What About Bob?

Posted: Apr 19, 2009 11:52 AM

In the aftermath of the horrific events of September 11, 2001, our government, in its infinite wisdom, formed a new entity. It would be an agency designed to protect us all – The Department of Homeland Security. I happen to know many wonderful people who work under its aegis, and I think it by and large serves a necessary purpose in these perilous times. But in the wrong hands, even good things can become bad.

The phrase “know your enemy” hearkens back to Sun Tzu’s classic work The Art of War, and represents self-evident wisdom. Everyone has enemies, as does every nation. You can tell a lot about people and peoples by their enemies. You can also tell a lot about them by those they describe and define as enemies.

The presidential oath, taken twice by President Obama due to a miscue from Chief Justice Roberts on Inauguration Day, simply talks about preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution of the United States. All other similar oaths affirmed by members of Congress, the Cabinet, or even the Military, include the meatier phrase, “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

“Against all enemies…”

Every culture contains a measure of “us” versus “them.” But what happens when the lines between “us” and “them” is blurred. Or worse – what about when “us” morphs into “them?”

My father in law passed away a little over a year ago after a long fight with cancer at the end of his valiant 81-year life. He was a good man – a decent man – someone who loved his family and paid his bills and went to church and owned a gun or two or three.

After I had the audacity to marry his daughter in May of 1976, Bob Holland and I settled quickly into to an awkward relationship with occasional tense moments. I was the Young Turk, he the sage advisor, though I did not always welcome his advice.

OK, in fairness, I never welcomed it.

We actually had similar values, even common faith. It was just in how we articulated things that the sparks sometimes flew. I was never a liberal in any sense of the word, but there was a way the old man had – an attitude about him – deep seated cultural and political opinions, that made me at times want to argue the “other view” even if absurd and not actually believed.

Think Archie Bunker and Meathead.

Now, this is not to say that my father in law was in any way really like the Bunker caricature – not at all. Archie was an ignorant man. Bob was, though not well educated formally, a well-read autodidact. It was actually hard to win when arguing with him, though the good Lord knows I sure tried. Oh, and I never lost my hair like Meathead/Rob Reiner did (nor my mind).

I have been thinking a lot about Bob recently, not just in the “I sure miss our animated conversations” sense, but wondering how I would be able to conjure up the requisite humility to admit to my favorite forensic foe that, well...er…uh… – he was right all along!

You see, he used to say that one day “they” would mark “us” as dangerous. He always talked about the virtue of gun ownership. His long-time membership in the NRA was one of his badges of honor. He decried illegal immigration – though he had a real heart for all people. He was fiercely anti-abortion and would tell his family that one-day holding this opinion would become dangerous.

A year before he died, he begged my wife and I to sell our house and downsize before the market crashed. Bad times were coming, he was sure of it. And when the rough times came, other bad things would start to happen.

He didn’t live to see the real estate market collapse, the stock market tank, and covers of mainstream magazines proudly proclaiming “We are All Socialists Now,” one week, and “Christianity is Dying,” another. He didn’t live to see historic things happen politically, nor was he – thankfully – around to see us bowing before a dangerous world full of actual enemies.

I guess I am glad he didn’t, but I wonder what he’d say?

What would he make of reading a memo from The Department of Homeland Security talking about the potential danger from “radical right wing extremists” – only to instantly recognize many of his precious values being stigmatized as extreme?

Words like: “may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.”

Or: “ the consequences of a prolonged economic downturn—including real estate foreclosures, unemployment, and an inability to obtain credit—could create a fertile recruiting environment for rightwing extremists…”

Or the always popular in these days as “us” becomes “them”: “Historically, domestic rightwing extremists have feared, predicted, and anticipated a cataclysmic economic collapse in the United States. Prominent antigovernment conspiracy theorists have incorporated aspects of an impending economic collapse to intensify fear and paranoia among like-minded individuals and to attract recruits during times of economic uncertainty.”

One thing for sure, he would probably turn to me, his head shaking from the effects of Parkinson’s syndrome, and say: “Well, Dave, I guess you have to admit I was right after all – huh?” Then, because he had opinions without malice and never lost sight of his core contentment and faith-driven peace of mind, he’d probably add, “Let’s have a sandwich!”

I’d reply, “Sure, but first would you help me pick out my first gun?”

He’d smile and with pride remark: “Dave, you’re sure getting smarter.”