Disagreement comes naturally to patriotic Americans
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Our society is in crisis not because we intensely disagree, but because we feebly agree."

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1907-1972

Rabbi Heschel was a leading Jewish theologian who marched for civil rights in Selma, Alabama. I don't know the context of the above statement, but it's generally true and is one of the earliest items in my quote collection. It came to mind this week amidst intense disagreement over the health care bill.

Besides, it seemed appropriate to reference a rabbi during this week of Passover. This week also marks the fourth anniversary of the death of my college buddy, Glenn Morris, the son of a Methodist minister with whom I read Ayn Rand and discussed politics for hours in the office of the Penn State campus newspaper.

Glenn later became a Buddhist and a ninja instructor, emphasizing respect for order and harmony using defensive, rather than offensive, martial arts. But I recognized my old friend's attitude when I read the following statement in his 1996 book "Shadow Strategies of an American Ninja Master":

"Americans sometimes fail to recognize aggression that does not appear warlike, as they are individualists and allow strangers a great deal of rope.

"This also applies to government folly. When the government truly disgusts them and makes it hard to believe in the sanctity of their chosen land, citizens protest, march in Washington, and burn effigies and flags to attract the attention of unheeding politicians, who forget that their place at the trough is at the will of the people.

"During election years bum listeners are voted out ... Outsiders often mistake this behavior as not loving."

He seemed to be referring to his opposition to the Vietnam War, but his words would apply to this current revolution as well. In fact, he seems to explain the election of Barack Obama when he talks about allowing a stranger a great deal of rope.

Dr. Morris also wrote that "if you are not paying attention to the political scene and exercising your rights, you are missing part of your training concerning living well. ... The weaker the central government, the safer you are as a citizen."

Opening up the conversation this week not only to religious, but to political, diversity, I'll now quote Aneurin Bevan, socialist Welshman, who said, "We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run over."

Bevan was a critic of Hitler-appeaser Neville Chamberlain, and supported Winston Churchill in going to war against the Nazis (whose horrors Rabbi Heschel fortunately escaped).

For me, that world is divided not so much into liberals vs. conservatives, but appeasers vs. resisters.

One of my favorite Catholic childhood memories is of the Irish priest who was asked by one of the boys in religion class, "Father? I know Jesus said that if someone hits you, you should turn the other cheek. But what if he hits the other cheek?"

"Ah", responded Father Edgar, "then you punch him in the nose."

Though I was home in New Jersey with a baby in 1965, I admired from afar those Americans who marched at Selma. Earlier, as a child, I admired the Hungarian revolutionaries we watched on TV news; and much later, the protesters at Tiananmen Square. Win or lose, from the Maccabees to all slaves named Spartacus to the patriots at Concord Bridge to the European underground during World War II to students burning draft cards during undeclared wars, those who intensely disagree keep resistance alive in the world.

My generation of Americans has been very lucky. Once it forced the end of the Vietnam War, it saw its sons grow up without being drafted, in a country where freedom has been taken for granted for too long. The resistance of Americans now to the growth of the federal government's power does not carry the risk accepted by earlier revolutionaries in this and other countries. There are no invading armies, no tanks rolling into our demonstrations, no midnight roundups, no guns at the bridge.

All we have to put up with is being called racists (if we disagree with the president), homophobes (if we disagree with Barney Frank), haters, right-wing wackos, and radical extremists who are, to quote Congressman John Tierney, "unglued."

Big Biden deal.

I live for political debate. I have no problem with name-calling, whether aimed at me or as my own response after, "They started it, Mom!" It may be childish, but it's fun.

However, all of us who intensely disagree need to draw some lines: No initiated violence; no property damage. Protesters shouldn't be throwing bricks through the windows of either pro-Obamacare congressmen or Republican Party headquarters in Virginia.

And in the case of verbal attacks, all statements should be the truth as far as we know or imagine it, not deliberate lies. The names should describe behavior, not attack inherent characteristics like race or sex.

I'd also argue it's improper to make fun of anyone's acquired physical characteristics that are not relevant to the discussion, e.g.; being overweight, Botox faces, suntans.

But if someone wants to redistribute the wealth, it's OK to call him a socialist. And if tea-partiers want to intensely disagree with the socialist agenda, it's OK to call them patriots.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.

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