Saturday, March 24, 2007

Wishing for Heroes

The state and national elections in 2004 were grave disappointments.  At the state level, Ohio passed "Issue 1", a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage:

Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this state and its political subdivisions.  This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage."

At the national level, John Kerry ran against George Bush for President of the United States.

Issue 1
Written October 22, 2004 [prior to the election]
Published in my city's daily newspaper

It's sad that we consider making a divisive, discriminatory, unnecessary change to our Constitition, when so many much more serious issues go unresolved.  It's a rare day when the news doesn't announce a shooting, rape, domestic assault, or child abduction.  Racial divides, drugs, and violence diminish life everywhere.  Job losses and plant closings undercut our economic health.  Local school levies struggle year after year, while nothing happens to fix a state school-funding system long since found to be unconstitutional.  Meanwhile, we try to amend the Constitution to keep gay couples from claiming "married filing jointly" tax status or suing each other for alimony if they split up.

A Constitution ought to reflect the best in us:  Equality, justice, freedom.  Controls to make sure people's rights are only restricted after due process of law.  Changing our Constitution now, in this mean-spirited and prejudicial way, is a mistake.  I'll be voting No on Issue 1.

Wishing for heroes
Written November 4, 2004
Submitted to my city's daily newspaper, but not published

Reflecting on the campaigns, issues, and results of this election year, I wish for heroes.  Statesmen, leaders, individuals of such personal stature that they inspire the rest of us to rise above fear and suspicion and follow them to greatness.  In my mind I see Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda, or some conglomeration of movie roles they played when I was a kid.  Not their victories but their personification of an America that deserved victory, earning it by living the principles of our founding fathers:  Freedom.  Equality.  Justice.  Government first and foremost to secure the rights of the governed.  Power tempered, and therefore deepened, by responsibility.

Tall orders, to be sure, and perhaps too much to expect of politicians--they can't all be Abraham Lincoln--but maybe government by politicians is the problem.  We don't remember Lincoln as a politician, but as a statesman, a leader, a hero.

The challenges we face this year are as important and enduring as any I remember, but heroes, and the American principles that make them so, seemed in short supply, chased from the national stage and the workplace water-cooler discussion by fear and suspicion.  Short-term reaction to perceived threats took the place of long-term strategy and real debate.  National and state policies seem shaped by an implicit judgment that the lives and cultures of those who are different from us are somehow less valuable than our own, not deserving of the due process and protections we take for granted.

Heroes would rally us to be true to the simple principles that made us great in the first place, not frighten us with ominous warnings or strive for soundbites designed for some political advantage.  Heroes would help us build and sustain policies that history might note as benchmarks of American greatness--like the US commitment in World War II, the Marshall Plan afterwards, or the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s.  Decades later those still resonate worldwide with the self-evident truths that made them necessary and inevitable:  Freedom.  Equality.  Justice.  Government first and foremost to secure the rights of the governed.  Power tempered, and therefore deepened, by responsibility.  Will history see those same truths present in the war in Iraq, or in the "protect marriage" amendment?  Would Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda be willing to play the lead roles?

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