Unarmed and Dangerous

It was the summer of 1974. I was a tall skinny 19 year old with shoulder length curly hair. And I was calling on businesses, door to door on the eastside of Cleveland, selling a burglar alarm system. Hough. Superior. Kinsman. So, I’m standing in the back of a bar. The owner is talking to me while he is cleaning his gun.

Word on the street, boy, is that either you’re armed, you’re crazy, or you really know how to take care of yourself.

I answered him immediately. “I don’t carry a gun. I don’t need one. I’m not crazy. And yes, if I have to, I can take care of myself. But I won’t ever need to do that. I’m just selling burglar alarms.”

I still don’t own a gun. I don’t want one. I have no interest in guns. I don’t even bother to feign much of an interest when my son tells me about his trips to the firing range with his father-in-law. I don’t want to take away their guns. Nor do I wish to disarm the hunters amongst us who, for sport, food, or possibly both, march through our woods each fall. It is as foreign to me as the recipe for a great pork roast. I just don’t care, AS LONG AS YOUR GUN RIGHTS DON’T INFRINGE ON MY SAFETY.

And that is where it gets a little sticky. The idealized version of this country, the one in all of the movies and civics books, is that we believe in live and let live. You do what you want, pray or don’t pray as you so choose, live your life to the fullest, and as long as it doesn’t impact anyone else, you’re OK. In the real U.S., not so much. And we are becoming far less tolerant of our differences. We are becoming more polarized. We don’t trust the other side. And there is always another side.

I received a hate-filled email from a group that claims to be both Conservative and patriotic. Barry Goldwater, the father of modern Conservatism, would not have recognized the authors of this piece as either. The arguments weren’t designed to garner a single vote for Mitt Romney. I have seen very little promoting Mr. Romney. No, this was a revisit of the birth certificate, a laundry list of half-truths and complete lies, and thinly veiled racism. It was nauseating.

The authors of this and other advertising now appearing on television aren’t attempting to win over the undecided. Recent polling suggests that there are very few undecideds. Most of us have already chosen the lesser of two evils. The question is whether we can be motivated by fear or anger to bother to vote. Can we be so disgusted with our choice that we stay home? Can the other side get us to give up?

Right now my true-believer Republican friends are feeling slighted while my solidly liberal Democratic friends are smugly nodding their heads. It is not that easy. The rivers of mud are flowing from both molehills of talent. As Mr. Gingrich and Senator Santorum proved, it is easy to fight Mitt Romney by simply quoting Mitt Romney. The Democrats have spent millions of dollars to cast him in the most possible negative light. His reluctance to release his tax returns to the army of CPA’s waiting to analyze every line is understandable. I doubt that he could be elected dogcatcher once everything is out. But is any of it relevant? That, like the silly birther stuff, is a question that is never addressed.

But do you trust President Obama and the Democrats? What is their secret agenda? If elected to a second term will he take away your guns? Will he end the possibility of you, a middle-aged, middle class suburbanite; from quitting your job, creating the next Microsoft and becoming a billionaire because of his confiscatory tax policies? Will he sell nuclear weapons to Iran? And what about Obamacare?

Well, do you?

And do you trust the Republicans, with or without Mitt Romney? A bunch of Republicans, campaigning on economic issues, were elected to statehouses around the country in 2010. What did we get? Countless anti-abortion laws. Anti-union laws. Changes in voting laws. Were these the issues of their campaigns? Of course not.

So, do you trust the Republicans?

Another terrible tragedy occurred last week in Colorado. It was politicized before the dead could be buried. Each extreme has marked off its territory. Hero fantasies are quite the rage on both Facebook and in the news as if more guns would have made the theater safer.

I didn’t carry a gun in 1974. Don’t carry one today. That doesn’t mean I want to take yours. Can we start the conversation there? I think we have work to do.