Thursday, September 02, 2004

Ask not what you can do for your country

Even though I had already decided I wasn’t voting for him in November, I watched Dick Cheney address his acolytes last night. Having only read his comments in print before, I was curious to see our vice president speak. But I also wanted to see some of the delegates because at this point, I'm genuinely baffled: what can they be thinking? These RNC delegates are not just supportive, they're inspired. They're so turned on at the thought of a second Bush term that they've taken a week out of their lives to travel across the country and listen to political speeches.

On TV, they looked like ordinary enough folks, the usual mix of fat and thin, conservatively dressed and lavishly costumed, vacant-eyed and intent. But watching them interrupt Cheney to chant "USA! USA! USA!" and "Flip flop! Flip flop!" and "Four more years! Four more years!", I grew more and more perplexed (and Cheney grew more and more annoyed. He makes it look like such a hassle, this seeking the consent of the governed). I thought: who are these people? The speakers are spending 90% of their time talking about how our lives will be in danger for the foreseeable future, and you're waving your arms over your heads like you're at a rock concert? What is it about Judge Doom up there saying evil men are after you that just makes you feel like dancin'?

I can understand exuberance in response to vision, the current that courses through you when you hear a man say "one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers." But Dick Cheney's vision was unredeemably dark, nothing but the black waters of war all the way to the
horizon, not even a tiny green island of peace for us to aim at. It was a future without any possibility for compromise with dissenters-- such as, say, the world community. You could almost hear the festive crackle of bridges burning every time he growled "U.N.".

His is a world in which we as ordinary Americans can do nothing to make life better, safer, or fairer-- nothing except trust our leaders and kill our enemies. After all, as Zell Miller reminded protesters in his speech, "It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest." Our leaders require nothing more of me than my acquiescence. That's something that's been bothering me ever since I heard John McCain wrap up his convention speech by saying, "Keep your courage." Our courage to do what? Except for the soldiers and their families, who embody courage in its rawest form, the rest of us haven't been asked to do a darn thing that might require courage. Surely I can help America in other ways than by shopping or killing. Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, please: inspire me. Exhort me. Encourage me. But don't just tell me to trust you and get out of the way.

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