Free to be...you and me
by Jon Worley
There are so many purported American enemies out there these days: terrorists, immigrants, Iraqi insurgents, "radical" Muslims, the French...well, maybe not the French. I just can't keep up with the changing scorecard.
The thing is, we the people generally don't take aim at our perceived enemies. Rather, we create proxy enemies of our own fellow citizens. Anyone who preaches understanding of the emotional and political causes of terrorism is branded a terrorist. Anyone who argues that immigrants are a net plus for our nation are labeled as traitors. Anyone who preaches ecumenical cooperation with American branches of Islam will be slimed with all sorts of epithets.
And this sort of tarring isn't limited to those on the right. I myself have called the Prez a few names (moron, dingbat, hypocrite, etc.), though I'm pretty sure I haven't called him a war criminal. I will cop to observing that the abuses at Abu Ghirab and other Iraqi prisons sounded a lot like war crimes. And those of you who got to this column from the front of the web site will likely have seen my links to unbrandamerica.org, a group which doesn't shy away from lambasting corporate influence on our politics and culture. I may not be the most extreme supporter of this group, but I'm up front in promoting it nonetheless.
Other folks on the left have also slung plenty of mud. There's Fahrenheit 9/11--which made more money in its second week of release than its first. I haven't been down to see it (theaters here in my corner of the New South are still selling out just about every show), but from what I've read it sounds like Michael Moore is up to his old tricks. Intelligent viewers will recognize his propagandistic linkage techniques as just that, but hey, most of his viewers are inclined to buy what he's selling. In any case, he's certainly doing plenty of name-calling.
And so is Al Gore. Apparently pissed off by the way his handlers dialed back the "common man" theme of his impassioned acceptance speech at the 2000 Democratic National Convention--the insane dulling of his message that might well have cost him the White House--Gore's out on the stumps breathing almost as much fire as William Jennings Bryan a century ago. I like the new old Al, actually. But he sure is chucking an awful lot of spears.
In short, we have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.
Plenty of folks were truly outraged by Bill Clinton's extracurricular activities. Just as many have been angered by the Prez's apparent disregard for the Constitution, international law and the doctrine of consensus. The mention of relatively trivial matters such as the Prez's National Guard service in the 1970s or John Kerry's protest of the Vietnam War is enough to get large numbers of people foaming at the mouth.
Some well-meaning folks (including me, in a way) have been opining that we ought to return to the days of civility in politics, where our opponents were not enemies but rather well-meaning fellow citizens with differing points of view. There's one problem: Politics in our nation has never been played by those rules. In fact, one of the significant by-products of democracy is messy politics. People have the freedom to say just about whatever they want, and most take advantage of that.
What makes America great is not our impressive set of freedoms, from laissez-faire capitalism to laissez-faire speech to laissez-faire gun laws. Rather, it is the ability of Americans to accept those excesses without resorting to violence and reducing society to anarchy. It is true that throughout all of civilization humanity has created no more equitable system of government than representative democracy--a.k.a. republicanism--and yet this most equitable system isn't always an immediately obvious improvement over many forms of totalitarianism.
A number of polls in Iraq show that while the vast majority of people are glad to be rid of Saddam Hussein, they also believe that their lives are much more difficult now that he is gone. The inefficiency of the American "transitional authority" can be blamed for that in part, but the simple truth is that when you whip democratic freedoms on a previously oppressed people, the people tend to party a bit too heartily. If you like, think of the insurgents as frat boys who need to be cut off at the bar.
Okay, that's a little flip. But it's still a fair analogy. The question becomes how to cut off the guys with the guns without destroying what's left of Iraqi society. I don't have the answer to that one.
But see, those insurgents are the enemy of our armed forces. Terrorists, whoever they might be and whomever they might strike, are indeed our enemies. The French? Well, they manage to put on a decent bike race once a year, and they've been good enough to let an American (and a Texan, at that) to win it the last five years, so I say the French are okay.
And our fellow citizens? The ones who say things we can't stand and do things we can't condone? They're simply being Americans. Just like you and just like me.
Happy birthday, America. You're looking great for two hundred twenty-eight.