WHEN THE ‘SILENT MAJORITY’ CAN REMAIN SILENT NO MORE

Burlington County Times, August 5, 2002

Every other week, I eagerly open one of my favorite periodicals, turn to the next to the last page, and avidly read the column there. First I scan it quickly, to get the gist of what it’s about; then I reread it, to savor the style as well as the message.

No, not my column. Anna Quindlen’s, in Newsweek.

One of the reasons I enjoy her writing so much is because I almost always agree with her point of view. The other reason is because she writes so lucidly, with intelligence and humor.

The reason I dislike her is the same – she writes so much better than I could ever hope to. And she often says what I plan to write, but does it well before my column appears.

So it was when I read her column on the Pledge of Allegiance; my immediate reaction was “Not again.” Not only did she make the same points I wanted to make, but she did so with a style and grace I couldn’t hope to match. And she did it two weeks ago.

I remember vividly that the words “under God” were added to the Pledge in 1954. I was in first grade. We had just finished memorizing the pre-amended Pledge. We had to re-memorize it. To this day, I have trouble recalling if “under God” goes before or after “indivisible.”

I’ve often been troubled by those words, and not because of my faulty brain synapses. In fact, just a few weeks before the judge in California ruled that the words were unconstitutional, I had argued the same point in an adult education session at our synagogue. “What about ‘In God We Trust’?” I was asked. Yes, I believe those words should not be part of our public credo.

I’m not going to rehash the arguments pro and con, or debate the place of religion in the public sphere. It’s been done ad infinitum for the past several weeks, by columnists and people in the street and pundits and columnists and lawyers and members of the clergy.

But I do want to talk about something very interesting in the same issue of Newsweek as Quindlen’s column on the Pledge. In the Letters section, the editors said that they had received an overwhelming number of letters about the decision. Over half of the letters supported the view that the words “under God” should be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance.

I was floored. I would have expected a few tentative letters of support for the decision, but not so many. But then I began to think back on what I’d read. The first flood of opinion letters right after the decision seemed to call for lynching the judge and carting off to a desert island anyone who was so unpatriotic as to think we were a secular country. But then, gradually, more and more people began to express the view that maybe, just maybe, “under God” was not a phrase necessary to professing our loyalty and allegiance.

Back in 1969, then-President Richard Nixon coined the phrase “Silent Majority” to refer to what he considered to be the prevailing pro-Vietnam views of the American people, most of whom who were too cowed by the noisy anti-war protesters to express their opinions. He used the phrase to refer to political conservatives. In the today’s prevailing climate, however, at a time when people use the “L” word rather than use the dirty word “liberal”, the Silent Majority seems to be those who are to the left of middle, not the right.

Political and religious conservatives have found their voice, much as liberals did in the 60s. People who envision a more left-of-center society – including politicians who once wore the “liberal” label proudly – have tried to position themselves as centrists. Or, more likely, have stayed silent.

After September 11, it was considered almost treasonous to voice any opposition to the President’s policies, or even to question them. But that’s not what America is all about. I would have hoped that people would no longer have the “America, Love Her or Leave Her” attitude, but that sentiment is not as obsolete as the bumper stickers. In an on-line parenting group I frequent, someone signed herself “Mary, who thinks if you think it’s unconstitutional then move the hell out of our Country!” I wasn’t going to respond at first, but whether in the majority or minority, I’ve never been silent. I wrote: “You hold your opinions, I hold mine. It’s called democracy.”

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