to a photograph he had seen of the soldier’s mother pressing her head against his gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery.

The headstone was engraved with the soldier’s name, his military awards (the Purple Heart and Bronze Star), and the Muslim symbol of the crescent and star.

As the New York Times observed, “Powell mentioned Mr. Khan’s death to underscore why he was deeply troubled by Republican personal attacks on Mr. Obama, especially false intimations that he was Muslim. Mr. Obama is a lifelong Christian, not a Muslim, he said. But, he added, ‘The really right answer is, what if he is?’ ‘Is there something wrong with being Muslim in this country? No, that’s not America,’ he said. ‘Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourselves in this way.’ Mr. Powell said that he had heard senior members of the Republican Party ‘drop this suggestion that he [Obama] is a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists.’ ‘Now, John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I’m troubled about the fact that within the party we have these kinds of expressions.’”

General Powell probably thought, too, of the four chaplains of the USAT Dorchester.

4_chaplains_pic_main

On the night of February 3, 1943,United States Army Transport ship Dorchester was en route from Newfoundland to England via Greenland, when it was hit by torpedoes from a German submarine.

The Dorchester listed sharply to starboard and began to sink almost immediately into the icy water.  The ship was overcrowded and there were insufficient lifeboats or lifejackets for the 904 men on board.

As the Dorchester sank, the  ship’s four U.S. Army chaplains aided the wounded, helped get the men into lifeboats and then gave up their own lifejackets when the supply ran out.

A survivor later explained:

“As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up high and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the four chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.”

As the ship went down, survivors in nearby lifeboats could see the four chaplains – their arms linked and braced against the slanting deck. Their voices could also be heard offering prayers.

Twenty-seven minutes after the torpedoes hit, the Dorchester was gone.

The four U.S. Army chaplains were:

Lt. George L. Fox, age 42, Methodist.
Lt. Alexander D. Goode, age 32, Jewish.
Lt. John P. Washington, age 34, Roman Catholic.
Lt. Clark V. Poling, age 32, Reformed Church in America.

According to the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation, the lesson of their sacrifice is “unity without uniformity” and “selfless service to humanity without regard to race, creed, ethnicity, or religious beliefs.”

My father had a simpler lesson to teach me:  We are all Americans.

In a speech on in Fayetteville, North Carolina, near Fort Bragg, Barack Obama said that “The men and women from Fayetteville and all across America who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats or Republicans or independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag, They have not served a red America or a blue America. They have served the United States of America.”

(This post was originally published, in a slightly different form, on October 19, 2008.)

A Day to Remember

Before I be a slave
I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free.

 Greyhound bus with 14 members of an interracial group that was part of the Freedom Ride, firebombed on May 14, 1961, outside Anniston, Ala.

Greyhound bus with 14 members of an interracial group that was part of the Freedom Ride, firebombed on May 14, 1961, outside Anniston, Ala.

It’s appropriate on Election Day to remember and thank those who made the ultimate sacrifice in our military service to secure and protect the rights that we exercise today. 

Those who died in military service are not the only heroes we should remember and thank on this special and historic Election Day.

Today let us also remember and thank those whose sacrifice in the civil rights movement made this amazing day possible for all of us:

addiemaecollins2Louis Allen — A farmer shot on Jan. 31, 1964, in Liberty, Miss., after witnessing the murder of Herbert Lee, a civil rights worker.

Willie Brewster — A factory worker who died on July 16, 1965, in Anniston, Ala., from a nightrider’s bullet.

Benjamin Brown — A truck driver and civil rights worker killed on May 12, 1967, when police fired on demonstrators in Jackson, Miss.

Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman

Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman

James Chaney — A civil rights worker abducted and shot at point-blank range on June 21, 1964, by Klan members in Philadelphia, Miss.

Addie Mae Collins — A schoolgirl killed on Sept. 15, 1963, in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.

