If either side “wins” the country loses

About a year ago when the war in Iraq was starting I ordered some bumper stickers. I was appalled by the preemptive war my country was about to strike. I felt helpless and frustrated about the whole thing. Writing to my senators and congressmen was of course utterly futile in my Republican state. But I wrote them anyhow. I wrote letters to the editor. I attended community meetings. All the protest was a waste of time. We had hundreds of thousands marching on the Mall but Bush was in Camp David. As we learned from Bob Woodward’s book Plan of Attack the decision to go to war had been made months earlier. It was a matter of when to attack, not if.

One of the bumper stickers I ordered was from a place called democracymeansyou.com. Here it is in all its glorious color. All it has is an American flag on a blue background with the words “These colors don’t run the world!” I stuck it to the bumper of my 13-year-old Camry. I’m sure it got read by lots of people. But I never got any feedback on it until today.

Today was my day to hit the BJ’s Wholesale Club. I looked for a parking space and as usual I tucked my sedan carefully between two SUVs. It’s always a tight fit and it was made tighter today because one of the SUV didn’t seem to see parking lines. Or perhaps they think with a SUV they don’t need no steenking parking lines. Anyhow I squeezed in and loaded up on the essentials for the week. After my mission was accomplished I carefully backed out of my parking space. Of course I had to be mindful not to hit the two new SUVs on either side of my Camry. It was then that I noticed someone had left a note on my windshield. It read: “America. Love it or LEAVE it!” The word “leave” was underlined several times.

I pondered this letter writer’s perspective on my way home. I elected to think that this bumper sticker had something to do with it, since the other one was one promoting Unitarian Universalism. That could have done it too because you know how unpatriotic we UUs are. But I assumed that because I had doubts that my country should when it felt necessary run the affairs of the world through force that I was perceived as un-American. I felt almost unmutual.

I guess this lady (and from the penmanship I assumed it was a female) would prefer I took my family and my 13-year-old Camry and emigrated. Apparently because I don’t toady in line with the latest neoconservative think she felt I was unworthy to be an American. Actually I think the real message was: “Because you don’t think an awful lot like me you should not be a citizen of this country.”

It would be easy for this entry to devolve into a diatribe against anyone who votes to keep their state red. But later on this afternoon while puzzling through the issue on a ten-mile jaunt on my bike I realized that I didn’t want everyone in the nation to think just like me. This country would not be a paradise if we were all Unitarian Universalists, conversed at regularly at DailyKOS, were all vegetarians and everyone had access to universal health care.

I think we all have viewpoints that contribute to making this country great. I celebrate American liberalism. Without liberalism we would not have had unions, social security, Medicare, women’s rights or the end of slavery. On the other hand conservative values have also served our society well at times. The plucky “we can do it” energy that drives entrepreneurship comes from the deep desires of many to give their all to show what they are made of. Of course one can be an entrepreneur without necessarily being a neoconservative. But my point is that conservatives have many valid points to their philosophy too. I’d be a fool to say that everything a conservative or a Republican believes should be dismissed out of hand.

Fortunately there are people on both sides of the political fence who understand this. John McCain is a Republican and conservative who gets it. I was very pleased to see him speak out for John Kerry and to decry blatantly false advertisements that accused Kerry of not really earning his three purple hearts. Both McCain and Kerry are patriots. They know what it means to put your life on the line for your country. Our soldiers toiling away in Iraq and elsewhere at the moment are no less patriotic because their inclinations happen to be Democratic.

Unfortunately there are plenty of others like this woman who don’t get it. A monoculture is not a good thing. We need liberals and we need conservatives in our society. We need lots of moderates too. We need rich people. We need immigrants. We need a middle class. We need Christians and atheists. We need fat people and vegans. This seemingly continuous clash of ideas that comprise much of our national discussion these days is probably healthy for everyone. It means that opinions and feelings can be freely vetted. In many countries this would result in civil war. Diversity on all levels seems to only strengthen our country.

I think that the American melting pot is something of a myth. We are a nation full of people with different interests and values. Like oil and water most of the time we don’t mix. But because we don’t always mix does not necessarily mean it’s a bad thing.

I would hope whatever our political stripe that we would cherish the freedom of thought that we have in this country. It would be nice if we could respect one another even when we profoundly disagree. I know for my part that even as much as I dislike George W. Bush as a president I would never encourage him to emigrate. He is as American as I am. We are both part of a great country. And I feel in my heart the conversation of values must go on for it to remain a great country. If either side “wins” the country loses.

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