Saturday, August 29, 2009

August 29th: The America I Know

I am honored to have been invited to be a contributor at Texas For Palin although I am a native Kentuckian. As I pondered whether or not it is appropriate for a Kentuckian to write for a Texas-based blog, I recalled the goosebumps I still get every year on Derby Day when folks from around the nation join in singing My Old Kentucky Home. On Derby Day, everyone is a Kentuckian. As Texas stands tall with a deep history of being home to heroes who are true defenders of freedom, in these trying times I believe there is a little bit of Texas in each of us. I hope, for our country's sake, that I am right about that.

As we celebrate the first anniversary of the announcement that Sarah Palin was chosen by Senator John McCain to be his running mate, my compatriots in the blogosphere have made various suggestions about what might be an appropriate tribute, but as I consider for my first entry here those deep and abiding truths which unite Texans and Kentuckians, being determined to also honor in my own insubstantial way the very substantial impact Sarah Palin has had on the country, my thoughts have brought me to a different place.

On the left and on the right, the question continues to be asked repeatedly, "What is it about Sarah Palin that makes her appeal to so many?" As a Kentuckian writing on a Texan blog, I must consider my own identity as well as yours, so today I ask instead what it is about us that caused us to be so inspired by Sarah Palin beginning from the moment she was introduced on that stage in Dayton one year ago. You see, it is not merely because of who Sarah Palin is that I was inspired by her. It is also because of who I am. In order to know who I am, you have to understand the things that have shaped me into the American I have always been and the American I remain today.

Kentucky is known for taking a "neutral" role in the Civil War. I confess that this served as a source of shame for me when I was first taught this as a child because even as a little girl I believed that taking a stand against injustice, though it may require opposing domestic enemies, should inspire one's sense of duty to serve. Whether the North or the South represented the side of justice, it seemed to me that Kentucky should not have stood by in neutrality. My confusion and shame came about primarily because I wasn't given enough information. History teachers really only hit the high points and the bottom line was always that the South was wrong and the North was right. Perhaps my teachers and the writers of my textbooks thought Kentucky could save face in the eyes of posterity by having the label "neutral" but for me it was shameful. In time, I've come to understand that even this singular point -- Kentucky's "neutrality" -- is far more complex than can be completely understood in a lifetime, but there are several facts that shed light.

Kentucky is the birthplace of both President Abraham Lincoln of the Union and President Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy. This, coupled with the fact that Kentucky was a border state where many bloody battles were waged, epitomized in the harshest way that familiar term "brother against brother". Kentucky was not "neutral" during the Civil War. She lived up to her name "Dark and Bloody Ground".

While history's teachers have branded Kentucky as the "neutral" state, her heart and soul were in the fray more than any other. To characterize Kentucky as "neutral" is even more obscene than it would be to characterize America today as complacent about the issues of the day.

That same sense of justice that I've always known, a gift that God gives to each one of us -- albeit in varying portions -- also demands a sense of shame in me that in my beloved Kentucky, not only are there great monuments to her favorite son, Abraham Lincoln, but also to Jefferson Davis. Several generations of Kentuckians as well as other Americans have been taught, whether overtly or covertly, to be ashamed of Davis. He will only ever really be remembered for his sins while Lincoln will forever be remembered for his greatness. Given the choice between taking his children to the obelisk honoring Jefferson Davis or to Lincoln's Birthplace, no parent in his right mind would neglect Lincoln for Davis, and rightly so.

I have been blessed, perhaps, with more opportunities than most parents. I have taken my two sons and two daughters to Lincoln's Birthplace and to the Jefferson Davis Memorial. We have gone as a family to Lincoln's boyhood home. My children have stood at the grave of Lincoln's mother. At the Presidential Library of Jefferson Davis on his estate, Beauvoir, they've seen the caisson that carried his remains for burial. We've been to the Lincoln Memorial, a Confederate graveyard and a cotton field where I made them pick cotton to see what it's like. On our trip to the site of the Battleground at Gettysburg, we could not complete the tour because I was so overwhelmed with grief that I wept for the loss of Americans who fought for what they deemed to be true and just, no matter which flag they had pledged allegiance to.

Countless students are required to memorize Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, so it is indeed ironic that Lincoln said:
"The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here..."
It took a trip to Gettysburg for me to understand more clearly the depth of Lincoln's subsequent words:
"....but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Lincoln's famous words were not to honor the Union dead. His words were to honor all the dead, both Union and Confederate. We had reached the bloodiest point of American domestic strife. Never before or since had it been so. The nation had broken apart, but it was still one nation "under God".

It was not purely under the leadership of the first Republican president that America was able to achieve her "new birth of freedom". It was also not merely through the blood of her patriots under separate flags that this new birth would come. These things would be nothing apart from the continued devotion of all Americans to the ever "unfinished work" of freedom.

The America I know is one that is not and shall not ever be destroyed through division no matter how urgently or violently we may disagree with one another. The America I know is under the hand of One Almighty Father and it is only with His help and our commitment that freedom can reign.

The America I know is not characterized by a government that struggles in class and race warfare dictated by the state no matter how many laws our leaders may pass saying otherwise. The America I know is one in which families seek justice together, in truth and freedom, at all times, with the aid of or in spite of the institutions we make for ourselves.

This is the America I know. This is who I am and it is because of who I am that I was inspired that day in Dayton one year ago.

- LG


  1. Fantastic post Lisa. You really nailed it. Thanks.

  2. My sixteen-year old son said it was brilliant. Made my day. I don't care what anyone else thinks, if my teenage son said it's brilliant, I'm happy. ;-) But thank you. ;-)

  3. Ms. Graas --

    As you are a Sarah Palin supporter, there is no doubt our politics are a full spectrum apart. I am a liberal Democrat who supported first Christopher Dodd then Barack Obama is last year's elections. But as President Lincoln famously said, I too am a Kentuckian.

    I wanted to write and say that your essay here very much touches on what all of us who hail from the Commonwealth of Kentucky feel about our native state. No division of politics, religion, or anything else could keep us from a love of our state.

    I visited many of those same sites you have mentioned both as a child and an adult. My grandmother called the "Civil War" the "War Between the States." I had relatives who fought and died for both sides. Some of them are buried in a Confederate Cemetery at Tebbs Bend, Kentucky in Taylor County on the Green River. Others are buried in the Union section of the Lebanon National Cemetery. Many probably never returned home, which for many Kentuckians was never too far away.

    I too write a blog which is mostly politics that you wouldn't like. But there are tales of backroads travelled, sights seen, and places visited. One of them is Jefferson Davis's obelisk on the Todd-Christian County line. There are many others.

    I hope the readers of this Texas blog will come to know the Kentucky we both know and love. And while our politics are starkly different, I too believe the America I know is one in which families seek justice together, in truth and freedom, at all times, with the aid of or in spite of the institutions we make for ourselves.

    Thanks for your entry.

    Jeff Noble
    Liberal Democrat of Kentucky