Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tommclaughlin@fairpoint.net

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

When Citizens Are Ready, Leaders Appear


“When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

Attributed variously to Confucianism, Buddhism or Taoism, the phrase resonates in several aspects of my late-middle-age life. As a veteran teacher, I know there’s truth in it. If the student isn’t ready, and many of my charges each year are not, it’s my job to entice, cajole, stimulate, or arouse them - but I cannot force anyone to learn. I cannot successfully impose my will on anybody else either. Using raw power may appear to work temporarily, but if the subject of my efforts cannot be convinced that my ideas are best for him or her, they will inevitably backfire and the situation will be worse than if I had left it alone.

I’ve accepted this only after years of stubbornly trying as teacher, father, husband, friend, and citizen to force things. In the case of young children, the mentally handicapped, the violently insane, or criminals, it’s necessary to restrain them lest they hurt themselves or others, but for everyone else? Best leave them alone to learn for themselves. When three-year-olds say “I want to do it myself!” it’s best to let them - even if it will take longer, won’t work as well and will make a mess. That’s true for citizens as well. It’s always better to let people do for themselves than have government do anything for them.

The Founding Fathers who wrote our Constitution knew these things and incorporated them into their plan of government - which they saw as a necessary evil that should be kept as small as possible so it would interfere as little as possible with the way people choose to live. In the Preamble they said their intentions were to: “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” Those “blessings of liberty” were spelled out two years later in the Bill of Rights. Beyond that, government should not go. If the Founders’ intention to strictly limit government weren’t plain enough, the 10th Amendment was their final statement: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Leftist Democrat do-gooders now running our government don’t understand this. They’re determined to “save” us when we want to be left alone. They’re convinced they know better than we do what’s best for us. In his column last Sunday, George Will described them well:

"Even more than the New Deal and the Great Society, Obama's agenda expresses the mentality of a class that was nascent in the 1930s but burgeoned in the 1960s and 1970s. The spirit of that class is described in Saul Bellow's 1975 novel ‘Humboldt's Gift.’ In it Bellow wrote that the modern age began when a particular class of people decided, excitedly, that life had ‘lost the ability to arrange itself’:
‘It had to be arranged. Intellectuals took this as their job. ... This arranging has been the one great gorgeous tantalizing misleading disastrous project. A man like Humboldt, inspired, shrewd, nutty, was brimming over with the discovery that the human enterprise, so grand and infinitely varied, had now to be managed by exceptional persons. He was an exceptional person, therefore he was an eligible candidate for power.’”
Exceptional leftists are in power now, and they’ve been vigorously arranging our lives since last January. Now they’re flabbergasted to learn their constituents are pissed at them. Judging from expressions on their faces as voters express exasperation in town hall meetings, they seem to be thinking: “If you only knew how exceptionally smart and nice I am, you wouldn’t talk to me that way.” That’s how Congressman Jim Baird looked when a constituent named David William Hedrick said angrily: “It’s not your right to decide whether I keep my current [medical] plan or not.”

Although invited, my congressmen and senators didn’t attend a townhall meeting organized Tuesday night and attended by 450 constituents in central Maine. Senator Olympia Snowe and Congressman Mike Michaud were “too busy.” Senator Susan Collins didn’t even respond and voters voiced frustrations at photographs.

As I said in my column two weeks ago, something big is brewing out there. It’s grassroots uprising of people telling government “Stop! We want to do it ourselves!” They’re sick of intellectuals arranging everything for everybody with their money. Obama promised to heal red state/blue state divisions, but that isn’t happening. After only a few short months of his presidency, citizens in many states are trying to pull the 10th Amendment out of mothballs and nullify federal efforts to usurp state and popular sovereignty. Texas governor Jim Perry has even mentioned secession.

It’s true that when the student is ready the teacher appears. It’s also true that when citizens are ready, leaders appear. The 2010 elections are going to be very interesting indeed.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Searching For Perfection


Some adolescent thought patterns have become a little bit clearer to me after decades of teaching history to idealistic teenagers. For example, many start perceiving their parents’ flaws and their disdain for those flaws sometimes manifests as rebellion. Having heretofore seen their parents as perfect, the newly-perceived foibles often become magnified. Then they see defects in everybody and figure there’s no point in trying to improve anymore because perfection is unattainable. Others rebel because they still believe humans can achieve perfection both as individuals and, collectively, as a society - and become intolerant of anything less. They will roll their eyes in disapproval and walk fifty paces behind parents in public. Criticism of parental blemishes becomes quite fashionable with their peers.

By their twenties, most lighten up on their parents as they accept that no human is perfect, but persist in their belief that a perfect society is attainable. If their government doesn’t successfully anticipate all difficulties, for example, or doesn’t fix them immediately after they occur, then it’s incompetent in their eyes. At this point, their acidic parental disdain is transfered to their imperfect government and it’s fashionable to run it down. Yet they persist in thinking flawed people can create a flawless method of ruling society in which everyone is nice and generous works hard for the good of everyone else. All get whatever they need - free education, health care, housing, food, transportation - and government pays for it all by taxing those who produce the most. It’s a socialist pipe dream of course, but a persistent one among liberals young and old.

