Many, many years ago, when I was an undergrad at Syracuse University (and we know how long ago that was), I was in a conversation about some proposed social policy with a friend of mine, and she said, “We shouldn’t do it. That’s what Communists do.”
I was stunned beyond words. Really. The words only came to me hours later, too late to do the discussion any good. Basically, she had decided that a particular policy was bad, not on its own merits, or the lack thereof, but simply because the Communists did it; and if the Communists did it, then it had to be bad.
I ran into a similar situation 20 years later. A friend of mine was the pastor of a small Lutheran church in Pennsylvania, and when she mentioned a few of the liturgical changes she wanted to make, someone objected, saying, “But that’s what Catholics do!”
Once again, an idea was being objected to not on its own merits, but because of who it was associated with. Because whether or not the idea was good, it was associated with “the enemy.”
I wanted to say to my friend at SU, “Communists feed their children too, should we stop doing that?” Similarly, I said to my pastor friend “Catholics sing hymns, and pray too, does this person think we should cut those from the liturgy?”
The simple, and annoying, fact is that too often too many of us reject a perfectly good, practical, and useful, idea because it comes from somewhere else. Because it’s associated with “those other people” that we have some sort of ideological difference with. We seem to be afraid that if we admit that “those people” might have a point about one thing, then we’ll have to admit to them being right about everything.
I thought of this when I saw a billboard along the I-90 that said “Repeal Obamacare.” The sentiment isn’t what bothered me, I’ve heard plenty of people argue against it for one reason or another. What bothered me was the presentation. The billboard had yellow letters on a red background, and the “C” in “care” was the old Soviet hammer and sickle.
It seemed to me that whoever was behind this billboard was against “Obamacare” for the same reason that my friend was against whatever social policy we were arguing about many years ago. It wasn’t about whether or not it was a good idea. It wasn’t about whether or not it was practical. It wasn’t about whether or not it was the best thing for all of us in the long run. It was about not being like the Communists.
It’s worth noting that no less of an “anti-Communist” than Richard Nixon believed that we needed to do something about our healthcare system, and that we needed to try to find a way to make it affordable for everyone. And before some of you go off on me for praising RMN, it’s also worth noting that many historians agree that if it weren’t for that one spectacular mistake with Watergate, he would’ve gone down as one of the 10 best presidents. Funny how we let the one horrible thing someone did taint all the good they did before, isn’t it?
But really, this isn’t about healthcare at all. Not this time, at least. For now it’s about Communists and Catholics…or any other group that you may have had long-standing ideological differences with. It’s one thing to not agree with a group’s ideology, but it’s quite another to refuse to even consider any of their ideas, or even to put our own twist on them.
After all, it’s worth remembering that the very Interstate Highway System I was traveling on when I saw that billboard were based on the Autobahn…something created by the Nazis.
And we definitely don't want to be like them.