From what I know of the Concord Transcendentalists, they were an impractical bunch, who made philosophy rather than necessity and reality the basis of action. Mr. Thoreau seems to be saying he took himself off to the woods because of an idea. If he’d had another idea, he might have moved to New York City instead. So, Mr. Thoreau wasn't so much poor and free-spirited, as he was opinionated.
I just finished a really lovely Thanksgiving break, and hope you have as well. My contact with the Real World was officially re-established this morning with an on-line look at newspapers. Two articles particularly caught my eye. The first one is by Karen Tumulty in this morning's Washington Post on the concept of American exceptionalism; in which she writes:
The proposition of American exceptionalism, which goes at least as far back as the writing of French aristocrat and historian Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s, asserts that this country has a unique character.
[Newt] Gingrich says Obama fails to understand that "American exceptionalism refers directly to the grant of rights asserted in the Declaration of Independence," and that it is a term "which relates directly to our unique assertion of an unprecedented set of rights granted by God."The other was an editorial in yesterday's New York Times ( I had some catching up to do) titled "The Unemployed Held Hostage, Again," which begins:
It is hard to believe, as the holidays approach yet again amid economic hard times, but Congress looks as if it may let federal unemployment benefits lapse for the fourth time this year.What struck me while reading these two articles is what poseurs American politicians are; how easily they can flee from the real problems of real people into comfortable flights of rhetorical fancy. Can those two million unemployed people who are set to lose their benefits in December eat "American Exceptionalism," or use it to pay the rent?
Lame duck lawmakers will have only one day when they return to work on Monday to renew the expiring benefits. If they don’t, two million people will be cut off in December alone. This lack of regard for working Americans is shocking. Last summer, benefits were blocked for 51 days, as senators in both parties focused on preserving tax breaks for wealthy money managers and other affluent constituents.
This time, tax cuts for the rich are bound to drive and distort the debate again. Republicans and Democrats will almost certainly link the renewal of jobless benefits to an extension of the high-end Bush-era tax cuts. That would be a travesty. There is no good argument for letting jobless benefits expire, or for extending those cuts.
To me, Mr. Thoreau's Walden is a literary classic in which rhetoric trumps reality. And it does seem to me we've taken Mr. Thoreau's literary license a bit too much to heart when our politicians dare to claim God-given "exceptionalism" for a country that leaves its unemployed to founder.