Liberals don’t consider themselves communists, but will speak of it wistfully and belief in the communist ideal of “From each according to his ability, and to each, according to his need,” dies hard. Although communism has failed miserably wherever it’s been tried, that’s only because it wasn’t applied properly, they insist. If only the right people had been in charge, it would have worked nicely.

The optimistic enthusiasm of youth is valuable for our culture and energizing for us all. Every society needs it, and it's one of the things that keeps this old teacher coming back each year. As Winston Churchill said: “If you’re not a liberal when you’re twenty, you have no heart. If you’re still a liberal when you’re forty, you have no brain.” Youthful idealism has its place and works best when it’s guided by the wisdom of experience. When I teach students about today’s political spectrum, for example, and explain that I used to be liberal and now I’m conservative, they ask what made me change. My short answer is: “I grew up.”

Thankfully, the Constitution creating our republic was written by men who had grown up, and that’s why it has lasted this long. A guiding principle as they wrote was their conviction that humans are flawed, and exercise of government power must be checked and balanced and decentralized - and, that people will be most productive when pursuing our own happiness.

The curriculum I’m responsible to teach is 20th century US History and one of the strongest dynamics in that hundred years is the struggle between our free enterprise system and the rise of communism. In the second half of the century, the Cold War was its principal dynamic. To help them understand communism’s appeal, I use The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Communism, which starts by describing utopian communes springing up and dying out in Europe and America in the mid-19th century. Among these were Shakers, Amana communities, Rappites, Brook Farm, Oneida, and others. Some lasted many decades and others were flashes in the pan, but all diminished to the point of extinction, or close to it. There’s only one remnant, for example, of Shakers in Poland, Maine, not far from where I teach. Presented are many different examples of how flawed people attempted to create perfect societies. When during the 20th century communism was attempted on a grand scale in the Soviet Union, it collapsed dramatically after seven decades. In China, it’s morphing into a government-controlled capitalism.

A few students each year think communism could never be a realistic method of running a country. They intuit the classic criticism that it sounds good, but won’t work because people will not push themselves much when the benefit of their labor goes to others. Playing devil’s advocate, I’ll point out that their parents’ labor is mostly for their benefit, and that fact gives them pause. They eventually conclude that, outside a family, communist ideas are not feasible. At this point, they’re ready to accept Winston Churchill’s declaration that: “Democracy is a the worst form of government, except for all those others that have been tried.”

The young liberals I teach have a lot of heart and I’m looking forward to another crop of them next month. Meanwhile, I find myself wishing, as Churchill did in his time, that the older ones now running our government had more brains.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Something Big Is Brewing Out There


Something big is brewing out there. People are stirring. Perhaps the elections of 2006 and 2008 weren’t so bad if Americans can see now what happens when the left takes over government. A backlash is forming sooner and stronger than I expected. Though I’m not sure what will ultimately emerge, I sense that a major realignment is beginning.

Even more surprised are left/liberal Democrats, and let’s face it, that’s the only kind of Democrat left in the 21st century, so I’ll just call them Democrats from here on. They can’t understand what’s happening and they’re applying the same old formulas to counteract it. But it’s not working. They’re trying to spin it as a right-wing plot to hurt President Obama or orchestrated by greedy insurance companies. Local Republican organizations are trying to get out in front of the uprising, but it’s definitely a grassroots phenomenon.

Congressmen are afraid to meet their constituents. Traditional August town hall meetings in local districts are being cancelled. Some will answer questions only via “tele-town hall meetings” so they can hang up the phone when it get tough and their mealy-mouthed cowardice won’t be broadcast on YouTube. Others like Rep. Russ Carnahan D-MO bring union thugs to strong-arm angry voters against Obamacare or his “Cap and Trade” bill. It’s clear that ordinary citizens are more familiar with the legislation than the congressmen elected to vote on it. Some, like Rep. John Conyers, D-MI, are indignant at voter insistence that they actually read the bills. Rookies like Nicki Tsongas D-MA say they won’t use the healthcare plan they want to impose on the rest of us. As Hotair.com says, “At least she’s honest.” Maine’s whole congressional delegation is wimping out, opting for the cowardly “telephone town hall,” and it looks like New Hampshire’s is too. Democrats are in shock. Anyone predicting this only two months ago would have been laughed at.

With few exceptions, Republicans have been spineless since their defeat last November. Intimidated by Obama’s popularity, they withheld criticism until the uprising began. But I suspect it’s too late to get out in front of the parade and pretend to lead it, even though Democrats claim they started it. Wherever I go, people ask me who is out there to lead conservatives. I tell them I don’t know, but I’m confident leaders will emerge. Sometimes I suggest a current office-holder like little-known Congressman Thaddeus McCotter R-MI who has impressed me the few times I’ve heard him. He’s not an orator, but seems a confident, common-sense conservative. Maybe his low-key style will work after four years of slick speechifying. Too early to say though.

