Tuesday, August 01, 2006

It's Not That Easy

“Law speaks of what is authoritative in society. Like travelers consulting a road map we consult the law. Or like players in a game consulting the rule book in order to settle a dispute. We usually look at the road map when we are lost and at the rule book when we have a dispute. With respect to the law, however, we are map makers as well as map followers; we ask not only what the rule is but also what the rule ought to be. In a democracy we participate in the drawing of the maps and the making of the rules. Or so it is said.”

- Father Richard John Neuhaus – “The Naked Public Square” (1984)

It’s been an interesting couple of days here in Emporia, Kansas, center of the known universe. Yesterday Nancy’s mother came down to look at the house next door and decided that she wanted to make the move. So, we are proceeding. Last night Nancy and I met with the current owner’s son to draw up the guidelines for a contract that will be ready for signatures by the end of the week. After he left I snuck upstairs and hit the “that was easy” button that sits on Nancy’s desk and that was that.

As things currently stand, we’ll have some new neighbors come September 1st.

This morning I stopped by our polling place at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church to vote in the Kansas primary. It wasn’t very complicated at all. The only snag, if it could be called that, was having to declare myself in writing as a “temporary” Republican for the day in order to vote for the Republican slate of candidates. Having grown up in Tip O’Neill’s congressional district in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I felt a twinge of guilt as I signed the small slip of paper declaring me a one day member of the Party of Alf Landon, as it’s known here in Kansas. I was also tempted to cast a Democratic Party ballot, but all the candidates are un-opposed. It just seemed to me it would have felt like voting for Saddam Hussein or Josef Stalin. “The people can now report that “the great leader” received a plurality of ninety-nine point two percent of the popular vote, an overwhelming victory for truth and justice.”

For any fellow Democrat who may have taken offense at my comparison, all I can say is relax, I haven’t completely abandoned the Party. I’ll see them at the general election in November.

Like the deal made with the handshake the night before, the voting process here in small-town America has a populist strain to it. The volunteers are all senior citizens, which gives us a great sense of comfort. Some are a bit hard of hearing, some seem to have short memory spans (“What was your address again, young man?”), and some, like one silver-haired old saint, had problems spelling the names. And, wouldn’t you know, my name just happened to be in her roll book. “Dillon,” I said, announcing my presence and intentions. “Can you spell that, please?”
“Uh, no, it’s DILLON…D…I…L…L…O…N.”
“That’s an unusual name.”
“Well, it’s a pretty common name in County Westmeath. We Irish like it a lot.”
“I’ve got,” she proudly announced. “Nine nineteen Neosho, right?”
“That’s me.”
“Philip, it says. P…H…I…L…I…P…Only one L. That’s unusual too.”

It all took about ten minutes, with about two or three spent working interactively with the Diebold voting machine. After a final review of my ballot, I waved my finger in the air several times as it descended onto the touch screen, one last grand gesture as I cast my vote. With that simple act I made my feelings known about everything here in Kansas from who the next governor should be to the composition of the school boards.

Tip O’Neill was famously believed to have coined the term “all politics is local.” From where I sit in peaceful Kansas it seems to be such an extraordinarily good idea. The people decide. It works so well when a fella’ knows that the folks in Kansas have no axes to grind with the citizens of Nebraska or Oklahoma and vice versa. And, knowing that my polling place is manned by grey panthers and not armed guards is more reassuring than I can express in words. It all makes me feel like going upstairs and hitting the old “that was easy” button one more time for good measure.

Of course, it really isn’t all that easy. This country has had to sacrifice a lot so that it would just all seem so transparently easy. Behind the scenes, though, once you get past the silver haired seniors and the electronic wizardry, there’s the unseen, yet still remembered trauma and pain of democracy. It’s there in the deprivation of Valley Forge It’s there in the agony of Antietam and Tarawa. No, it isn’t easy at all. It just looks that way now.

Half a world away the Middle-East is in flames. It’s not easy there, either, as the now daily images vividly demonstrate. Some in the region, like modern Israel, have known this for three generations, and probably will for generations more. It seems that there in the Cradle of Civilization there are axes to grind, scores to settle, and blood to let. In the midst of all this, Israel, unlike Kansas, has neighbors not at all like ours in Nebraska. The local politics of Israel’s enemies has little to do with school boards. It has everything to do with the destruction of the Jewish people. Hezbollah was given the political capital to bring about a far different agenda than the local candidates here in Kansas. They have told everyone what they want and what they’re about:

“No one can imagine the importance of our military potential as our military apparatus is not separate from our overall social fabric. Each of us is a fighting soldier. And when it becomes necessary to carry out the Holy War, each of us takes up his assignment in the fight in accordance with the injunctions of the Law, and that in the framework of the mission carried out under the tutelage of the Commanding Jurist.”

Will it ever become easy? Will there ever come a day when all the polling places in the Middle-East will be manned by silver-haired seniors? Will there ever be a time when there, like here, the irritants will be the spelling of a name or party affiliation for a day rather than nationality and holy war? Thinking of this leaves me conflicted, grateful for the freedom I have, but despairing for those now in the cross-hairs of hate. It’s not so easy; there are no magic buttons to push. Peace and brotherhood cannot be legislated, nor can they be mandated. Until hearts and agendas change, nothing else will, and that is the most difficult task of all.

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