At Least, It Starts Local

It’s difficult, in such times as the ones we inhabit, to take seriously the old political adage, “All politics is local.” Makes you think of a bunch of good old boys, playing checkers down at the fire hall while they discuss details of the upcoming school bond issue. What’s that got to do with the Iraq War? (Or with impending environmental catastrophe, or with grotesque inequality of incomes, or with one of the worst health-care systems in the so-called First World, for that matter. But one thing at a time.)

Here’s what. A couple of my friends live in the incredibly picturesque Norman Rockwellish town of Rensselaerville, New York. Last year, they put an ad in the town newsletter. Nice, simple, straight-forward. The ad read:

It’s a QUAGMIRE!
Bring them home now.

In May of 2006, the governing body of the town voted unanimously to disallow political ads “pro or con the Iraq War” in the town newsletter. At the time, my friends’ ad was the only one in the paper which mentioned the war.

The First Amendment was effectively nullified, and remained so for nine months, until, with prodding from the New York Civil Liberties Union, the “disallow” decision was reversed. The ad has now been restored.

Why should we be concerned about a small ad in a small paper in a small town? Two reasons spring to mind. First, the issues of freedom are important at any level. Second, it has been the small towns of America which have made the dearest and bitterest contribution to the war effort — the lives of their young men and women. As CBS reported earlier this year,

Across the nation, small towns are quietly bearing a disproportionate burden of war. Nearly half of the more than 3,100 U.S. military casualties in Iraq have come from towns like McKeesport, where fewer than 25,000 people live, according to an analysis by The Associated Press. One in five hailed from hometowns of less than 5,000.

People who live in rural areas and small towns, like the poor and disadvantaged from urban areas, are disproportionately the ones who sign up for military service. And, disproportionately, they die. If for no other reason than a nod toward that equality we brag about everywhere, we ought to wonder just what it is that the rest of the nation is doing, what sacrifices the rest of us should make. It’s a question that PBS Newshour’s Jim Lehrer put to President Bush — coincidentally, at about the same time as the CBS report noted above. This is what the President said in answer.

Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night. I mean, we’ve got a fantastic economy here in the United States, but yet, when you think about the psychology of the country, it is somewhat down because of this war.

There it is. That’s the sacrifice the rest of us are making in pursuit of an unprovoked and unjustified war which must go down as one of the most egregious foreign policy blunders in world history. We “sacrifice peace of mind” when we see those nasty images. And we’re not making as much money as we otherwise might.

And, unless we keep our eyes open, we might find we’re losing some of our freedoms.

Or maybe we already have.

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