Answer The Damn Question

I have some really great dreams. Sometimes they’re sexy, sometimes they’re full of happy memories, and sometimes they’re full of great ideas. Some of those ideas have turned my life around. That’s the way it is with great dreams. But I don’t think this is going to be one of those great dream nights. There’s a question that needs an answer in my life. And it’s really bothering me. It’s no secret. In fact there’s a very popular song about it.

 I’m a Louie-Louie Generation guy. And Louie-Louie Generation folks have been around long enough to know that if you’ve got the guts, and you’re willing to make the effort, and you get a little luck, sometimes, you can make even the best and biggest dreams come true.

 Let me tell you a true story about a great dream. Once upon a time, there was a lawyer by the name of Francis. Francis was pretty good at lawyer-ing. He was always looking one step ahead of the competition. Good lawyers do that. One night, he was pacing back and forth on the deck of a ship, trying to figure out how he was going to get a client released from prison. All of a sudden, there was a series of terrible explosions, and war rockets started screaming across the sky from a fort on a hill overlooking the harbor, and men started running in all directions trying to escape from the smoking, deadly, confusion of war.

 It was the beginning of a battle that lasted through most of the terrible night. And no one could know the outcome…until the early light of dawn…which is when Francis  grabbed a telescope, and pulled it out to focus on the flag on the fort. It was still there. Torn, full of bullet holes, and burnt…but still flying proud and sure, and free.

 You know the story of the Star Spangled Banner. It’s a song about a dream come true. A dream that a bunch of guys in wigs and funny hats had…a long time ago. The wigs and hats were the only funny things about those guys. They had guts, and energy, and determination And they also had a lot of arguments about some very basic points that they wanted in the document they were working on.

But as they were signing their names to the document, I think it was Ben Franklin who said something like, “We must either work together, or we will surely hang together.” They had guts. And they had pride. And energy. And strength. And in the long run…they cared much more about the dream they shared, than about their disagreements. As a matter of fact, as Ben said, they were willing to literally stick their necks out…to noose length if necessary… to make their dream come true.

 We’re dreamers, you and I…all of us…Americans. That’s how we got to the moon. We had the dream, and we made it happen. We dreamed about buildings that would scrape the sky, so we built  a sky scraper national park and called it New York City. All mankind has always dreamed of flying…and it was a couple of our guys by the name of Wright who made it happen.

 That song that Francis Scott Key wrote was about a dream that came true. But Francis Scott Key, the lawyer, was used to staying one step ahead of the competition, and he knew it wasn’t a completely done deal. He knew that like any dream, it would take effort, and guts and a little luck to keep it alive. And he wasn’t sure that would happen…which is why he ended his song with a question. A question that has…up until now…had a simple answer. And that answer has always been yes…until now. The question is, “Oh say does that star spangled banner still wave…o’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave? A lot of people aren’t sure we can answer that question with a simple “yes” right now. I’m not one of them.

 There’s no question about the bravery of the people who put on our uniforms. Watch the TV newscasts. You can see the fire in the eyes of the Americans in our Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force. And Coast Guard…we sometimes forget those guys and we shouldn’t. We have a volunteer fire department a few blocks from here. It protects my house. Those are my neighbors. They have the guts to put on their uniforms and run into buildings when everybody else is in a panic, running around in circles, and hollering “Help, help, the sky is falling.” Pride is their only pay. I had a buddy by the name of Bill, who wore his gold NYPD detective badge with such pride…and courage, until the bad guys got him.

 And my friend Wes…he wants desperately to put on his uniform…his hard hat…and go back to work building roads…and bridges…and buildings. He had his own small construction company for almost all his life. Mostly small town government contracts. Now he’s delivering pizzas, and desperately looking for a job working for some other guy’s construction company.

 And speaking of courage, how about a single mother we know by the name of Alice. She’s a private duty nurse. She works the over night shift. She’s also a graduate student, and of course…a mother. What a collection of jobs that is. Courage comes in different packages. There’s the kind of courage that helps a person face death. And just as important, there’s the kind of courage that it takes to face being dead tired…day after day and night after night…and like Alice…you just keep doing your job…because you’re determined to keep your dream alive.

 There are little dreams and big dreams. There’s the kind of dream that turns a “you and me,” into an “us.” And there’s the kind of dream that build the gutsy-est, free-est, most honorable nation on earth…the land of the free and the home of the brave.

 But the question at the end of the song is, “Are we still the home of the brave?” America owes a lot of money. The guys in the wigs and silly hats understood that problem. It was much worse then…relatively…than it is now…much worse. All those guys had was the energy, the determination, and the guts to make their dream work. And they did it. They built richest nation the world has ever seen…out of practically nothing. Nothing but faith, and honor…and guts.

 The pathetic political pigmies who sit where once Jefferson, and Franklin and Washington stood, are now are telling us to be afraid. Be afraid of China…where they ARE building sky scraper national parks. Six of the ten tallest buildings in the world are in China. Only one of that tallest ten is ours…the Willis Tower in Chicago. It’s number eight on the list. The tallest building in the world is going up in Saudi Arabia. It’s about twice as tall as our Willis Tower. When the guy in charge was asked why such a huge building was going up, he said, “We’re making a statement about who we are.”

 The guys with the wigs and silly hats were also making a statement. A statement about who we are, and who we could become. It had to do with that dream they cared about so much that they were willing to hang if necessary, to make it come true.

 George Washington’s pals said, “We hold these truths to be self evident.” The word from Washington now is, “You know those promises we made to our poor and our elderly? The ones they paid for with their taxes ? Well…we’re afraid we can’t keep them any more.” “Send me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free” has become, “Be afraid of those people. They don’t speak our language, and they want our stuff.” We’ve even changed, “We mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” to, “So what if we default on the full faith and credit of the United States. We’re afraid we mis-spoke when we said, ‘The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions shall not be questioned.” The guys in Philadelphia all those years ago said, “We’ve got nothing. Which means we’ve got nothing to lose. Charge ! Full speed ahead.” The guys in Washington now just run around in little circles crying, “The sky is falling. Let’s all go hide.”

 Big Louie, his own bad self, the Chief Mustard Cutter of my generation always says “Don’t complain about something that’s broken unless you figure out some way to fix it.” So ok. Here’s just one way to pay our bills. It’s just my way…maybe you’ve got something better in mind.

But here’s what I have in mind: Get Wes, and people like him working again. Lots of people say that, but here’s one way to actually do it. We slap a tax on every job that every big company ships over seas. If GE builds something in China, GE has to pay a tax that’s equal to what that job would pay in America. That will pay our bills pretty fast. It will also put Wes back to work. And watch how quickly our roads and bridges get fixed.

 And while you’re at it, how about we close all the tax loopholes in our Swiss cheese of a tax law. The word “Loophole” is a politically correct term for what is in reality just a legal scam. We don’t have to raise taxes. All we have to do is make the laws work the way they were intended to work in the first place, and collect the taxes we’ve already got on the books.

 Martin Luther King had an American dream. Wes does too. And Alice. And me. And Francis Scott Key… the guy who wrote that song that ended with the big question that’s keeping me from having great dreams these nights. Is America destined to be the land of the free and the home of the brave…forever ?…the greatest dream mankind has ever dared to dream ? Or will our American dream turn out to be just a moment out of…what might have been.

 I know this isn’t going to be one of my great dream nights. Not tonight. But I do believe that we still have the guts…and the determination… and the luck to keep the dream alive…forever. I still believe in us.

One Response to “Answer The Damn Question”

  1. Sheri says:

    well said Dick.. I shared it on Facebook, and Twitter… I think maybe it should be sent to our “elected representatives” in DC