Friday, December 28, 2012

Vicious Viruses

If you are a regular reader of this blog—and oh, how I hope that you are—you may have noticed my failure to post Wednesday. A vicious virus struck me at 3:00 a.m. Wednesday, and I was quickly beyond reason. I couldn’t lift my head from the pillow except for biological imperatives best left unspecified. Twelve hours later, I fell into a deep, restorative sleep, and by this morning, I was strong enough to sit up, sip liquids, and stare at television.

Still, I found time to think about vicious viruses that attach themselves to the walls of reason—the social, economic and political viruses that blind us to all else, stifling our capacity to listen and learn, stealing our compassion for the needs and suffering of others.

Atticus Finch, the hero and Father of Every Year, tried to find the antidote for the virus in his community: racism. He used logic, he appealed to God, he provided evidence, and he bore the indignities of taking an unpopular position with grace and resolve. He lost, and so do all of us when we allow a virus to spread, mutate, and infect anew.

The Right to Life debate is such a virus. Representative Paul Ryan, presidential candidate Rick Santorum, failed Senate candidate Todd Akin, and many more conservative voices argue passionately for the rights of the fetus from conception. Theirs is a sacred mission, fueled by their faith, but their faith falters once the child has been born. Ryan, for example, believes that government must not regulate, legislate, or render aid to fight poverty or its circumstances, reasoning that doing so impedes the work of churches and charities (http://www.huffingtonpost. com/2012/10/24/paul-ryan-poverty-speech_n_2010827.html). In other words, once government intervenes to insure the life of a fetus, it must then withdraw to allow faithful citizens and philanthropic souls to throw lifelines to one of every five children in this nation.

Even members of Ryan’s own faith object to his proposals and reasoning. Sister Campbell, leader of the Nuns on the Bus campaign, counters that compassion should not end at birth and that charities alone cannot win a war on poverty. I agree and marvel that the Right to Life infection does not invade the hearts and minds of citizens and governing officials when the subjects of capital punishment, hunger, health care, poverty, or waging war are brought to the House or Senate for a vote.

Another contagion is the Second Amendment fever. Some fear the loss of it so fervently that they are willing to put twenty children, ages six and seven, in harm’s way. Even though our nation has already lost approximately 100 citizens annually in mass shootings for the last forty years, gun advocates would have us risk even more, arguing that more guns will keep us safer, huge or limited ammunition clips will not alter bad human behavior, and background checks at gun shows are just big government run amok. We want teachers and FBI agents and local police officers and welfare recipients and train engineers and pilots and health care personnel to submit to background checks, to prove their competencies, and to sit for psychological tests in order to preserve and protect the public good, but Second Amendment fever makes sufferers incapable of seeing government regulation as anything but a Storm-Trooper threat.

An acquaintance and fellow student in a recent Political Storytelling course that I enjoyed very much asked me during a break, “How can people on the right support the candidates and policies? How?” I told her that I didn’t have the answer, but that most of them seemed to be single-issue voters uninformed about many of the social, economic and political realities that face the nation. What I meant, of course, is that many people, left and right, carry the virus of climate change or Right to Life. Some have a low-grade Second Amendment fever; others drink the Kool-aid and take on faith the idea that trickle-down economics is a sound idea in spite of more than forty years in which nothing trickled down, only up.

Rest, America. Heal. Get well by getting the rest of the story, the one beyond your single-issue. Advocate for one and all, not just your own particular religion, literary icon, or economist. If the House of Representatives could shake off allegiance to Grover Norquist and the illusion of big, heinous government, we might just get a deal and a little national health.