David Reynolds: Sowing seeds

Column by David Reynolds

Seventeen months ago a man named John came to town to sow some seeds. He was very down. At least in the polls. Few in that tough river town north of here gave him much of a chance. John was not only running out of money, he was letting staff go. To make matters worse, John was saying we needed more men and equipment for a war that already was costing way too much.

John spoke about taking a long shot which he labeled a “surge.” He knew that nobody would buy it if was called just another military plan. So he put all his chips on General David.

So John, plus another David, a Mr. Brooks, drove a SUV from D.C. to Lexington. John knew that those sitting straight on the wooden pews of VMI’s Jackson Memorial Hall, would listen. If John’s seeds could grow not here, where could they grow?

(That was the beginning of a column written in April 2007. It was never published. Reason: I had introduced Matt Thompson, a young U. S. Army captain and VMI professor. VMI, for some strange reason, frowns on any sort of personal publicity of its military officers. I went along their censorship. Now Matt has left both VMI and the Army, while I am still practicing my First Amendment rights. So let us continue.)

Young Matt was already seated. He had his orders. Sit quietly until the senator arrives. Do not applaud while he is speaking. And please try to keep your heart from pounding. With the captain seated below, up on stage, framed by the life-size Battle of New Market painting, was the star attraction. Both were in dress blues. John’s version was a dark pinstripe suit.

Jackson Hall is normally reserved for peaceful music and worshiping peace. That day the subject was war. And like all wars, the current one was not going according to the original script, except for the first act. Wars have a way of having messy second acts and inconclusive third ones.

For Matt, it was clear who should listen and who should talk. The young captain knew that the power of wisdom was flowing down from the stage to the corps of cadets. Yet at one time John had no power. He did not have the power of freedom.

So it went on that spring day in 2007 when John’s first seeds took hold in a town named after the first battle fought to gain our freedom. His seeds of thought were scattered elsewhere. In South Carolina, John described his seeds this way, “We want government to do its job, not your job; to do it better and to do it with less money; to defend our nation’s security wisely and effectively, because the cost of our defense is so dear to us; to respect our values because they are our true source of our strength; to enforce the rule of law that is the first defense of freedom; to keep the promises it makes to us and not make promises it will not keep.”

I realize that either candidate today could have said those words. However, only John did. And he said similar words earlier this month in Paul’s city. What will happen in 49 days? No one knows. That’s why we hold elections. But a picture is emerging.

Presidential campaigns have changed. We no longer debate the government’s job. Budgets are dull stuff. We must be entertained – even if it pushes the war off the front page, the same war that was to doom John.

On the surface the two men talk of change. One speaks of policy changes; the other of systematic changes. But change is a cover. This campaign is a cultural battle. Our society is divided. One views the USA as a sociologist would; the other as a psychologist. One sees only groups; the other, individuals. One sees social justice as missing in action; the other sees it as being present. One wants to redistribute income; the other to create wealth. One side sees widening gender, racial and economic gaps; the other is only concerned with the opportunity gap.

And so it goes – a cultural battle between those who see a limited world and those who see the unlimited potential of the human spirit.

But please don’t be alarmed if John does not win. Seeds take time to grow. We all need to remind ourselves that our national fabric will not unravel as long as we trust the people. And we also need to remember that there is no need to sing “God Bless America.” He already has.

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