By Susan L. Cassidy
For Northwest Asian Weekly
Where has my country gone?
I am one of the millions of Americans who has no interest in my neighbor’s religion. I care that they obey the law and rake their leaves. I am grateful that they welcomed me into the neighborhood with brownies. I have no idea what choices they make for themselves regarding the private issue of abortion.
And I don’t think I’m alone.
What’s more, I want to have political candidates to choose from who feel the same. I don’t want their political platform to be issues of religion and sexuality. I want them to be ethical, law-abiding, learned women and men with enough leadership ability to stand up to the special interests and far left or far right factions of their parties.
We need only take a look at history (and not even ancient history) to see where such factions have led entire nations in the past, groups whose own bigotries and extremist views have been so exclusive that the average, moderate citizen is seen as an outlaw. Hitler, Pol Pot, Czechou, Mussolini, and Mao come quickly to mind.
Each of these “elected” officials led their nations to eliminate the “others” in their society by convincing themselves, the populace, and the powerful among them that they were a threat to “their” way of life and by the wielding of might. These men shared a mindset that dictated their policies (and preserved their personal power). This mindset was that their nations must be singular in religion, ethnicity, policy, education, and party. There was no room for dissidents. Dissidents were eliminated from their societies, cut from them by force.
And the dissidents were the majority of their societies. They were the moderates, the reasonable, the average Joes interested in law and work and family and tolerance. The citizenry of their nations.
There is a reason why our founding fathers developed a system of governance that insisted on separation of church and state. A very good reason.
You cannot, must not, presume to dictate the faith of your citizens if you are going to be a pluralistic nation. And yet, the conservative far right of America has become so active and so powerful (because moderates are moderate in every way) that adherents are dictating the very private issues, beliefs, and values of every candidate and ignoring the pursuit of real qualifications. And they are calling it American. It is out of the realm of possibility for a Jewish American or a Buddhist American or an agnostic American to be elected to a national office today.
There was a time in this country when I could believe in a strong defense and care about the civil rights of all Americans, even the gay ones. And I’m just radical enough to want less government, and still care about the plight of our impoverished. The extremists among us use every emotional ploy in the book — their tactics are to try to make us feel un-American, unfaithful, and immoral if our faith, our values, and our morals differ in any way from theirs.
I am calling for a rising up of the moderates. I suggest that we take back our country from the extremists, left and right.
Let us look for leadership, education, experience, decency, and ability in our elected officials. Let us require them to be representatives of our entire populace, not special interest factions. Let us insist that they be law-abiding, ethical women and men. And let us also insist that they keep their private lives private and that they let their personal morals dictate only their personal choices. And let us look for candidates for office who understand that this is a pluralistic nation founded by men and women in search of freedom of religion first and foremost. Our candidates must be afforded the right to religious freedom just as our citizens enjoy the same rights.
And while I’m at it, I think it would be wise to look at our most recent history and remember that three years ago, we the people insisted that our newly elected officials, presidential and congressional, do something to bail out this nation’s economic mess — an economic mess that was at a minimum 20 years in the making, not one that started three years ago with the election of a new president.
Many will argue that the wrong things were done to try to fix the mess we were in, but no one can argue that something had to be done. Just as no one can argue that we have been a nation at war for 10 years, that our banking systems created an economic crisis of astronomic proportion, and that our standing in the international arena was one of declining status and respect.
Let us look for leaders who can govern this nation to economic and international success, not for professional politicians who are pleasing to the eye and camera.
Let us moderates refuse to be led around by the nose any longer by the extremists in our society.
Let’s demand a candidate who can form a sentence and a policy, and one who is able to know her or his weaknesses and select a team that will make up for personal deficits in experience.
These are many of the reasons why Americans elected Barack Obama. And in these matters, we have not been let down. We will never agree with every decision a leader makes, but by God, I want to know that an elected official is making his or her own decisions based on education, ethics, reason, and conscience, not based on a fear of or a desire to appease the most organized extremists among us. (end)
Susan Cassidy is a former editor of Northwest Asian Weekly.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.