"Ladies and gentlemen," Bruce Springsteen said to 40,000 fans at Miller Park Saturday night, "it's time to impeach the president."
With a grin, the Boss continued his introduction of saxophonist Clarence Clemons, suggesting "the Big Man" could replace President Bush and be "somebody who knows what he's doing."
Some in the exuberant audience missed the line. But the woman behind me heard it loud and clear - and wasn't laughing. In fact, she convulsed in anger. For the next 10 minutes she ranted nonstop, gesturing wildly toward the stage in center field. "You can't say that about my president!" she screamed. "You can't criticize President Bush that way!" Later, when Springsteen dedicated "Land of Hopes and Dreams" to "our men and women fighting in Iraq and for peace for the Iraqi people," the woman yelled, "I have a nephew over there!"
Listening to the woman's ravings, I stopped chuckling and grew annoyed. Here we are at a dynamite rock 'n' roll show, and she's throwing a hissy fit? Get a grip, I thought.
The more I listened to her, however, the more I realized she exemplifies a number of my fellow Americans. You know who I mean - the ones who shout down anyone who dares to question Bush's policies or the wisdom of the Iraq war. They're hosting radio and TV shows; they're writing letters to the editor and opinion columns. They're highly offended at the "traitors" who don't fall into lockstep with the president. They ceaselessly wave their little American flags. Those of us who don't share their fervor are scorned as unpatriotic. We're even told to leave the country, to go live "with the terrorists." I hear echoes of the Vietnam War era all over again. I lived through those accusations as an anti-war teenager and later as a member of the 19 percent who opposed the first Gulf War, though the criticism we received then was more muted.
Saturday night I fought the urge to grab the woman behind me and shake her, to tell her we Americans are not clones, but individuals with differing beliefs. That's the beauty of America, the bedrock of freedom on which this nation was founded.
President Bush says he wants to bring democracy to Iraq and reduce the risk of a terrorist attack on America. If this woman believes her president, then she needs to realize he's put her nephew in harm's way to protect and uphold what America stands for, which includes not only her right to scream at Bruce Springsteen, but, more important, his right to question the president's actions.
Two centuries ago, President Thomas Jefferson knew the idea of such freedoms would need some getting used to in our fledgling republic. In his first inaugural address in 1801, he reminded the citizenry:
"All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate which would be oppression."
It's sad and troubling that, today, some Americans still seek to oppress rather than to protect the right of dissenters to speak their minds.
Judy Ettenhofer has worked at The Capital Times off and on for more than 10 years, serving as an assistant city editor and a copy editor before joining the Editorial Section in 2002 to write editorials and columns. Her journalism career has spanned four states, seven newspapers and two magazines. A Spring Green resident, she values Wisconsin’s rural spaces and non-human inhabitants.
Copyright 2003 The Capital Times