Christmas encounter with a 'radical socialist'

Larry Elder

12/26/2003 12:00:00 AM - Larry Elder

Moonie, my neighbor's cat, sits predictably outside my front door every morning at 7 a.m. Moonie expects breakfast, and if unhappy with that day's selection -- fish, chicken, beef -- Moonie sniffs indignantly and walks over to the front door and meows for his immediate release. Who knows where he goes? Perhaps he travels back home or to yet another accommodating neighbor with more appealing offerings. Safe, happy, full and entitled, Moonie sometimes sunbathes in my driveway, requiring me to literally get out of the car and move him when the roar of the engine and the car's horn fail to rouse him.

One day last week, Moonie ate most of his ritual morning delicacies. I then went clothes shopping, taking my uncle and dad. The Lebanese store manager, Walid, waited on us and told a harrowing tale of how he came to America at age 7. Neighboring Syrians, he said, brutalized and took advantage of the Lebanese. Syrians assassinated the leaders of Lebanon, establishing a leadership more amenable to Syrian demands, which included taking Lebanese oil, leaving Lebanon with little compensation.

Syrian authorities routinely patrol Lebanon's streets, acting toward the Lebanese with Hussein-like arrogance and brutality. Many Christians live in Lebanon -- including, at one time, the salesman -- surrounded by Muslims, living an uncomfortable and frequently perilous day-to-day existence. For this reason, his family applied for a visa to America and waited over seven years before being accepted.

Moments after hearing the salesman's story, I ran into another shopper. Recognizing me from television and radio, the shopper said, "We probably won't like each other. I'm a committed radical socialist." Now understand the scene. This clothing store touts its high quality at reasonable prices. Tell me, does my "radical socialist" understand that the American system of capitalism, competition and free enterprise enable her to shop at this store where she, like my father, my uncle and me, sought reasonably priced quality?

Did some bureaucrat at the Department of Labor or Commerce use command-and-control edicts to compel this hard-working Lebanese immigrant to improve himself? If the shopper drove to the store, she benefited from free-market competition between automakers. She used fuel resulting from the competition between oil discoverers, producers, refiners and retailers. And, frankly, given her ample girth, she did not appear to miss too many meals in America, despite her "radical socialist" view.

Some contrast. The appreciation for America shown by the Lebanese salesman vs. the lack of same demonstrated by the "radical socialist." The socialist showed little appreciation or understanding of the greatness of this country and its abundance, which results from economic freedom, separation of church and state, respect for individual rights, and relatively low taxes and regulation, all of which create an incentive for people like the Lebanese salesman to take risks that mutually benefit both himself and the "radical socialist."

This country allowed my father, a child of the Depression who never knew his biological father, to overcome Southern racism through pride, hard work and focus. My entrepreneurial-minded dad applied for a taxi license in a Southern court but was denied by the judge, who referred to my father as "a nigger."

Dad became a Marine in World War II, stationed as a cook on Guam, while America prepared for the invasion of the island of Japan, an invasion aborted by the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet when my dad returned to the South to get a job as a cook, the racist restaurateurs refused to hire him, claiming that he "lacked references."

My father applied the same attitude he later taught my brothers and me and said, "What can I do about it?" He then relocated to Los Angeles, a city he visited pre-war as a train Pullman porter, in a search for better employment opportunities. There, too, no restaurant hired him, claiming that he "lacked references."

He went to an unemployment office, taking the first job that presented itself -- that of a janitor. He worked that job for nearly 12 years, taking a second full-time janitor position elsewhere. He also went to night school three nights a week to get his G.E.D. He managed all this with a stay-at-home wife while raising three boys, finally saving enough to open his own cafe. Unlike our "radical socialist," he never complained about America's inequality, lack of opportunity or roadblocks placed in the paths of less-advantaged people.

Work hard, get an education, learn a trade, and don't make bad moral mistakes, he always told us. Don't blame others, and "the sky is wide open" if one only sees the opportunities.

Some, however, like the "radical socialist" shopper -- and my neighbor's cat, Moonie -- seem oblivious to the comfort, freedom and abundance that flow from America's historically unparalleled opportunities. At least Moonie, however, in an occasional display of affection, will from time to time rub against my leg in appreciation.