Vernon Dahmer

Vernon Dahmer

Vernon Dahmer — A community leader who died on Jan. 10, 1966, from a firebomb in Hattiesburg, Miss., after volunteering to pay black voters’ poll taxes.

Jonathan Daniels — A seminary student shot on Aug. 14, 1965, by a deputy sheriff in Hayneville, Ala.

Henry H. Dee — A civil rights volunteer abducted, beaten and thrown into the Mississippi River by the Klan in Natchez, Miss., on May 2, 1964.

Cpl. Roman Ducksworth Jr. — A military policeman shot to death on April 9, 1962, in Taylorsville, Miss., after refusing a police order to sit in the back of the bus.

Willie Edwards Jr. — A deliveryman killed on Jan. 23, 1957, near Montgomery, Ala., when the Klan forced him to jump from a bridge into the Alabama River.

Medgar Evers

Medgar Evers

Medgar Evers — Civil rights leader shot on June 12, 1963, in the driveway of his home in Jackson, Miss.

Andrew Goodman — A civil rights worker abducted and shot at point-blank range by the Klan on June 21, 1964, in Philadelphia, Miss.

Paul Guihard — A French news reporter shot in the back on Sept. 30, 1962, during racist riots at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss.

Samuel Hammond Jr. — A South Carolina college student fatally shot on Feb. 8, 1968, when police fired on demonstrators in Orangeburg, S.C.

Jimmie Lee Jackson — A farmer who died on Feb. 18, 1965, after being beaten and shot in the stomach by state troopers following a march in Selma, Ala.

Wharlest Jackson — NAACP treasurer in Natches, Miss., killed on Feb. 18, 1965, by a bomb after his promotion to a job once reserved for whites.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — Famed civil rights leader assassinated on April 4, 1968, during an organized campaign by garbage workers in Memphis, Tenn.

Bruce Klunder

Bruce Klunder

Rev. Bruce Klunder — A minister from Cleveland, Ohio, run over by a bulldozer April 7, 1964, while protesting a segregated school.

Rev. George Lee — A minister in Belzoni, Miss.,who died on May 7, 1955, of gunshot wounds after organizing a voter-registration drive.

Herbert Lee — A cotton farmer and voter registration organizer who was shot in the head on Sept. 25, 1961, by a white state legislator in Liberty, Miss.

Viola Gregg Liuzzo — A civil rights worker from Detroit fatally shot in the head on March 25, 1965, by Klan members near Selma, Ala.

Viola Liuzzo

Viola Liuzzo

Denise McNair — A schoolgirl killed on Sept. 15, 1963, in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

Delano H. Middleton — A high school student fatally shot on Feb. 8, 1968, when police fired on demonstrators in Orangeburg, S.C.

Charles E. Moore — A civil rights volunteer abducted, beaten and thrown into the Mississippi River by the Klan near Natchez, Miss., on May 2, 1964, .

Oneal Moore — A deputy sheriff fatally shot after his nightly patrol on June 2, 1965, during an ambush by nightriders near Varnado, La.

William Moore — A mail carrier from Baltimore shot on April 23, 1963, in Attala, Ala., during his one-man march against segregation.

Lt. Col. Lemuel Penn — A U.S. Army reservist fatally shot on July 11, 1964, by the Klan while driving near Colbert, Ga.

James Reeb

James Reeb

Rev. James Reeb — A minister from Boston beaten to death on Mar. 11, 1965, on the streets of Selma, Ala., during a civil rights march.

John Earl Reese — A teenager slain Oct. 22, 1955, by nightriders who opposed improvements on a black school in Mayflower, Texas.

Carole Robertson — A schoolgirl killed on Sept. 15, 1963, in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

Michael Schwener — A civil rights worker abducted and shot at point-blank range by the Klan on June 21, 1964, in Philadelphia, Miss.

Henry E. Smith — A South Carolina college student fatally shot on Feb. 8, 1968, when police fired shotguns at demonstrators in Orangeburg, S.C.

Lamar Smith — A farmer fatally shot on Aug. 13, 1955, in broad daylight in Brookhaven, Miss., after organizing black voters.

