Guest Post: Paine Threshold
In Defense of the Arkansas Legislature
In its July 12th edition, the news magazine the Economist denigrated the people of Arkansas.
Attempting to surmise why 34 legislators had chosen not to vote on a bill to create a “Thomas Paine Day” in Arkansas, the magazine’s normally well-informed and contemplative writers took the low road. They decided that it was “probably because (the lawmakers) had no idea who Paine was.” The editors even added a caption to a picture of Paine reading, “Not too well known in Arkansas.”
Like the Economist, I have no idea why 20 members of the Arkansas legislature voted against the proposal or why 34 chose not to vote. But I doubt it had anything to do with their cerebral capacity.
Perhaps they suspected their constituents would look askance on a proposal from progressive Rep. Linsley Smith, who represents her left-of-center college town district well. Maybe they thought that maintaining the state’s triple-digit budget surpluses a more worthy use of their time than the dedication of state holidays.
The legislators may have been opposing the state holiday for simple political reasons. In a state where the overwhelming majority of voters hold religion in high regard, it might just be that the members of the Arkansas legislature knew Thomas Paine far too well. Honoring a man who described “institutions of churches” as “human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind” could offend the faithful who tend to show up on election day.
The Economist writes that “Arkansas already honors a clutch of people with eyebrow-raising beliefs: Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army, Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, Thomas Jefferson, who slept with his slaves—and Abraham Lincoln who, in his day, held opinions much less congenial to the South than Paine’s ever were.”
However, this list seems to have been manufactured and at least has some significant omissions. According to the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office, our state observes official holidays for only four individuals: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington, Robert E. Lee and Daisy G. Bates. The editors of the Economist certainly know who Daisy Bates was. Might the Economist’s omission of her holiday—as well as Washington’s and King’s—have been a tactical contortion to portray Arkansans as backward?
It would be appropriate for there to be state recognitions of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln in Arkansas. They are worthy. They were at least significantly linked to the state’s history, as were Lee and Davis.
Jefferson, of course, brought the land of Arkansas into the United States with his Louisiana Purchase. Considering also that he did do the actual work to make Thomas Paine’s thoughts a declared reality here, the Economist should cut him a break.
Lincoln seems like a stand-up kind of guy, too. Perhaps his giving freedom to the ancestors of thousands of Arkansans can help him overcome the stain, as the Economist would have it, of having offered Robert E. Lee command of the Union Army in 1861.
The belittling of Arkansas and its people may draw giggles from many of the readers of the Economist, but falsifying facts for effect and assuming that Arkansans are ignorant of U.S. history should be beneath any reputable media source. It should be beneath the Economist.
Attorney Mac Campbell, a native of Harrison, Ark., is a former aide to U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln and was a Democratic candidate for Arkansas treasurer in 2006. Nothing tries his soul like slights against Arkansas.
7 thoughts on “Guest Post: Paine Threshold”
It is too bad that Mac Campbell is such a careless reader and incompetent quoter. The one criticism he makes of Paine is unfounded. The fragment he quotes from Paine’s AGE OF REASON is from a sentence that actually reads:
“All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”
Paine is talking here about giving churches an official role as part of the government. His criticism was heeded by the Founders, who were wary of the Church of England and did not want to see a Church of the American Federal Government.
Paine literally wrote the book on the American Revolution. His COMMON SENSE explained the principles of American independence to the people of the new republic. He certainly did more for America than Mac Campbell or I will ever do.
Sadly, during the debate over Paine Day state representative Sid Rosenbaum read the same fragment on the House floor as the one Campbell reproduces — an intellectually low point even for the state House of Representatives — which suggests to me that neither one of them understood what they were quoting. Had they actually read AGE OF REASON, they would be aware that Paine states that he is a believer in God but opposes the merger of religion and government.
Campbell states that “falsifying facts for effect and assuming that Arkansans are ignorant of U.S. history should be beneath any reputable media source.” I think falsifying facts for effect should be beneath any Arkansan. Nothing tries my soul like slights against the Founders.
Isn’t that the point that Campbell is trying to make? Maybe the legislature was considering that Paine’s words, either in or out of context, might come back to haunt them. Rather than being igorant of Paine, they knew what to worry about.
Jenny, if legislators are going to worry that they will be held responsible for ideas that Paine didn’t actually have, they should just go ahead and resign now.
It sounds like to me that Campbell was right on target. By your own account the legislators used the actual words that he thought might have been on their minds. That is a far cry from not knowing who Thomas Paine was at all. I don’t see where Campbell is arguing against Paine day. He is just arguing that the legislature may have had reasons other than being stupid for voting against it. Also, the day legislators quit worrying about being held responsible to their voters, is the day that Paine, Jefferson, and all the founding fathers you claim to love, have lost.
Jenny, the problem with Campbell’s piece is that he is attributing ideas to Paine that Paine did not actually have. Similarly, the problem with your comments is that you are attributing ideas to me that I do not actually have.
To paraphrase Campbell, falsifying facts for effect should be beneath you!
Actually “Someone” you are the one who doesn’t know what you are talking about. The Age of Reason was not about the Revolution or government mixing with religion, its subtitle was “Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology”. In it Paine questions religions and their beliefs – not their roles in government. Consider if you will this paragraph:
“Each of those churches show certain books, which they call revelation, or the word of God. The Jews say, that their word of God was given by God to Moses, face to face; the Christians say, that their word of God came by divine inspiration: and the Turks say, that their word of God (the Koran) was brought by an angel from Heaven. Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.”
Arkansas legislators are right to worry about Thomas Paine’s reluctance to codify in law or government the exact location of the knowlege tree of good and evil. (I personally thought it was at the Good Earth Garden Center, but have been unable to locate it as it may be with Mike Huckabee. Watch for it on his Fox TV News set).
Of course, the Bible is allegorical, not literal. Anyone who reads Christ’s teachings knows that He was really intolerant of only one group, the Pharaisees, with their appalling code of outward detailed observances. Paine knew that.
That Arkansas legislators, influenced by lobbyists, some paid by state funded universities and other agencies, as well many other offenses against good government like high taxes and a failed, monopolized, k-12 educational delivery system, is incapable of seeing its blind spots. With five branches of government, Arkansas is fast approaching the time when tax receipts and public expenditures are the sole measures of economic health in this state. Arkansas’ political and spiritual health would be greatly enhanced by properly and publicly revering a man like Thomas Paine.