It turns out there's a swirling controversy about our nation's motto that only Congress could resolve. To quote the lede from a New York Times article last week, "Citing a crisis of national identity and mass confusion among Americans about their nation's motto, the House on Tuesday voted on a resolution 'reaffirming 'In God We Trust' as the official motto of the United States.'"
And you thought that it was the economy and nagging unemployment that was at the top of people's agendas. Well, think again.
Americans were so confused and addled by the adage crisis that the resolution had to be passed with an expedited House process. Virginia Representative J. Randy Forbes, surprisingly a Republican, was the sponsor of the resolution, which passed last week on a narrow 396 to 9 vote.
"This is something I have paid a lot of attention to over the years," Mr. Forbes said, pointing out that he has a lot of time on his hands. He's also been thinking a lot lately about why it is that stop and go lights are green and red and not, say, orange and yellow. Virginians can feel proud that one of their guys is paying attention to the important details.
In fact, a recent New York Times/CBS poll found that the motto controversy has eclipsed the economy, the ongoing conflicts around the world, the Greek debt crisis and, of course, global climate change (which nobody cares about any more) by a wide margin.
In a follow up interview, Roy Jankowski of Lima, Ohio said, "You know, I've been out of work for eighteen months. We're upside down on our mortgage, my daughter's working at McDonald's because we can't afford to send her to college and I don't know where the money's going to come from for my wife's cancer treatments. But all of that pales in comparison to this motto thing."
Okay, so I made that last part up, but you'd think it was true since Congress acted so quickly to address this axiom issue while it puts less pressing matters like the president's economic stimulus bill on the back burner.
According to Rep. Forbes, much of this is Obama's fault to begin with. Small wonder. Last year in a speech in Indonesia (and what was he doing talking about our national motto and getting it wrong on foreign soil anyway?) the president mistakenly referred to our national saying as "E pluribus unum." E pluribus freakin' unum? C'mon Mr. President. That's the motto of Munchkinland, not the United States of America!
Everyone knows that E pluribus unum means "out of many, one." Which sounds like socialism to me and is bad enough, except that if you read it backwards it says, "We're coming to take away your guns (and also Paul is dead)."
Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, said at the start of this session that he would avoid votes on matters that weren't "substantive and meaningful." You know, like a $450 billion economic stimulus plan or a meaningless resolution that the Democratic-controlled Senate passed honoring the troops who tracked down and brought Osama Bin Laden to justice.
How can the House fiddle away its time fixing the economy or honoring heroes when it has this maxim mess to set straight? In fact, Rep. Cantor was so busy dealing with important issues like the national slogan that he didn't have time to return a call from a reporter to ask about why honoring troops wasn't substantive while reinforcing a motto that had already been made official by Congress back in 1956 needed to be rushed through on a fast track. Thank you for your hard work and common sense, Rep. Cantor!
Not to be outdone, the talented and slogan-savvy group of Republican presidential candidates reacted with really bright ideas of their own.
Sen. Rick Santorum said that the dictum didn't go far enough, and urged that it should read, "In a vengeful, Old Testament God we trust."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is pitching, "Trust me! Trust me!"
Pizza Man Herman Cain suggested "9! 9! 9!" or perhaps, "America. We Deliver." Or maybe more to the point these days, "You know she wanted it!"
Gov. Rick Perry is pushing for "The Spirit of 1647!"
Rep. Michelle Bachman would like the motto to read, "If You Have Sex You Will Die!"
Rep. Ron Paul missed the vote, but says that he would have voted "no" had he been there, because states should be allowed to come up with their own mottos, like "Let 'em Die!"
Newt Gingrich, often snappy but never simple, suggests, "In a Pluralistic Society, But Also Conscious Of Our Judeo-Christian Influences, We Trust In a Government That Can Deliver Both Tax Cuts and A High Standard Of Living By Competing in the Global Market Place."
And, finally, Gov. Jon Huntsman made a suggestion that wasn't crazy, but nobody cared.
There is a hitch, though, on this motto thing. They might not know it, but the Republicans are going up against one of their own here. Back in 1907, President Teddy Roosevelt refused to allow "In God We Trust" to be engraved on a ten dollar coin. I guess Teddy felt that if you were going to coin a phrase on a coin it shouldn't be that one. I don't know. Some nonsense about when you mix government and religion, you devalue both institutions, yadda, yadda.
"To put such a motto on coins," Roosevelt wrote, "or to use it in any kindred manner, not only does no good but does positive harm, and is in effect irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege."
Rep. Forbes, a member of the Congressional Prayer Caucus -- yes, there is a Congressional Prayer Caucus, which is much bigger than the Congressional Ouija Board Caucus or the Congressional Therapeutic Drumming Caucus -- has time to pray for his soul now that we've reaffirmed how much we trust in God.