Throwing Away the Labels

Harris - Danby, Vermont
Entered on May 12, 2005
Age Group: 65+
Themes: democracy
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“…Government of the people, by the people and for the people…”

That definition of my government — pounded into my youthful head by a Lincoln-loving Illinois school system — never wavered during the thirty years of my life serving two wars and eight diplomatic assignments under six presidents.

I always maintained that I served the President but worked for a government of the people by the people and for the people.

The words were, of course, from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address praying that such a government “shall not perish from the earth.” (The first translation of the bible into English, the Wycliffe in 1384, stated in its General Prologue: “This Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People and for the People.”)

Though aware of the predilection of those my age — I am 81 — to despair, often comically, over current trends, I now join many half my age who are equally worried about the survival of a people’s government.

Let me attest that I have never been a registered member of any party, though I voted for 44 years. Republicans, Democrats, Independents: I have voted for, or against, all of them. My greatest fear in these first few years of a new century is political polarization. Each half of the population demonizing the other half. And not over matters that will determine the fate of this nation but over narrow issues molded by special interests.

If the polarization were caused by how we address a budget deficit, solve a trade gap, rescue the twenty percent of our children who live in poverty, finance an affordable medical care system, discourage dangerous states from becoming nuclear, mend a wobbly educational system, address global warming or find a path to leaving Iraq as a good world citizen, then I would hail polarization. But what are we polarized about? Abortion. Creationism. Right to life or death. Faith. Stem cell research. None of these, nor all of them put together, have much, if any, influence on the destiny of the United States of America.

I was taught, and have lived with the conviction, that what makes us strong is our ability to listen to those with whom we seldom agree and to compromise when it allows us to move forward, to be safer, stronger.

I believe that if we are to survive as a democracy and as a nation which leads because of its moral positions, not because of its army, each of us must return to an independence willing to listen carefully to those who disagree with us. And maybe, even, to change our minds! We must happily throw labels like “neo-con” or “liberal” into our mental garbage can.

It seems to me that this trend toward more independent thinking is now advancing. If this hopeful trend accelerates we shall continue to have a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

It will not perish. This I believe.