Some years ago I attended the Wild West Rough Stock Rodeo at the Northwest Equestrian Center on Highway 26 and Haley Road. Along with most of the audience, I removed my hat, and placed it over my heart when the graceful teen-age girl rode her horse around the arena carrying the American flag.
And I suspect that many of them, like me, surreptitiously wiped a little moisture from the corners of their eyes as we listened to a stirring blended audio recording: the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, the Declaration of Independence, even parts of Martin Luther King’s famed “I have a dream” speech.
It felt good to feel good about being an American—to have a good, clean, wholesome time of fun enjoying a well-presented, particularly American form of entertainment and sport among a crowd of Americans who didn’t have to apologize for taking pleasure in their Americanism.
So if there was a slight tear in my eye, it was certainly accounted for by the feeling of unalloyed patriotism I felt. But there was more. There’s a reason this column is called “On the other hand.” Part of the emotion I felt was a result of the pressure brought to bear in various quarters (media, foreign press, even the halls of our own legislature, and some churches) to exhibit a tinge of shame when acknowledging that one is in fact an American.
Now if you’ve been paying close attention, you’ve noticed that no matter how unbiased I try to make myself, I lean a little to the right, politically and economically. But it wasn’t always so. Many years ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I attended the University of California at Berkeley. I was there during the so-called Free Speech Movement (sometimes called the Filthy Speech Movement).
I was one of the monitors during the very first “International Days of Protest” against the war in Viet Nam, and I helped build People’s Park two weeks before they “paved Paradise and put in a parking lot.”
Well, I hope you’ll cut me a little slack: I was twenty-something. Churchill or Shaw or Disraeli is supposed to have said, “Anyone under thirty who is not a liberal has no heart, and anyone over thirty who is not a conservative has no brain.” And I say anyone who makes a knee-jerk reaction, liberal or conservative, to any issue, without thinking long and hard and getting as many facts as possible, has no conscience.
Before too long, anyone who has a little soapbox (like this column) and a little political awareness, will be trying really hard to discover new and clever ways to influence folks to “get out and vote.” Actually, in Oregon, you don’t even have to get out, any more—just mark your ballot and mail it.
Evidently, however, that’s still too much trouble. Barely half the electorate bothers to vote, even in the big “important” national elections, let alone the wimpy little off-year elections like the one last year. After all, we’re only being asked to vote on unimportant local matters, right?
Let me get downright heretical here: If that’s the way you feel, I’m starting to think I’d just as soon you didn’t vote at all. People who won’t take the trouble to find out what’s going on in their community and do something about it (all you have to do is poke holes in a piece of paper, for Pete’s sake!) maybe shouldn’t even have the right to vote.
Oops! Did I say that? Never mind, we can’t have that. That would lead to government by an elite few, who would probably pay little attention to the real needs of the ordinary citizens of the state/county/city/village/hamlet. And if those ordinary citizens chose to accept that situation, the result would likely be widespread ignorance and apathy concerning the political process and local, as well as national, government.
And how different do you think things would be if widespread ignorance and apathy became the order of the day? I’m not going to mark my ballot in secrecy and mail it in the next time I vote. I’m going to march up to a polling place and announce it loudly for everyone to hear. It won’t take long. You come, too.