I truly believe in a quote which is attributed to Voltaire, the great philosopher of the French Enlightenment:
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
I am a New Yorker. Born in the borough of Queens and raised in a community which was a bastion of Democrats, I was raised on tales of FDR--who "held the country together through the worst you could imagine," said my uncle, and of Mayor William O'Dwyer, an immigrant from County Mayo, Ireland, who was the 100th Mayor of New York City, from January 1, 1946 to August 31, 1950. (Of course, the good people of Queens failed to mention that O'Dwyer resigned due to a police corruption scandal, and took a quick appointment as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, thanks to President Harry Truman.) My family was Irish-Catholic, and, in my grandparents' living room, there were two photos above the television set: The Pope and President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. There was only one man I knew who was a Republican--my father Danny.
My father served in the U.S. Army during The Korean War. He was drafted in 1950, and hit in the left leg with shrapnel on August 14, 1951, his 20th birthday. I can't help but reflect on how 6 years prior, as a 14-year-old boy in Richmond Hill, Queens, he was out all night with his family and neighbors celebrating the end of World War II. Daddy refused to let the MASH surgeons amputate his leg, and so he recovered in VA hospitals all over the U.S.--but far from Queens, NY--until October 1953. His Commander-in-Chief when he was discharged was President Ike Eisenhower. Truman, he thought, had let all the boys (and the girls, those pretty nurses) down in Korea. But Ike, hell, he had been Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during WWII. The "D" in "D-Day" stood for Dwight, as far as Daddy was concerned (and there were lots of folks who felt the same way).
My father reclaimed his life in the fall of 1953. Less than half of returning veterans from Korea took advantage of the G.I. Bill, receiving $110.00 a month from the U.S. government to pay for tuition, fees, books, and living expenses. He and my Uncle Jimmy (who served in the U.S. Navy during Korea, thanks to a tip from my father, his older brother) shared a bunk bed in my Grandma's apartment until Uncle Jimmy moved out to marry Aunt Diane in 1954. My father hustled. He worked during the day, attended Pace College (now Pace University) during the evening, studied and got straight A's, and still managed to have a fantastic social life. "I don't think he ever slept," my Uncle Jimmy told me. And when he did sleep, my father had terrible nightmares when he would scream out loud in the darkness until his brother told him that everything was okay, and he--Danny--was home. My father continued along, working hard at--and achieving--the American Dream. He earned his BBA, then his CPA, then his MBA. He married a beautiful woman, they bought a house, and had 3 children. Then his career really took off when he was hired by a major oil company--one which he had audited when he worked for the IRS. My father scared the crap out of them, and they wanted to keep their "enemies" closer.
By 1972, he and my mother moved the five of us (we three children) to the affluent suburb of Manhasset, NY. Goodbye bastion of Democrats. Hello bulwark of Republicans. The new war, The Vietnam War, had been raging for years in Southeast Asia. I watched the war, and the protesters, on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. I couldn't understand how President Nixon could allow it to continue. Then Nixon resigned August 8, 1974. I was 11, and I knew that this was "A Major Moment in American History." Vice President Gerald R. Ford became the 38th President of the United States. "We" didn't win the war in Vietnam; the U.S. ended its involvement when North Vietnam conquered South Vietnam. I was in 7th grade, and I decided I was going to be a Democrat.
When Carter lost to Reagan after serving only one term, I was 17, and one month shy of voting age. It was my freshman year at Wesleyan University, a veritable citadel of liberalism, and I joined in the "Communal Moan" held at Andrus Field. However, I remember telling off classmates, telling them how disrespecful they were, when some kids cheered at the news of Hinckley's attempt on the President's life on March 21, 1981. I voted against "The Gipper" in 1984. I voted against George 41 in 1988. Man, were those Clinton elections sweet--even if there were some shameful moments during our 42nd President's two terms. And I'm not talking about any sexual peccadillo either. Why couldn't the U.S. prevent the genocides in Bosnia, and in Rwanda?
I cannot even address George 43's two terms. The wounds are too fresh and deep, and the war rages on and on. President Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, is currently in the Oval Office. Our President receives so very little respect and so much disapproval from so many Americans, even by some who voted him into The White House in November 2008. We were so joyous, so hopeful and we anticipated a much better country. However, the house of cards carefully constructed under 43's Administration came crashing down. "Inside Job" is right. Our economy crashed and burned, and it is taking a long time to recover. Sometimes it seems as if improvement and change cannot come quickly enough, or may never come. These are times when I favor another quote, one attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas:
"Act as though ye have faith and faith will be given to you."
I listen to those who dissent with President Obama. I defend their First Amendment right to free speech. I myself do not wholly approve of every decision President Obama has made, but I do know that he has more than earned the respect of the American people. Although the problems with which he--and we--have to contend seem insurmountable, I have enough optimism, and informed opinions, to believe that life in our country is and will continue to improve. Maybe I am a wide-eyed, bleeding heart liberal. But this is my country too, and I am so proud to be a citizen of the United States.