Do you remember that day — March 30, 1981 — when President Ronald Reagan was shot? Do you remember that when he was wheeled into surgery he looked up at the doctors and said, “Please tell me you’re Republicans.” And that the lead surgeon, a Democrat, said to him, “Today, Mr. President, we are all Republicans.”
Later, during his early recovery, Nancy Reagan allowed only two politicians in to see him, Howard Baker, the Republican Senate Minority Leader and Tip O’Neill, the Democratic Speaker of the House. O’Neill and the President were political adversaries and personal friends.
Here’s what took place in that hospital room as remembered by Max Freidersdorf, Assistant to the President on Legislative Affairs, who was with the president for the first 10 days of his recovery:
“…Tip got down on his knees next to the bed and said a prayer for the President and he held his hand and kissed him and they said a prayer together. One about, what is it? Walking by still waters, the psalm-The 23rd psalm. The Speaker stayed there quite a while. They never talked too much. I just heard him say the prayer, then I heard him say, God bless you, Mr. President, we’re all praying for you. The Speaker was crying.”
I bring this up because, when we are in a great national crisis, decisions to send federal help to states are being made based on whether the state voted Republican or Democrat.
There are many words that could be used to describe that kind of decision making, none of them complimentary. I will use “petty,” “mean,” “childish,” “vindictive” and reserve the words I would prefer to say, unsaid.
When has any American, faced with someone in desperate need of help, asked about the victim’s politics before they offered to help them? Not on the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, not in any hurricane, tornado, flood or fire, not in any natural disaster … except this one.
This is Memorial Day, the day when we pause to thank those who have defended America from harm. We thank them irrespective of their politics, as they defended us without asking about our politics … or religion … or skin color. They defended us because, as Americans, we are all in this together.
Lincoln, quoting the Bible, said “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” We are painfully close to being divided because of politics.
And what divides us in those politics? Love of America? Distrust of huge corporations? Anger at the loss of jobs? Favoritism for the immensely wealthy? A safe and secure old age? Opportunities for the young? Standing up for the little guy? Not hardly. We are being divided by partisan politics fanned by demagogues and hypocrites urging us to hate others because of their political party.
And what will fighting among ourselves on that basis get us either as a nation or as individuals other than weakness as a nation and ridicule on a world-wide basis. It gives the advantage to powerful nations that are “united” by dictatorships, whereas we are being divided by democracy.
So on this Memorial day let us be thankful to those who died for America, for those who fought for America, for those who put themselves in harm’s way to care for victims of the pandemic, but most of all, let us be thankful that they didn’t care what our politics were.