Clarence Triggs — A bricklayer shot in the head on July 30, 1966, by nightriders in Bogalusa, La.

Cynthia Wesley — A schoolgirl killed on Sept. 15, 1963, in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

Ben Chester White — A caretaker shot on June 10, 1966, by Klan members in Natchez, Miss.

Samuel Younge

Samuel Younge

Samuel Younge Jr. — A college student shot on Jan. 3, 1966, by a Tuskegee, Ala., gas station attendant following a dispute over a ‘whites-only’ restroom.

Oh-o freedom
Oh-o freedom
Oh freedom over me, over me
And before I be a slave
I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
.

The Lesson of the Four Chaplains, 1943

chapins1

When I was child, my father, a World War II Navy veteran, taught me the story of the four chaplains of the USAT Dorchester.

I thought of the four chaplains when I listened to former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell explain why he endorsed Barack Obama for President of the United States.

In stating why he could not support the candidacy of John McCain, Powell referred to the death of U.S. Army Corporal Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, a 20 year old from Manahawkin, N.J., who was killed in Iraq and to a photograph he had seen of the soldier’s mother pressing her head against his gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery.

The headstone was engraved with the soldier’s name, his military awards (the Purple Heart and Bronze Star), and the Muslim symbol of the crescent and star.

As the New York Times observed, “Powell mentioned Mr. Khan’s death to underscore why he was deeply troubled by Republican personal attacks on Mr. Obama, especially false intimations that he was Muslim. Mr. Obama is a lifelong Christian, not a Muslim, he said. But, he added, ‘The really right answer is, what if he is?’ ‘Is there something wrong with being Muslim in this country? No, that’s not America,’ he said. ‘Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourselves in this way.’ Mr. Powell said that he had heard senior members of the Republican Party ‘drop this suggestion that he [Obama] is a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists.’ ‘Now, John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I’m troubled about the fact that within the party we have these kinds of expressions.’”

General Powell probably thought, too, of the four chaplains of the USAT Dorchester.

4_chaplains_pic_main

On the night of February 3, 1943,United States Army Transport ship Dorchester was en route from Newfoundland to England via Greenland, when it was hit by torpedoes from a German submarine.

The Dorchester listed sharply to starboard, and then began to sink almost immediately into the icy water.  The ship was overcrowded and there were insufficient lifeboats or lifejackets for the 904 men on board.

As the Dorchester sank, the  ship’s four U.S. Army chaplains aided the wounded, helped get the men into lifeboats and then gave up their own lifejackets when the supply ran out.

A survivor later explained:

“As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up high and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the four chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.”

As the ship went down, survivors in nearby lifeboats could see the four chaplains – their arms linked and braced against the slanting deck. Their voices could also be heard offering prayers.

Twenty-seven minutes after the torpedoes hit, the Dorchester was gone.

The four U.S. Army chaplains were:

Lt. George L. Fox, age 42, Methodist.
Lt. Alexander D. Goode, age 32, Jewish.
Lt. John P. Washington, age 34, Roman Catholic.
Lt. Clark V. Poling, age 32, Reformed Church in America.

According to the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation, the lesson of their sacrifice is “unity without uniformity” and “selfless service to humanity without regard to race, creed, ethnicity, or religious beliefs.”

stamp1

My father had a simpler lesson to teach me:  We are all Americans.

In a speech on Sunday in Fayetteville, North Carolina, near Fort Bragg, Barack Obama said that “The men and women from Fayetteville and all across America who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats or Republicans or independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag, They have not served a red America or a blue America. They have served the United States of America.”

Amen.

Like General Powell, when I cast my vote for Barack Obama in November, I’ll be thinking about Corporal Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan.

And I’ll also be thinking about the four chaplains — Lieutenants George L. Fox, Alexander D. Goode, John P. Washington, and Clark V. Poling — arms linked and prayng together on the deck of the USAT Dorchester in 1943.