A Knee Jerk Liberal

My good friend Deborah (Arnie) Arneson sent me an e-mail link to a blog post reviewing one of her recent speeches I pass it on as a follow up to my recent post:

Arnie was, in a word, heroic.

She concluded by reading a small portion of a 1991 article written by James Michener. Michener was reacting to his first exposure to “talk radio” in the south;  and like the compelling morbid curiosity of one staring at a horrific accident, he found himself drawn every evening to tune in to a particularly hate-filled radio host. Arnie read:

“…[the program] became a must for me because in it, he abused, vilified, and scorned every noble cause to which I devoted my entire life.  It seemed to me that he was against any law that sought to improve the lot of the poor, any tax that endeavored to improve the quality of our national life, any act in Congress that hoped to better the condition of our nation as a whole, any movement that tried to lessen police brutality, any bill that struggled to maintain a fair balance between contending forces in our society, and any move to improve education, protect public health or strengthen the supervision of agencies running wild…

…These diatribes caused me to stop, [and]  take a long hard look at myself.  I learned one valuable trick:  Listen carefully to this fellow. Identify exactly what he’s saying.  Then adopt a position 180 degrees in the opposite direction, as far from him as you can get, and you’ll be on the right track…

…I am a knee-jerk liberal.

Why does it jerk? To alert me that I have been passive and inattentive too long, to remind me that one of the noblest purposes for which human beings are put on earth is to strive to make their societies better, to see to it that gross inequalities are not perpetuated. And to halt them  requires both effort and financial contributions usually in the form of taxes….

When I find that a widow has been left penniless and alone with three children, my knee jerks.  When men of ill intent cut back on teacher’s salaries and lunches for children, my knee jerks. When the free flow of ideas is restricted, when universities double their fees, my knee jerks.  And I hope never to grow so old or indifferent that I can listen to wrong and immoral choices being made without my knee flashing a warning.

When I have been dead 10 years and a family comes to tend the flowers on the grave next to mine, and they talk about the latest pitiful inequity plaguing their town, they will hear a rattling from my grave and can properly say: “that’s Jim again. His knee is still jerking.”   – James Michener November 1991 Parade Magazine





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