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April 28, 2011

Up On Hawthorn Hill: Rights

There is a lot of chatter these days about rights. It gives one pause.

Several weeks ago I heard a politician claim that it is time to win our country back. I was not aware that we had lost it. I wonder who stole it. If you ask a rabid conservative, the answer will most likely be those bleeding heart liberals.

If, however, one asks a liberal for the identity of this most heinous perpetrator, the finger will no doubt be pointed in the direction of the nearest soulless conservative. Hearts and souls do not hew to ideological boundaries. Claims of the theft of the nation would do little more than tickle the funny bone were they not fueled by a level of acrimony and ad hominem attacks that have spiraled out of control.

Having never trusted absolute certainty, the fervor with which ideology has fractured our ability to work together toward the commonweal is downright frightening–and embarrassing.

There are also a lot of people claiming to be patriots. I guess to some it means that my way of seeing and thinking about this country is right and yours, well, it is just plain wrong–even unpatriotic. I do not intend to suggest a definition of patriotism here. I had thought we had washed such silliness out of our national debates after the Vietnam War when those having the temerity to suggest that stopping the war might just be the best way to “support our troops’”were characterized as downright unpatriotic. To my way of thinking, getting people out of harm’s way seems a much more effective way of saving lives than putting them in its way. But then that is a brand of logic some would take issue with. It seems to go hand in hand with this notion that whatever we do is beyond scrutiny and those who have principled disagreements with a particular policy or action are somehow less American than those who go along with whatever it is leadership chooses to embroil us in, regardless of its cost, human and otherwise.

I have no particular beef with ideological difference.

Unfortunately, we have come to a terrible pass in this country.

We claim that debating our differences is healthy. Yet, when push comes to shove compromise is excoriated as a form of weakness, evidence of an inadequate political will.

The prevailing wisdom seems to be that it is more honorable to never remove one’s ideological blinders. There is a plague about this land that lauds unrelenting conviction while relegating thoughtful discussion and eventual compromise to the dung heap.

That giving in to the other is some sort of moral failing. I do not get it. It is certainly not a view consistent with all that I have been taught to believe that this country stands for. A  hallmark of a vital, viable, and healthy democracy is vigorous dissent. We chat, we argue, we even get into some hotheaded debates. But in the final analysis, we work things out. I describe myself as a somewhat left-leaning independent.

I am registered with one party so that I can vote in our primaries. Were that not necessary I would reregister as an independent because I believe that one can only act responsibly if one is independent and not beholden to a rigid ideology. I have never thought I had all the answers and the older I get the more convinced I am that flexibility in thought is necessary if one is to make reasoned decisions. I have heard useful ideas expressed by conservatives.

I have heard liberals express views with which I agree and some with which I disagree. I see no reason to vilify another merely because she expresses a view counter to my own.

That is neither a useful nor constructive approach to problem solving.

There is no such thing as an ideal patriot. Those who see patriotism as some sort of immutable standard do not understand what being a true patriot means. To me it means caring a great deal about others, about community, and about the nation as a whole. It does not mean thoughtlessly joining a dangerous lockstep parade of like-minded zealots. Zealotry in all forms is unproductive and often dangerous.

True patriots see and respect difference. They find ways to accommodate difference so that the commonweal is achieved. If we keep on with the rancor and self-serving demagoguery that characterizes our national discourse these days we will have ourselves to blame. We will have stolen this great nation from ourselves.

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