All Commentary
Monday, July 1, 1963

Americanism in Action

Mr. Raley is a free-lance author, speaker, phil­osopher from Gadsden, Alabama.

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, America needs great people to do great things—needs men and women with vision and ability to stand for Americanism in high places, to defend liberty and justice before the whole world. When bands are playing and the flag is waving, however, it seems easy enough to stand in the spot­light and defend a worthy cause. At such moments, many will pledge to defend an ideal to the death.

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.




Ideas on Liberty

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.

THOMAS JEFFERSON, Kentucky Resolutions, 1798

  • Mr. Raley is a free-lance author, speaker, philosopher from Gadsden, Alabama.