Sunday, September 22, 2002

This is what else I'm talking about tonight:

I never read the Smithsonian, even though my in-laws buy us a subscription for Christmas every year. I started flipping through this month's issue, though, searching for the article on "The Oldest City in the Americas." I never made it there, because I got sidetracked reading "Latino Legacies."

Okay, I get that the Institution is trying to do the right thing and be more inclusive, so I guess I shouldn't bitch at them. But, three sentences into the article, I was already shaking my head.

"Too often we forget: the history of the United States may date formally from 1776, but the history of America was already centuries old by then. There was a Hispanic presence on the continent for more than 200 years before 13 colonies on the eastern coast declared their independence from England. Indeed, the Spaniards wasted little time in colonizing the new territories Columbus revealed with his voyages. They had already claimed portions of Central and South America when, in 1565, they established St. Augustine, Florida, the first permanent settlement in territory that would one day be part of the United States."

I kept reading, thinking surely the author would eventually get around to saying something about the indigenous people, but it never happened. So, according to the Smithsonian, history began when Europeans colonized the Americas. That is so fucked. Didn't this guy have to read Bartolome de las Casas in college? My freshman history students weren't that clueless.

An unrelated observation: I just finished reading an article on John C. Calhoun ("He Started the Civil War" was the subtitle). The more I read about the Civil War, the more insight I gain into contemporary politics. It's kind of interesting that most Americans know less about the Civil War than they do about...well, Americans don't know much about anything in history, but that's not the point. The point is, none of us know anything about the Civil War, but it's not all that difficult to draw a direct path from the war through Reconstruction into the 20th c. and up to today.

The debate between state's rights v. federal power resonates today. I'm generally a federalist, but every once in awhile, I hear myself saying things that make me sound like a Republican agitating for state's rights. Then this evening I read Calhoun's arguments for "state interposition," and it makes me a little uneasy. Jefferson and Madison wrote up the first argument for state interposition to protest something or other they didn't like, basing their argument on the social contract theory of Hobbes and Locke (which, generally speaking, I don't have too much of a problem with). But the basic argument was that "because representatives of the States had written the constitution, the power of constitutional interpretation rested with the states. So if a state believed the federal gov't was violating the terms of the national charter, it had the right to interpose itself between its people and the federal gov't to provide protection from tyranny."

The article goes on to summarize Calhoun's interpretation of Jefferson and Madison. He claims that "the Constitution of the United States is, in fact, a compact, to which each State is a party...[since] the States...formed the compact, acting as Sovereign and independent communities..., the several States, or parties, have a right to judge of its infractions."

The scary part is, this actually makes sense to me. I haven't completely thought it through, or even read Calhoun's entire manifesto (A Disquisition on Government), but state interposition doesn't sound like such a misreading of the Constitution as it stood in the beginning of the 19th c. It's troublesome to suddenly start sympathizing with Southern politics. I liked it better when I was in high school and we were taught, "Hey, the South sucks. End of story."

What I really find interesting is how much of the state right's v. federal power argument still lingers today. My family are rabid state's rights supporters, while I tend toward wanting a strong (and hey, not corrupt and full of crooks) federal gov't. What would the U.S. look like if power was decentralized and handed back to State legislatures? Would we end up Balkanized and at war with our neighboring states, or could we have evolved into a loose confederacy like the EU? Inquiring minds want to know.

10:27 PM

Okay, even though I haven't seen the movie, this is what I'm talking about, kids.
9:11 PM

Ah, but happiness is a new bottle of benadryl.
6:16 PM

C'est vrai--on days that I actually sit down and focus on the task at hand, I end up with nothing to complain about in my journal.

No comments: