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Opinion

Glenn Beck says 'collective salvation' is anti-American. Tell that to the Founding Fathers.

Conservative punditry paints issues of social justice as Obama-led, communist agendas. But America's Founding Fathers made wise provisions for "the common good" and "general welfare." We need to abandon partisan battles and start working more as the United States.

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Sure, some of our Founding Fathers had a long way to go in their day-to-day treatment of women, people of color, and minority religions – and that’s putting it mildly. But those principles of equality and insurances for common good were written into our founding documents with great purpose. And they have paved the way for every future step toward equality this country has made.

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The Founders, in their wisdom, never said America was perfect. They made clear they were working to perfect the union, which subsequent generations would continue.

In the Federalist Papers, Madison elaborated that society’s unequal groupings – the landed versus those without property, creditors versus debtors, and so on – are “much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.” Beck and other pundits have labeled “oppression” a bad word the left uses to play victim and blame conservatives.

The consequences of oppression

But founders like Madison were acutely aware of real oppression within America’s borders – and the very real consequences of this inequality on the country as a whole. The “principle task” of government is to regulate and balance these interests toward the ideal of equality, Madison wrote.

Glenn Beck’s narrative claims working class, mostly white folks in America are being undermined by the needs of poor people and people of color – needs prioritized by an allegedly biased and socialist President Obama. In Beck’s mind, “collective salvation” isn’t collective at all but code for putting some people’s interests first. It’s an ironic critique considering that conservative economic policies have for decades put the needs of big business and the richest of the rich ahead of everyone else, whether black or white, middle class or poor.

Sharing apple pie

Even more ironic is that Beck himself actually embraces “collective salvation” – the idea that none of us can be saved until all of us are saved.

He isn’t directing Americans to turn inward and solve their problems alone. Beck wants you to watch his show, come to his march in Washington, call your representatives, talk to your neighbors, agitate in your church – making clear that he knows individual problems of such magnitude can only be solved through collective action.

If only Beck and other pundits, quick to point fingers, would go a step further and see that all of our problems – falling wages for working people, rising cost of living, foreclosures, crumbling education infrastructure, racial tension, insecurity – cannot just be solved by one group binding together in a pitched partisan battle against “the other.” Instead, all of us must work in “common efforts for the common good.”

Collective salvation isn’t anathema to America; it’s essential to the Founders’ vision. It’s as American as sharing apple pie.

Sally Kohn is Founder and Chief Education Officer of the Movement Vision Lab, a grassroots popular education organization.

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