Take a moment to gather up your Prozac or your Paxil. Take a deep cleansing breath or run a lap around the block. Whatever method you use to zone out what bugs you, now might be a good time to do it.
Because I am going to write his name down here, and then move on. Here goes.
Got that out of the way. Hizhonor can take some credit and blame for helping to organize last week's anti-war protest, held simultaneously with President Bush's speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Bush promised to stay the course in Iraq. Anderson led about 2,000 demonstrators in a chant of "we're not going to take it anymore." U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch called Anderson disrespectful toward the president and the whole crowd "nutcakes."
Now to a bigger issue.
Nearly a week since the protest, a disturbing trend is gathering steam. It is a quite subtle effort to silence those who are speaking out on the war and the president's policy in Iraq. This moves well beyond Anderson-as-lightning rod. He is merely a diversion.
Do we want a country and a community where people feel welcome, even encouraged to speak their minds? Or would we rather shut them down? Not through direct censorship, of course. That would be so . . . so blatant. The easier, more subtle way is by ostracizing the nonconformists (labeling them "unpatriotic" and "disrespectful"), trying to discredit their commitment to a cause (calling them "nutcakes," "hippies," "malcontents," "usual suspects") and, heaven forbid, chastising them for rejecting authority (criticizing the U.S. president in wartime).
A growing, public protest is fomenting among Americans who disagree with the course Bush and his allies have taken. They are asking for answers. They want a plan that offers more than "trust me," and why not? We are closing in on 1,900 U.S. military men and women dead. As for those who return alive, the people who deliver services to veterans are already wondering how effectively they'll be able to address the physical and mental needs of the highest number of the surviving wounded in combat history.
So yes, the questions need to keep on coming.
In this state, it isn't easy.
Utah culture has always put a premium on conformity and respect for authority. It's a characteristic nurtured and valued by the predominant LDS Church, as members are called on to sustain and support their leaders. Questioning doctrine and counsel is at best, frowned on. At worst, it can lead to the greatest consequence of all - excommunication.
But to extend this value to the U.S. president, or any other human elected to serve, seems incongruent with being a good citizen. Is disagreeing with Bush really a matter of disrespect? For heaven's sakes, the man works for us. We elected him; our taxes pay his salary. If you are a boss dissatisfied with your employee's performance, you have an obligation to tell him so, to reprimand him, to at least voice your disappointment.
How is registering displeasure with our employee in the White House the behavior of a nutcake?
Last week, a KSL-TV-Survey USA reported that 71 percent of Utahns disapproved of Anderson's actions. As to their general feelings toward citizens protesting the war? Fifty-two percent said it's OK to question the war but "wrong to protest it."
Stunning. Feel the chill.
In recent weeks pro-war forces have charged protesters with dishonoring the memory of troops who have died fighting to preserve their freedoms.
Nothing could be more wrong. Because if freedom of speech is worth dying for, then isn't it worth hauling out and using once in a while?