Henry Kissinger once said of college professors that we argue more and more about less and less. This is frequently true of many Americans of all occupations who argue about public policy, whether it be made at the federal, state, or local, level, especially when we think of the latest policy disagreement to grip America’s imagination this Memorial Day weekend—who should be allowed to use which bathrooms.
Our right to debate public policy issues has been bought and paid for largely by those whom Memorial Day was created to honor—veterans who have been killed in the service of our country in time of war. We therefore have the freedom to debate bathroom usage, or anything else, should we so wish.
But it’s a pity we don’t devote the same amount of time and energy to more weighty issues, such as taxes and spending. At our insistence, the federal government spends more than half its revenue on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the national debt. Yet we also keep our tax rate too low to pay for these programs—not to mention national defense, parks, highways, etc.—without continuously borrowing more money and increasing our national debt. Moreover, we discourage debate on these issues by promptly denying public office to any politician who might have the temerity to suggest we try to bring our public finances under control through some combination of spending cuts and tax increases. Surely an honest debate over these issues would be a more fitting tribute to those whose sacrifices made our freedom possible than the consignment to political oblivion of those who want to so use their freedom to debate—and maybe even decide—those issues. What are we afraid of?
Other issues do get more debate. Abortion rights, gun owners’ rights, and the death penalty all elicit strong feelings and vigorous discussion—sometimes seemingly never-ending discussion. But what’s notable about these issues is that probably none is as important as those for which our veterans fought and died—American independence, the fate of slavery, the response to imperialism, fascism, communism, and international terrorism. And certainly, the potential fates awaiting those who engage in debates on these issues—the worst of which may be electoral defeat—are nothing compared to that which may await those who take up arms in the service of our country.
We’re told continuously to remember that Memorial Day is more than a day to take time off from work and celebrate the beginning of summer, and that we should remember the sacrifices of those who died that our nation might live. But we should also remember the freedom they’ve given us and to use that freedom to try to make real progress on those issues which the dead have left to the living to resolve.
Happy Memorial Day.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.