Dear John Lennon,
I read the above letter from former president George H.W. Bush today. I teared right up. It’s the kind of sentimentality that gets to me.
You might be displeased to know that in 1992, I campaigned for him. I believed that he would make the world a better, safer place for unborn babies. I really believed what my church laid down about politics, and I prayed for our president regularly. When he lost, my friends and I grieved. We thought it was the end of the world as we knew it. We suspected the U.S. had elected a used-car-salesman of a President who completely lacked character. We believed that all sorts of sinful, “bad,” or even evil things would soon be standard practice in our country.
— You’re waiting for me to get to “Imagine.”
I know, but I share that bit of history because you must understand I have fully occupied both sides in the American political conversation. I am a Democrat today, but I was a Republican yesterday, and I proudly voted against my current party every time our 2nd District Representative, Jim Leach, was on the ticket. Who knows but that I may be a Republican again tomorrow?
Now for my rewrite. See, as I read this letter to “Bill” from “George,” I started doing some imagining of my own. Nothing against you, of course.
It started like this: Imagine if every politician came with the perspective of most former presidents. Something about that role engenders a wider, more generous view of “us.”
Imagine Senators and Representatives could say to their colleagues, like George H.W. Bush did, “Your success is now our country’s success,” and really mean it. That alone would mean seeing success not in terms of “winning” a party vote, but in terms of raising the waterline on safety, health, education, economics, and happiness for all Americans.
Imagine how such a view could make room for all the freedoms to that so many of us cherish and all the freedoms from that so many of us long for. Those freedoms could begin to coexist in the natural flux of things. We could make data-based decisions informed by science and reason…but also account for one another’s faiths when needful or appropriate. We could look for ways to compromise and succeed in governance rather than stoking drama with stark rhetoric.
Imagine how, on an issue like abortion, we could say “What seems to work to reduce abortions?” — and then do that, instead of fighting over whether they should be legal or not.
Imagine a world where we could vociferously protect the 2nd amendment right for hobbyists and hunters and those who feel a weapon makes them safer at night…and still embrace common sense gun laws that could help to prevent gun violence.
Imagine that we negotiated on voting laws, congressional districts and the electoral college. We would only make changes or adjustments by consensus from both parties, instead of basing such pivotal elements in our democracy on whoever has the “might” in a given year or election term.
On the Supreme Court, we would likewise make mutual decisions with representation from both parties. (FWIW, This is actually what Bill Clinton did when he nominated RBG. This is also what Obama tried to do by nominating Merrick Garland, a moderate).
Imagine that such a posture would mean tending to our environment and to our international relationships with balance and a sense of our long-term tenancy on our beloved little planet.
This utopia I am imagining wouldn’t fix racism or poverty or any of the entrenched realities of life in the US. But it might make it POSSIBLE for us to work on them together.
I’m not you, John Lennon.
I don’t want to get rid of religion or race or culture or possessions. Those things make us individuals, they give us stories, they make us human. Your “Imagine,” as beautiful as it was, lacked a certain — je ne sais quoi.
Don’t worry. I know game theory says this is all a pipe dream — the ex-president view is wide in part because it is rare. But I’d sure like to live in a society where we all shared George H.W. Bush’s end-of-term openness, his willingness to listen to the voters who did not re-elect him, his eagerness for his opponent’s success, his belief that our country is bigger than any one view or one person.
And even though no president will get us there — many of these moves require a functioning congress, something we haven’t had in a long time —I know we will never even get anywhere close to it with our current president & his party leaders.
So, this version of “imagine” is why I’m voting for Joe Biden & Kamala Harris this fall and why I endorse Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s wish that the next president choose her successor.
It’s not because I want to “win.” It’s because I want to imagine.
A High School English Teacher in a Midwest “Flyover” State
This post originally published on Medium Sept 26 2020 to absolutely no fanfare whatsoever, so I’m reclaiming it for my own blog. If it’s not going to be read, it might as well belong to me.