President Obama delivered a speech yesterday at a memorial service in Waco, TX for the first responders who perished in the fertilizer plant explosion last week. (here) His speech writers prepared a warm, cozy speech with all the high notes of honoring the fallen, offering hope for the living and fleshed out with lots of examples of individual courage, but somehow his speech just didn’t sound like it came from the heart. President Obama waxing on about the virtues of “small town America” rubbed me the wrong way, because frankly I don’t think he respects “small town America” and from his unscripted remarks in the past it’s obvious that he holds these very people in complete contempt. Good manners dictate just praising him for making the effort to show up to offer his condolences, but in the back of my mind, I was remembering, “they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Guess we can add “clinging to past insults” as part of this Pennsylvanian’s backwoods mentality too.
Just what are these “small town values” his speech writers thought would sound the proper chord for this solemn occasion in Waco? Perhaps, one of the most important values that shines in small towns is the belief in civic duty, where good citizenship still carries a great deal of clout. Now, President Obama places his faith in more governmental programs to solve social problems, while when you travel to these tiny nooks and hollows, far away from urban and suburban America, vestiges of the self-reliant American spirit still flourish. The people of West. TX, like so many other “small town” locales, rely on volunteers in their own community for many of their services and civic needs. It’s a place where the fire department is strictly a volunteer undertaking, as 12 of those who perished in this fertilizer explosion last week were volunteer firefighters. The President starts his civic duty definition with what the government owes you, but to rebuild the American team requires nurturing the seeds of democracy that still bravely take root in these tiny enclaves all across our great nation. Those seeds are the seeds of individual commitment to the American ideals of being a good citizen, knowing that our strength comes not from having the fanciest ‘”infrastructure”, but from building good character in our citizenry. It’s about what the people can do for themselves and their community, not about what “government” can do.
As a child, I marveled at how many people stopped by our home bearing everything from fresh garden produce to hams and bottles of whiskey at Christmas time as thank-you gifts to my Dad for “favors” he did for them (of course the whiskey sat gathering dust at our home, as my parents weren’t drinkers). My Dad made helping people part of his daily life, with no mention of it and certainly no desire for anything in return. Often, neighbors or friends of friends would call my mother when a loved one died at home. My mother, being a registered nurse, made her the go-to person to call to prepare the deceased for the undertaker. Day or night, my mother would go and bathe the deceased, to spare the immediate family from having to deal with that. My mother explained the importance of treating the deceased with as much respect as you treat the living. Just comparing my mother’s values to that horrific disregard for human life on trial in that abortionist, Kermit Gosnell, trial in Philadelphia, well, it could easily be summed up as the difference between good and evil. My parents believed in good citizenship in practice, not from the political soapbox.
When my father passed away a couple attended the services and they expressed their great admiration for my father and told my siblings and my mother about how many times my father helped them with things around their house, This couple were newcomers to our community and I assumed my mother knew them, as I had years before moved away from home. Later as my family sat discussing the services, one of my sisters asked my mother about this couple. My mother said she had no idea who they were and she thought one of us might know who they were. My Dad’s brand of quietly doing “favors” for people could sure put us on the right path to rebuilding the American team and his “small town values” still serve as my personal model on how to treat other people. Often when I queried why he did so much for other people, his usual response was, “Well it didn’t cost me much except a little time and everyone has a little time to spare.”