If there's one thing I won't be pondering about on this patriotic Fourth of July weekend, it's the "politics of meaning" in American life. That's the phrase first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and her resident philosopher-wimp, Michael Lerner, have been pitching to us wayward souls recently.
In a commencement speech to students at the University of Texas in Austin in April, Mrs. Clinton decried the "undercurrent of discontent" in the United States. The first lady damned the greedy 1980s and the 12-year Reagan-Bush legacy for what she diagnosed as the nation's collective feeling of civic emptiness.Lerner, who coined the banal phrase "politics of meaning" in his bimonthly magazine, Tikkun, penned a follow-up epistle for The Wall Street Journal to further enlighten us about our country's "spiritual crisis." First and foremost, he blamed the media for its "elitist denigration of values and religion."
Well, my civic morale has been pretty low lately - and I, too, blame the liberal media elite partly for my depression.
But there are problems far worse than Mrs. Clinton's and Lerner's lost meaning and moaning that are infecting the national spirit - such as the denigration of American citizenship and the fracturing of American life.
On July 2, for example, U.S. District Judge Alfredo Marquez held a citizenship ceremony in Tucson, Ariz. That's something to celebrate. But Marquez has decided to conduct the ceremony in Spanish for 75 immigrants after the oath is administered in English. A spokesman for the judge says the bilingual ceremony will be more "meaningful" if conducted in the participants' tongue.
Marquez's belief reflects a multicultural trend tearing through our common fiber. Speaking a second language, eating native food - that's fine and wonderful. But what kind of signal is Marquez sending to newly naturalized citizens who've pledged allegiance to this country? A terrible one. The naturalization process is supposed to welcome new Americans, to embrace them as our own and to affirm our commonality.
We're losing the meaning of what it means to be American in the public schools as well. Multicultural curricula celebrate Cinco de Mayo, Black History Month and the Chinese New Year more fervently than Flag Day, Memorial Day or Presidents Day.
How many schools begin their day with students reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in unison anymore? How many high school graduates can recite the Preamble to the Constitution? How many of them have actually read the Constitution in its entirety?
And if Mrs. Clinton took a closer look at the college campuses she visited, she'd see some true "undercurrents of discontent" in American life. Apartheid is being practiced religiously in university cafeterias, classrooms and dormitories. Even that most sacred of American university rituals - graduation - has been cursed by so-called "multi"-culturalism.
Many Latinos and African-Americans, for instance, have their own senior yearbooks; UCLA, the University of Pennsylvania and Vassar College all hold separate commencement ceremonies for minority students, just to name a few.
With so many foreigners literally dying to be Americans - the most prominent among them, Chinese boat refugees from the Fujian province - it's amazing how many young, hyphenated Americans (Asian-Americans, Latino-Americans, African-Americans) seem so intent on devaluing their citizenship.
Maybe a single holiday like the Fourth of July isn't enough to wake us native-born Americans from our complacency. Perhaps, like those who seek naturalization, we ought to be required to demonstrate proficiency in civics.
No, not through the touchy-feely "politics of meaning" and demonstrations of "caring" forwarded by our first lady. But through a competency test: Name your senators. Describe the impeachment process. List the basic duties of Congress. Define democracy. It's appalling how many native Americans can't do any of these tasks required of naturalized citizens.
Before the holiday weekend ends, hundreds of thousands of new Americans will take this pledge:
"I hereby declare on oath that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombat service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion: so help me God."
Before the holiday weekend comes to a close, we might all do well to pledge our commitment to that oath. It's one of the few things left preserving the "United" in the United States of America.