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Inspiration in common goals for Americans

Guy W. Farmer

If you saw Tim Russert’s interview with first lady Laura Bush and President Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, on NBC’s “Meet The Press” last Sunday, you were treated to valuable lessons in bipartisanship and what it means to be an American. It was a truly inspirational political talk show for a change.

Too much of what passes for political dialogue these days – this column included – is mean and vindictive, as evidenced by the personal attacks the nine Democratic presidential candidates are mounting against President Bush and each other. These partisan attacks fall far short of what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they established our Republic. So perhaps all of us should join in a New Year’s resolution in favor of a kinder, gentler and more informative political dialogue.

Unfortunately, such a resolution wouldn’t last for long since negative campaigning has proven to be so effective in recent elections. And that’s why I was so impressed by the Bush-Kennedy interview on “Meet The Press” as soft-spoken and well-informed representatives of two of the nation’s most prominent political dynasties discussed current affairs in an atmosphere of bipartisanship and mutual respect.

In their joint TV appearance, both Mrs. Bush and Ms. Kennedy-Schlossberg emphasized the importance of teaching our children about the rights and responsibilities of American citizenship. Mrs. Bush, a former teacher and school librarian, has made reading her top priority while Caroline Kennedy has written a new book on what it means to be an American. In her book, she quotes her father and President Reagan, among others, illustrating that neither major political party has a monopoly on good ideas or patriotism.

Of course the Bush-Kennedy program received little press coverage because it didn’t generate any conflict or outrageous charges. Instead, the two distinguished ladies agreed on the high calling of public service and the need to strengthen public education. Mrs. Bush said Americans are walking a tightrope between staying vigilant against new terrorist attacks and comforting their children during a time of heightened terrorism fears.

On the issue of bipartisanship, the U.S. Constitution makes no mention of political parties. Rather, the Founding Fathers established a new Republic “in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defense, promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” Those objectives are as valid today as they were in 1787, when the Constitution was written.

And what’s more, the Constitution guarantees that all men (and women) are created equal, and that no one has rights superior to anyone else’s – not even the president of the United States. No other country in the world can make that claim. As someone who lived abroad for more than 20 years, I can testify that the U.S. looks a lot better from afar than it does up close, where we experience all of the warts and imperfections of participatory democracy on a daily basis.

Those were my thoughts last week as I read about an immigrant family’s odyssey in a Reno daily. It was the story of a 35-year-old, Mexican-born mother of three who had just obtained her American citizenship. “Everyone has rights here, whether rich or poor,” she told the newspaper as she looked forward to voting in this year’s presidential election. She achieved the basic requirements of American citizenship: 1) good moral character, 2) an attachment to the principles of the Constitution based on study of U.S. history and government, and 3) a basic knowledge of English.

All too often, however, at the urging of politicians of both major parties, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service – now the Homeland Security Department’s Citizenship and Immigration Bureau – has flouted its own rules by granting citizenship to non-English speakers in order to add them to voter rolls in election years. This travesty occurred in 1996 and 2000 and we’ll see it again this year.

Most naturalized citizens come here in search of the American Dream. They want to learn English and participate in the political process in order to improve their lives. Sadly, however, a few groups and individuals are actively working against this inclusive philosophy of U.S. citizenship by advocating the Balkanization of America – separating us by race and/or ethnicity. Well-known advocates of this divisive philosophy include the Rev. Jesse Jackson and our very own Emma Sepulveda, a columnist for that Reno daily. Jackson turns everything into a black vs. white confrontation while for Ms. Sepulveda, it’s always “us” (Hispanics) vs. “them” (everyone else).

Fortunately, current trends favor the melting pot. According to the New York Times, our “ethnically ambiguous” population is growing rapidly as young people refuse to be pigeonholed by the government. Racial and ethnic ambiguity is “in,” the Times reported last week, among “Generation Y (20-somethings), the most racially diverse population in the nation’s history.”

For example, a recent issue of “Teen People” magazine featured “Puerto Rican and Italian-American” and “Finnish-German-Irish and Scotch-American” models. Which reminds me of my multicultural hero, champion golfer Tiger Woods, who describes himself as “Cablinasian” Ð Caucasian-Black-Indian-Asian-American. But in the final analysis there’s only one category that really counts: American, and that includes all of us. I rest my case.

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.