An Enemy of the People
My enemies, who call themselves the United States Government, appear formidable at first glance. They have a global empire (democracy, you know), the power to make arbitrary laws, a vast prison system, the Internal Revenue Service (service? Well, no doubt its serving someone), the allegiance of the American people, plus a few thousand nuclear weapons, and not too many scruples.
Me, Im just one stroke-addled old man with a cane. All I have on my side is Jesus. It hardly seems fair.
I mean, what chance have they got?
The ancient Romans proved that you could beat Jesus. Once. If he let you.
But lets look at the enemys mightiest asset, the American people. Or rather, to speak to you like an honest man, the ignorance of the American people, who are semi-literate, innumerate, and up to speed only on American Idol and what journalists call lingering questions about the death of Anna Nicole Smith.
Politicians always use the phrase the American people with profound reverence. Senator Barack Obama speaks of the basic decency of the American people, who elect men like him and George W. Bush and make tycoons of men like Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt. No wonder our definition of basic decency has changed somewhat since Pat Boone crooned Love Letters in the Sand.
In his new book, Religious Literacy (HarperSanFrancisco), Stephen Prothero of Boston University notes that about half the American people cant name the first book of the Bible or any of the four Gospels. Roughly the same number identify the man who delivered the Sermon on the Mount as Martin Luther King. Care to guess how many know whom King was named after?
And many think Joan of Arc was married to Noah. Arc, Ark: Natural mistake, I guess. The Maid of Orleans would have been swept up in the New Orleans flood. Who can keep these things straight?
Heckuva job, Mr. Education President! After all, you never claimed to be the Pedant President, did you? And this didnt start on your watch. If the American people sound like the hicks in Huckleberry Finn being bamboozled by a pair of rogues nearly as dumb as they are, well, its nothing new.
Thats what makes Mark Twain so funny. Anyone can write a satire about smart people outfoxing dumb people. Twain shows dumb people, his bogus duke and king, outfoxing even dumber people. Yet he makes his dumbest character, a runaway slave, sublimely wise and lovable. Thats genius for sure.
No wonder Twains greatest novel is still unfit for American schools. He actually shows his white Southern characters, before the Civil War, using a slang racial epithet about black slaves. (Even his slaves use it about themselves.) Think how much better his book would be if all his characters had used the term African American. Maybe or should I say hopefully? the next edition will correct it.
Bill Clinton, no mean bamboozler himself and measurably smarter than his dupes, knew how to make the most of the educational level of the American people. He understood that even hicks are more apt to fall for whoppers if spoken in complete sentences. (I will venture the suspicion I can suppress it no longer that Twain might find much to laugh at in todays America.)
If there is a single document the American people venerate even more than the Holy Bible, it is surely the U.S. Constitution. Even atheists worship it. I am now taking bets are you listening, Professor Prothero? on whether they know any more about the supreme law of the land than they do about the Scriptures.
The Bible and the Constitution. President Bush has sworn on the one to uphold the other, so this could get interesting. Especially considering that his foreign policy seems to be based on the book of Revelation (sometimes called Apocalypse, but lets not go into that). For those of you who may be Americans, thats the last book of the Bible, right after II Ben-Hur.
Im not just talking about things everyone used to be taught; Im talking about things a body could hardly help knowing, even if he was barely photosensitive. Nothing against the American people, but today the dunce cap is obsolete.
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