Friday, October 01, 2010

Take Back Our Country?

I am puzzled. A cry I hear a lot these days is--it's time to take back our country. And I wonder--what? who? did someone "take" your country? What are you talking about?

Let's review a few things. In 2000 we had a presidential election. The popular vote was 50,999,897 for Al Gore, and 50,456,002 for George Bush. The eventual electoral college vote was 271* for Bush and 266 for Gore. I have heard conservatives at various times say that people such as me should "just get over it"--the fact that the squeakingest close election in U.S. history was eventually decided by a vote of 9 people, with the vote 5 to 4. Get over it.

OK--I got over it. Well, not really--but I lived with it. For eight L-O-N-G years. But I never once shouted that we have to TAKE BACK OUR COUNTRY. I assumed the democratic process does work and would work.

Then, we had another presidential election with new players. This time around the popular vote was 69,456,897 for Obama, and 59,934,814 for McCain. The electoral college vote was 365 for Obama, and 173 for McCain. No need to go to the vote of 9 people.

I believe that's called "democracy"--vox populi. The voice of the people.

So, now when I hear these cries for "take our country back" I want to know--from whom? From me? Because I voted for Obama. And I believe I was VERY much in the majority.

Of course, there is a subtext here, and it turns the cries to a more sinister bent. Do you remember when the whole affair of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. kicked up a bit more than a year ago? I wrote about it

One of the subtexts in this story was that a black man was standing outside a really nice house, and it looked like he was breaking into the house. What was a black man doing in that neighborhood? Well, friends, I am sorry to say, the same subtext runs through this cry "take back our country." What is that black man doing in that neighborhood?

Oh, the people crying take back the country won't admit that they feel this way. In fact, some have even had the temerity to claim that Obama is the racist. (!) But, that is surely part of what this fuss is all about.

I just got done reading the book The Help. It's not a great book, but it is a page-turner, and it has some cogent observations about the way black and white folk interacted in the south 50 years ago. I am now reading a history of the development of Atlantic City (the basis for the new HBO series Boardwalk Empire). That book makes it plain that Atlantic City could not have become the resort it was without black help, yet blacks were expected to keep in "their place."

You can almost hear some of the same logic (or lack thereof) working in the anger directed at "Mexican" immigrants. It is hugely ironic that the website Take Back Our Country uses a stylized image of the Statue of Liberty's torch. (I am NOT going to link their website--if you really want to see it, you can find it.)

Maybe the folks who run the Tea Party, or who want to "take back our country" have forgotten what this country is all about.

So, here's a reminder.

It's about democracy--the people speak when they elect a president.
It's about the yearning to be free--that's why immigrants come here. Not so they can "drop" babies, but so they can be free.

Emma Lazarus captured part of the essence of this country when she wrote "The New Colossus."

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

This poem is engraved on a plaque that is placed at the base of the Statue of Liberty. So, people who want to "take our country back"--you may want to change what you stand for, or tear down the Statue of Liberty.

Oh, and just a little word--it's MY country too.

* A presidential candidate needs 270 electoral college votes to be declared "the winner."


Anvilcloud said...

Great piece, KGM.

Peruby said...


Anonymous said...


When W was president, I rarely felt that he was making any attempt at all to be MY president, too. He always played to his base and laughed about doing so. I am still shocked as to how easily he managed to take us into a war that many of us felt was wrong. BUT, in all that time, I never wanted to join an anti-government militia, never tried to organize a hate rally, never wanted to secede.

The blind hatred is horrifying. One has only to look at the latest revelation about the syphilis tests in Tuskegee, Alabama (and of course the new revelations about the one in Guatemala) to understand why segments of the population have reason to distrust the government. But not the group that's doing all the screaming--those who rant and threaten because we elected an intelligent black man as president.
Good grief.
I'm with you... take back the country to WHAT?!?!

Jayne said...

Amen. It's all been so very sad to me. Truly. Just sad.

toto said...


The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Elections wouldn't be about winning states. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. Every vote would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

Now, policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes--that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action, without federal constitutional amendments.

