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What's 'right,' anyway?

May 16, 2004 1:14 am

CELEBRATING cultural diver- sity and allowing personal freedoms while providing for the common good is key to America's greatness. But doing all those things at once is so difficult that many countries don't even try. One reason it works so well in America is because we have elections every so often to adjust the balance.

For the most part, we just go about our daily routines, counting on the system to work, whether a president faces impeachment, a presidential election ends in a virtual tie, or thousands of our countrymen die in attacks on our own turf.

But despite our ability as a nation to deal with and even close ranks under the most trying circumstances, it seems that once the dust clears we always revert to taking sides on almost every issue imaginable.

In fact, reconciling the cultural and political differences in America has never seemed more unlikely than it does today. We seem to be growing ever more polarized over everything from abortion to taxation, from politics to religion. And everyone thinks they know where individual freedom should stop and American "values" should begin.

Political candidates are considered more in terms of party labels than by what they've accomplished or what they really stand for. Because so many Americans get their news by the sound bite, they may never really know the essence of the person behind the candidacy--until he or she is holding office. Worst of all, half of Americans aren't even interested enough in the direction of their country or communities to cast a ballot. As far as they're concerned, they're passengers on a plane on autopilot.

Today's rhetoric doesn't help. It often encourages divisiveness when it could call on everyone to embrace the diversity that is America's cornerstone.

Last weekend, Carl Rove, President Bush's chief political strategist, told graduates at Liberty University that America needs people who have "the moral clarity and courage to do what's right, regardless of consequence, fashion or fad."

Rove probably offered that up assuming, "Who could argue with that?" But that simple statement hammers even deeper the wedge that is dividing America.

"Moral clarity" means different things to different people. We have to accept that. Certainly Rove's audience at Liberty, evangelist Jerry Falwell's college, has its own idea of morality that others may not share. Rove is saying that tunnel vision is fine; to heck with the wide-angle view.

"[T]he courage to do what's right, regardless of consequence, fashion or fad." Once again, people have very differing ideas about what is right. The gay couple who marry are doing what they believe is right, regardless of the consequence, but I doubt that is Rove's context. What that couple chooses to do isn't anybody else's business.

The problem arises when those who think they know what is right attempt to impose their views on everyone else, believing it is for the common good, when nothing could be further from the truth.

America is great because of the broad array of its people's views and backgrounds, and the cultural freedom they enjoy.

So Maryland's Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is free to go on the radio and proclaim, "I reject the idea of multiculturalism. Once you get into this multicultural crap, this bunk, you run into a problem."

Now there's some "moral clarity" for you, there's "the courage to do what's right."

Ehrlich's view of the Great American Melting Pot it that it's only OK as long that everything that goes in is poured out into "good American" molds. Diversity is therefore a bad thing, to be discouraged, because the more alike we are, the better.

Well, bunk.

Even if the governor retracts that statement, the damage to his leadership is done, and part of America has taken a step backward.

Also earlier this month, a Southern Baptist leader proposed a resolution urging parents to remove their children from the nation's public schools because they are, by law, "Godless" and "anti-Christian."

T.C. Pinckney, the Alexandria publisher of a Baptist newsletter, thinks the church should resolve that parents ought to home school their kids or put them in Christian schools.

Of course he's free to suggest such a course of action, and there are those few who may accept his advice. But he is fortifying the home-school stereotype that such children are taught a religion-based curriculum that ignores certain modern realities.

But some parents choose to home school for positive reasons--because they are enthusiastic about the opportunity to teach their children--not to prevent them from attending public school. Religion might have nothing to do with it.

But Pinckney's premise is that diversity, in culture and thought, is bad, and that we are wrong to think in anyway other than the way he prescribes.

Of course, there is no condoning the actions of the Timothy McVeighs or Eric Robert Rudolphs of America. We are still a nation of laws. But differences of opinion, culture, and conviction help America thrive. Suggesting that others have no right to believe what they believe--therein lies the problem.





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