There was a boy, about 5 or 6. He tagged along his mother's skirt as she went to town. The grocer, the drug store, but what he most remembered was the post office. So official! So... American. Posters imploring good citizenship plastered the walls. "Buy war bonds!" Uncle Sam pointing, "I want YOU to love your country!" "Vote!" "God bless America."
While the boy could not verbalize it, nor even cared to, what he felt was a sense of belonging. The flag, the stars, the stripes, the uniforms with patches and medals, the slogans all pointed to something bigger than him and his own little hamlet.
We were America, and we were one. One with each other and one with the world. There was only unity. There was only one possible attitude, only one way of thinking and doing, and that was the good way, the way of coming together for something good. Anything else just did not exist.
He knew intuitively that what was good for Americans was good for America. What helped Americans helped America. While in time he would learn to extend this truth to the world beyond, this sense of unity started here, in the smallest of burgs in the greatest of nations.
So it is with head-shaking sadness that the now much older boy rues the amazingly dis-united state of the United States of America. How could a people with so much in common, with similar wants, identical needs, and a universal sense of morality allow themselves to become so fractured, he wondered.
He's been through their universities, he's studied, he's prayed, he's listened and spoken (perhaps too much when he should be listening even more). The reason he discovered was simple: a loss of focus. Too many Americans have lost sight of America's essence.
We've let the discordant voices of hate, fear and division to distort this reality. They shape our emotions, form our opinions and dictate our hard-held ideologies. They do so with half-truths or outright lies, many of which confirm the prejudices and distortions with which many of us were raised.
Republicans are not greedy, uncompassionate souls no matter how many support their conservative causes. Some of the most generous people I know are rock-ribbed Republicans. Democrats are not socialist/communists bent on destroying America, no matter how much they want collective action for the greater good. Some of the most enterprising business people I know are Democrats.
When the little boy cut his teeth on the meaning of America, Republican Dwight David Eisenhower was president. "I like Ike" was everywhere. And why not? Here was a real American, who cared about all of America. No division, no rancor, no denial of American unity.
It would be years before this truth really sank in to the little boy. Looking back, Ike truly was a unifying president. He believed in the collective goodness of the federal government. He used it to protect human rights, to build the interstate highways and strengthen social programs. He promoted progressive taxation and left in place a top rate of 90 percent (it was Democratic president John F. Kennedy who lowered that to 70 percent). Ike also famously warned of the military-industrial complex.
Ike was a man for all ages, but particularly for today's. He could and should be the standard-bearer for all political parties. His message: govern in a way that helps the average American, period. Ike knew that social welfare, that unions, that government aid, whether through SBA loans, unemployment insurance, Pell grants or a hundred others, did not weaken America but made her stronger. It turned the United States of America into a united state of America.
This is our heritage. And our future.
Richard Dawahare is a Lexington attorney.