July 3, 2011
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Yes, that was I standing before the U.S. Embassy in Athens on the eve of the July Fourth weekend holding the American flag in the distress mode — upside down.
Indignities experienced by me and my co-guests on “The Audacity of Hope,” the American boat to Gaza, over the past ten days in Athens leave no doubt in my mind that Barack Obama’s administration has forfeited the right to claim any lineage to the brave Americans who declared independence from the king of England 235 years ago.
In the Declaration of Independence, they pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to a new enterprise of freedom, democracy and the human spirit. The outcome was far from assured; likely as not, the hangman’s noose awaited them. They knew that all too well.
But they had a genuine audacity to hope that the majority of their countrymen and women, persuaded by Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and the elegant words of Thomas Jefferson, would conclude that the goal of liberty and freedom was worth the risk, that it was worth whatever the cost.
These days we have been seduced into thinking that such principles have become “quaint” or “obsolete” – words used by President George W. Bush’s White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to make light of important international agreements like the Geneva Conventions.
As every American should know, and remember, the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence were based on the firm belief that ALL men are created equal, that they have UNALIENABLE rights — among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Not just “all Americans,” mind you, but all people. The Declaration of Independence was meant to be a statement expressing the “self-evident” rights of all mankind. Those principles had a universality that was a beacon to the world.
True, American democracy and, indeed, the Founders themselves were far from perfect. In the early decades of the Republic, basic rights were denied to women, to black slaves, to Native Americans and to many of the poor. But Americans worked on building that “more perfect union” and are still working on it.
Justice was always at the heart of the American ideal. That we still have a long way to go in securing that justice must not be allowed to obscure the fact that ours is a noble and courageous experiment. Or at least it was.
That President Barack Obama would have popularized the phrase “audacity of hope,” after which we named our boat, now seems a cruel hoax, particularly as many of us recalled the high hopes we had once harbored for Obama the candidate. Instead of an “audacity of hope,” Obama the president has often displayed a “paucity of courage.”
But it’s not just Obama. Sadly, all too many of Americans now think of the sacred principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence as applying to Americans, but not to many others — like the 1.6 million people locked in the narrow confines of Gaza.
The tendency is to think of ourselves as “exceptional” — so special that we need not care about suffering elsewhere in the world, including the suffering enabled by our own tax dollars.
It is also sad that many U.S. politicians — from the Chief Executive to members of Congress — have been seduced by money and political expediency into disregarding our first president’s farewell address, George Washington’s warning to avoid what he called “entangling alliances” and a “passionate attachment” to goals of another country.
At the time, it was France that Washington had in mind. Today, the “entangling alliance” and “passionate attachment” relate to Israel. Common values are adduced to try to justify conflating U.S. objectives and actions with the goals and behavior of our “ally,” Israel.