The rebellion has emerged during a curious coincidence of bubble-bursting with President Obama the biggest bubble. Many Obama voters, afflicted with white guilt, sought relief by voting for a black president. When his orchestrated remarks on the Henry Louis Gates incident backfired, his “racial healer” persona disintegrated.

Other voters fell in love with whatever it was Obama represented to them, but after seeing and hearing him every day for months, they’re realizing he’s not what they thought. He’s spending our money, our children’s money, and our grandchildren’s money while the economy gets worse. With Obamacare, he would control another 18% of it, spend another trillion or two we don’t have, and institute health-care rationing. Cap and Trade would raise energy prices 20%. Like a woman seduced by a character out of a romance novel who later discovers her paramour is a slick-talking opportunist who only wants her money, Americans are feeling a huge let-down. If it’s true that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” it explains the grassroots fury our congressmen and senators, who were riding Obama’s coattails, are seeing. Inflated by adoring media, Obama’s bubble rose so high and so fast, it was almost inevitable that it would crash and burn like the Hindenburg, but what will his collapse mean for our country?

Obama promised “change you can believe in” and people are seeing change all right - but they don’t believe in any of it. They’re declaring their dissatisfaction very loudly and they won’t shut up. Most of what Obama and Congress have done so far can be undone, albeit painfully, but should nationalized healthcare pass, it would likely become permanent.

This uprising will probably continue to strengthen, but will Republicans benefit? Maybe. They’re certainly trying to take advantage, but they had their chance back in 2000 and they muffed it. That’s still fresh in the public mind. What could emerge is an entirely new political movement.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

I'm a Victim Too


Watching all the coverage of the Henry Louis Gates incident has caused me to re-think what happened to me up there on the Maine/New Brunswick border. Could I have been a victim of redneck profiling? There I was, a typical white person heading for a Canadian vacation. I was wearing a T-shirt, driving a pickup truck with an NRA sticker declaring “I’m a bitter gun owner and I vote,” and two twelve-packs of beer in the back. My wife was with me, so I was obviously heterosexual. My profile fit more than one of those emails you get: “You might be a redneck if . . .

In an earlier column I described how two border guards pulling all our stuff apart as they searched the truck. They found a book in the cab with a Christian theme my wife had been reading. When they found a box of .22 shells I’d left in the glove compartment, one of them ordered me to put my hands behind my head with my fingers laced and my toes pointed outward while he felt me all over, including my groin. Scores of motorists stared out their windows as they passed, like I was dangerous criminal or terrorist, or heterosexual white guy clinging bitterly to his guns and religion. Last year, President Obama warned liberals all over North America to be on the lookout for people like me when he said:

So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
There’s no denying I’ve been frustrated, especially after the last two elections. I’ve always clinged to my religion (except for some heathen years during my teens and twenties), and I’ve been clinging to my guns since liberals took over all of New England, including New Hampshire. When I look at the map of North America, I calculate that there aren’t many places near me where conservatives are in control anymore. For that, I’d have to drive all the way to Virginia. Driving north only brought me deeper into securely left-wing territory. Yeah I’m frustrated, and getting lonely too.

Then President Obama appointed Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security and she issued a memorandum to police chiefs all over America last spring warning them about what she considers “right-wing extremists,” or people seen as:

. . . rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority . . . It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.

Well I’m strongly against any federal authority not granted by the US Constitution - and there’s certainly been a lot of that lately. I’m strongly against abortion and illegal immigration too. Guess that makes me an “extremist” to the Obama Administration, and maybe the Canadian government as well.

Am I being paranoid when I consider that border guards might have run my license plate and discovered I have concealed weapons permits in Maine and New Hampshire? Did they know leftists have described dozens of my columns as “racist” when I’ve criticized Affirmative Action; “homophobic” when I’ve opposed gay rights or gay marriage; “sexist,” when I’ve criticized feminists; or “xenophobic” when I’ve opined against spending tax money to support illegal immigrants? Did they find out I’m the founder and president of HWGJA - the Heterosexual White Guy Journalists Association?

A few years ago, several of my columns were entered into evidence in a Maine courtroom as “Exhibit A, Exhibit B,” etc. - purportedly proving I was “homophobic." Local homosexual activists had twice dragged me into court on made-up charges and perjured themselves in an effort to shut me up. I was exonerated both times, but maybe those columns are in a database, still accessible to government.

I’ve been reported to the Maine Attorney General’s office for alleged hate crimes - not only by homosexuals, but also by Indians. When I wrote urging Mainers to vote no on a referendum allowing Indians build a casino, hundreds of them from all over the country sent emails, made phone calls, wrote letters to my school board, my superintendent, newpapers that published me, and to Maine’s teacher-licensing bureau claiming I was unfit to teach.

The referendum failed, I’m still teaching, and it’s been a while since “tolerant,” multicultural liberals threatened me with legal action. I thought I was going to be able to live a normal life until I got pulled over for “driving while redneck” at the border.