Mr. Raley is a free-lance author, speaker, philosopher from Gadsden,
In recent weeks I have asked this question of numerous persons—businessmen, professional people, students, and the man on the street. The most provocative answer came from a high school student. "In my opinion," this student said, "Americanism is something we hear more and more, but see less and less."
My own experience tends to validate this. Almost daily I see people accept and participate in various socialistic proposals, while advocating pure, undiluted Americanism with all the eloquence at their command.
Many of those I questioned seemed to believe that only magnificent acts of valor may properly be classified as true Americanism. And surely,
But what of the times when a person is called upon to defend his own principles, when such defense entails only hardship, devoid of glory, when the only witness of note may be oneself? Such an incident encompasses my own definition of down-to-earth, everyday Americanism in action.
A few months since, I was passing through a small city where an old friend serves as hospital chaplain. We were reminiscing in his office, just off the main floor lounge, when six people entered the lounge. They talked quietly at first, and I forgot them for awhile.
As their discussion became more heated, however, their voices rose to a level difficult to ignore. As a matter of fact, when the subject of their discussion became apparent, I must have listened deliberately.
The six included two sons and a daughter, and their respective spouses, of a man who had just been admitted to the hospital. However, this man had been in and out of the hospital so much in recent years that his own meager funds had been exhausted. The in-laws were not saying much, but one son and the daughter wanted to sign a paper that would allow the hospital to collect from the federal-state fund. The other son felt strongly that they should get their father a private room and pay the bill themselves.
This one who wanted the family to assume responsibility for their father’s bill was called Buster. He was a little too short for his weight, and showed signs of baldness at the back of his head. His wife was slight, almost straight, and her total vocabulary seemed to consist of three words. The other son, John, was taller and, I think, older; his wife, an attractive brunette, was Sue. The daughter did most of the talking; everyone called her Sis except her husband. I didn’t get the son-in-law’s name or much that he said.
By the time I had decided who was who and where each stood, the discussion was going loud and clear—"Sis" apparently in control and gaining with every word.
"I tell you, Buster, it’s not the same as charity. It’s a law, passed by Congress, just so people won’t be stuck with hospital bills that will work a hardship on them."
"No difference to me, if it does work a hardship on us. The old man spent all he ever earned educating and helping us get started. He didn’t believe in these government programs, and I don’t intend that he should fall into their hands since he can’t help himself."
"But really, honey," Buster’s wife interjected, before Sis continued.
"Buster, you are the most contrary person—it doesn’t make sense. No telling how long Dad may be here. His bill could be several thousand dollars. We and the children might have to do without things that we need for months. You know Dad wouldn’t want that. I just can’t understand you, Buster… my own brother wanting to saddle us all with this—this unnecessary burden," and Sis started to sniffle.
After the next, "But really, honey," John was ready with what I feared would be the winning argument.
"Now look, Buster. I know how you feel, of course, and I know how Dad feels about such things, but we must use reason—common sense—about this matter. Like Sis says, it’s not charity in the first place. We know that everything that is paid by the state and federal government comes from taxes. Now I don’t like these programs and the high taxes they make necessary any better than you do. I would much prefer less taxes and more responsibility myself; you know that. But we have no choice in the matter. The law was passed; we have to help pay for this program, like it or not; so why not take advantage of it? It’s the only sensible thing to do under the circumstances."
This discussion went on for some time. I was pulling for Buster as hard as I have ever pulled for anyone in my life, but frankly, I felt that his chances of winning were very slim. Every reason he advanced for accepting responsibility for his father’s hospital bill was countered by several reasons why the government should pick up the tab.
Actually, I had grievously misjudged Buster from the beginning. What he lacked in eloquence and diplomacy was more than offset by single-minded determination. His parting shot was a masterpiece, leaving no doubt in my mind that Buster would ever capitulate to pressure from the socialist trend.
"I have heard all this malarkey I intend to," Buster said as he turned from them. "Frankly, I don’t care what the rest of you do. Each one can do as he pleases, but I just want to tell you one thing: I am going to pay the old man’s bill if I have to do it all myself. It may seem crazy, but I know how I feel about it. I have said all along, when forced to pay for these socialistic programs, that they were wrong—not good for the people and therefore not good for the country. I said this when other people were using the programs, and I don’t feel one bit different now. I just don’t aim to have any part of it—none whatever."
After Buster had gone, the son-in-law spoke up for the first time: "I don’t understand the way he thinks; always figured to get all I could and give as little as possible myself. But old Buster has seen me through some rough times since I’ve been in the family. Since he is determined to pay your dad’s bill—well, look girl, it’s not right he should pay it all. I think we should—yes, we will pay your part. Matter of fact, I kinda like the idea."
Sis looked amazed and unhappy, but offered no objections. John looked at Sue, who gave him a barely perceptible nod. Obviously, the bill would be split three ways, after all.
I didn’t meet Buster. I don’t know his name or what his occupation is, but I know him well. I know him to be a true, active American citizen. True to himself, he could not be untrue to anyone else.
There is little chance that this man ever will be known as a great American. There were no flags waving and no cameras grinding as he made his stand, withstood stifling pressure, and overcame what must have been tremendous temptation. No, this is not the kind of thing that makes one a national hero. Just pure and simple Americanism in action. But it was a great inspiration to me, so I pass it on to you.
In Questions of Power….
Resolved… that it would be a dangerous delusion were a confidence in the men of our choice to silence our fears for the safety of our rights: that confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism: free government is founded in jealousy and not in confidence; it is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited Constitutions to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power…. In questions of power then let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.