Monday, May 22, 2006

Thoughts on "Let Us Argue"

While I am not always a huge fan of Senator John McCain due to some political differences, I have to admit that he gave a fine commencement address at the New School in New York on Friday, May 19, 2006. It's worth quoting:
But spare a moment for those who have truly attended you so well for so long, and whose pride in your accomplishments is even greater than your own--your parents. When the world was looking elsewhere, your parents' attention was one of life's certainties. So, as I commend you, I offer equal praise to your parents for the sacrifices they made for you, for their confidence in you, and their love. More than any other influence in your lives, they have helped make you the success you are today and might become tomorrow.
I can picture myself beaming over a paragraph like this one a few years from now.

Ours is a noisy, contentious society, and always has been, for we love our liberties much. And among those liberties we love most, particularly so when we are young, is our right to self-expression. That passion for self-expression sometimes overwhelms our civility, and our presumption that those with whom we have strong disagreements, wrong as they might be, believe that they, too, are answering the demands of their conscience.

All their resistance to my brilliantly conceived and cogently argued views proved was that they possessed an inferior intellect and a weaker character than God had blessed me with, and I felt it was my clear duty to so inform them. It's a pity that there wasn't a blogosphere then. I would have felt very much at home in the medium.

It's funny, now, how less self-assured I feel late in life than I did when I lived in perpetual springtime.

I, too, was much more sure of myself and of my own wisdom when I was young. Now I find myself amazed by everyone else around me and have a greater sense of my own inability. Sometimes I do miss the arrogance of my youth when I lived in a state of perpetual certainty about everything. Regardless, I definitely related to that section of his speech. Unfortunately, it was probably the parents that really "got it" and not the students to whom it was directed.

We have our disagreements, we Americans. We contend regularly and enthusiastically over many questions: over the size and purposes of our government; over the social responsibilities we accept in accord with the dictates of our conscience and our faithfulness to the God we pray to; over our role in the world and how to defend our security interests and values in places where they are threatened. These are important questions; worth arguing about.

We should contend over them with one another. It is more than appropriate, it is necessary that even in times of crisis, especially in times of crisis, we fight among ourselves for the things we believe in. It is not just our right, but our civic and moral obligation.

Our country doesn't depend on the heroism of every citizen. But all of us should be worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf.

Yes, we do disagree on many issues, and they do need to be debated. I do object to the attempts to shut people up because their voices are somehow "inferior". While I am sure several groups feel this way, there seems to be a real attempt to silence the religious who are somehow the only ones bringing their values and beliefs to bear upon their political views. This is ludicrous. We all bring our values and beliefs, our worldviews if you will, to bear upon our politics and all our decisions, for that matter. How could we not?

Of special significance to me was the statement: "But all of us should be worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf. " Perhaps if each of us were truly living out our lives in a manner that made us worth sacrificing for instead of living with a "me-me-me" attitude then some of the conflicts in the nation might subside. It's just a thought. I would, in any event, like to believe that I have lived in such a way as to make my friends and acquaintances that have served in the military feel I was someone worth their efforts and sacrifices and that I have given at least a little more back to the world than I took from it. At least, that's what I hope.

The speech continued on and spoke about the war in Iraq among other things. If you get the chance, it might be worth a perusal. I hope the students in the audience actually listened, unlike at most commencement exercises, and I hope they were inspired. I know I was.

This commencement address was re-printed in the Wall Street Journal- Opinion Journal and was entitled, "Let Us Argue".


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