The troop ship was loading at its Hudson River pier in Manhattan in mid-1942. The band played patriotic music. The flags and bunting flapped in the harbor breeze. The troops with their duffel bags were on the dock, hugging and kissing mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and wives and sweethearts, as the band played on. Soldiers would stop halfway up the gangway before heading into waters crawling with enemy submarines for one last wave and smile for friends and loved ones shouting and cheering and crying below.
An onlooker said to a friend, "You know, war would be more fun than anything else in the world if only nobody ever got hurt or killed."
That thought occurred to one who fears America is in for turbulent times at the hands of unskilled leadership that is fiercely sincere in its idealism but utterly unaware that sincerity is no excuse for stupidity. And he thought about how lucky Americans like him are when you look back upon patriots in other countries where those who fight the national drift don't enjoy a fraction of the safety that protects American protesters.
A quick way to judge a country is to ask, "What's the worst the leader of that country can do if he hates you?" Hitler? Stalin? Mao? Castro? Idi Amin? Saddam Hussein? Of those, Castro is possibly the most merciful, with his 10-minute trials, or none at all, and a quick firing squad. Now: What's the worst the president of the United States could do to you if he hates you? Order an audit of your income taxes? Have your phones tapped?
Against that background, it becomes downright cowardly to sit back and accept what you see as an unfolding American disaster. It becomes a new version of desertion to suppose, "Okay, I voted in November. My side lost. Too bad. We'll have another chance in four years. Maybe eight. Meanwhile, I'm going to hope like hell things work out somehow."
American pep-talkers have never had it so good. Remember when the pep talker tried to persuade you that every vote counts? Then he'd try to scrape the bottom of historical barrels to come up with elections of any and all kinds that were decided by less than a half-dozen votes.
Today you don't have to try to persuade a Republican in New York or a Democrat in Georgia that his vote counts. We've got more armor-piercing ammunition now. The Internet and e-mail can turn every single American home into a political power bloc. Our power to praise, protest, organize, and coalesce turns even those too young to vote or otherwise ineligible into power brokers capable of moving America.
Much more fruitful than mantra-mumbling "Your vote counts" is recalling, for instance, the day in the early 1990s when Congress was all set to pass a law requiring all home-schooling parents to have official teacher certification. How many parents have it, or could obtain it readily? That was a neat way to kill home schooling.
Talk radio jumped to the rescue the next morning. Constituents carpet-bombed lawmakers' offices with complaints late into the afternoon. By evening, the bill, which had looked like a slam dunk, was thrown out.
In a democracy lawmakers are like disc jockeys. They may play the tunes they prefer personally instead of what the public wants, but a sharp reaction will readjust their spines and deliver the tunes with the most requests.
Do you like the so-called stimulus package? Do you like President Obama's attack on talk radio via Rush Limbaugh? (And don't try saying that was merely Obama's criticism of Rush Limbaugh and by no means an attempt to chill talk radio.)
Did you like Obama’s his first foreign appearance on a Saudi-owned TV channel in which he apologized for America's slights and "disrespect" to the Muslim world, ignoring the fact that America has shed blood and spent treasure to save Muslim lives in Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq five times since the mid-1990s. (You remember “Black Hawk Down” and slain U.S. troops dragged through the streets of Mogadishu for daring to intervene to lighten their misery?) Did you like the confirmation of a Treasury secretary, also in charge of the IRS, with income tax problems?
If you didn't like any of the above or any uncited goings-on in Washington, did you say anything beyond the circle of your family and friends. If not, why not?
Do you know the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of the president and other top officials, as well as your state legislators? One hates to be a nag, but don't forget: This kind of war is safe and fun.
Look at it this way: A hen lays an egg and cackles for 44 minutes. A sturgeon lays 10,000 eggs and never lets out a peep, even though we call it caviar.
Your declaration of war for what you espouse and against what you oppose is democracy's very definition of health. You and those like you have the power to limit the damage of Obama’s presidency, even though Democrats control the White House, the Senate, the House and — stand by — ultimately, the Supreme Court.
America has too many sturgeons. We need more hens; and I mean hens upgraded to emit the highest-volume cackle.
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