The bill has been endorsed or voted for by 1,922 state legislators (in 50 states) who have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado-- 68%, Iowa --75%, Michigan-- 73%, Missouri-- 70%, New Hampshire-- 69%, Nevada-- 72%, New Mexico-- 76%, North Carolina-- 74%, Ohio-- 70%, Pennsylvania -- 78%, Virginia -- 74%, and Wisconsin -- 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Alaska -- 70%, DC -- 76%, Delaware --75%, Maine -- 77%, Nebraska -- 74%, New Hampshire --69%, Nevada -- 72%, New Mexico -- 76%, Rhode Island -- 74%, and Vermont -- 75%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas --80%, Kentucky -- 80%, Mississippi --77%, Missouri -- 70%, North Carolina -- 74%, and Virginia -- 74%; and in other states polled: California -- 70%, Connecticut -- 74% , Massachusetts -- 73%, Minnesota -- 75%, New York -- 79%, Washington -- 77%, and West Virginia- 81%.

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas (6), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), The District of Columbia (3), Maine (4), Michigan (17), Nevada (5), New Mexico (5), New York (31), North Carolina (15), and Oregon (7), and both houses in California (55), Colorado (9), Hawaii (4), Illinois (21), New Jersey (15), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (12), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), and Washington (11). The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Washington. These six states possess 73 electoral votes -- 27% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


Anonymous said...

Yea, what she said!

Ginnie said...

Thanks for your entry. I agree emphatically. I dread to think of what our country will become if "they" have their wish. I was so thrilled to actually see a black statesman become our President. He has more courage, wisdom and empathy for the middle class than we've seen in a very long time.

possumlady said...

Amen!!! I get SO frustrated watching the news and the right wing nut jobs saying that "Americans want their country back" I always shout to the TV "you are NOT speaking for ME!"

Climenheise said...

As an Amnerican-Canadian I comment a bit reluctantly. Part of what I grieve in the southern-most of my two countries is the rancour that has developed between Republicans and Democrats. The movement to "take back our country" is evidence of that rancour -- as is the disrespect towards George W Bush that I heard from some Demcratic friends in the years before. It is not a simple balancing of extremists on both sides, with some few sane voices in the middle. At the moment I hear more from the extreme right than from anywhere else. But what has gotten lost on both sides is the ability or the desire to actually hear the othr person with any degree of understanding or respect.

I think you're right, Donna, that many object at some subconscious and visceral level to the image of a Black man in th3e White House. (Why do we call him "black" when he is half-white? No sense in that!) There are real differences in policies -- which could be the substance of a fruitful debate on the future of the country -- but what drives our elections more than any real conversation about policy direction is a significant level of bitterness and mistrust across the board.

I hope you get it all together down there. There's lots of room here in Manitoba for many of you, but I doubt that you'd like the cold weather!

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I often wonder if the Tea Party crowd have studied any American history, read the Constitution and the other wonderful founding documents of your country. I also wonder if many of them understand the moral imperatives of Christianity. If they did they would treat their fellow countrymen better and ask their government to do more for the poor and oppressed which the system has left behind.

Your country has had many historical warts as most countries have, along with a spectacular vison of the possibilies for a country. Slowly many of them have been overcome. In recent years It seems progress has been stalled. In fact there is a move to return to another time filled with mean spirited individualism and laissez-faire principles which serves a few and punishes the many.
Some of this is racism from which every society my struggle to purge itself.

Climenheise said...

My own guess is that the "mean spirited individualism" Tossing Pebbles notes comes less from our past than from Ayn Rand and her disciples in the modern era. Canada has our share of such thinking, but it takes quite different forms. Perhaps our national courtesy serves as a check on it?

Nance said...

This is truly an excellent post and I want to share it. I think I missed it because we were traveling (still are), but I'm really glad I got here to read it.

It says so well what I have pondered on myself, what I surmise, and what I fear. I'm passing this one along to my friends at Swash Zone and hope you don't mind.

Nance said...

In fact, I would like permission to rep-post this piece in its entirety to The Swash Zone. Check them out at and let me know if you are willing, please.

KGMom said...

I would have sent an email, but didn't know it.
Thanks for the compliments.

Capt. Fogg said...

I don't think there ever was a time when the US lived up to it's much bragged about standards. Immigrants have always been despised by slightly less recent immigrants. The Know Nothings, the Chinese exclusion laws -- actual campaigns of extermination against minorities and of course the Indians. We were one of the last to give up slavery in the world, one of the last democracies to allow women to vote and our history of violence is hard to match anywhere.

I could go on for days about how we jabber about 'freedom' and ignore the fact that other countries share more if it then we have, but I won't. I'll just remind us of who it was that stood in the way of it all - barred the Golden Door and stood up for all the ugly hypocrisy and who still do -- the American Right who want to "take back" what they lost in the Civil war and to the Civil rights advances of the 20th century.

They'll take it back only when they can pry it loose from my cold, dead fingers.