Perhaps you have seen Norman Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” paintings. I have referred to them before. Some still call his work kitsch, but to me it is real art. The Four Freedoms celebrate comments made by FDR as he was preparing America’s “greatest generation” for World War II. There were promises made to those about to fight.
The promise of Freedom of speech
The first freedom was freedom of speech. Rockwell’s painting depicts this as a noble man standing up in the middle of what looks like a town hall expressing himself. The painting often reminded me of my father, because the man is wearing work clothes and a white t-shirt, like my father often wore.
We have forgotten about the meaning of Freedom of Speech. It’s not just the freedom to say and listen to what we want. Too often we interpret freedom of speech as “freedom for me and not for thee.” But that’s not freedom of speech at all.
We need to tolerate speech we find offensive, because doing so helps ensure our right to call it offensive. Maybe not in our house or in every forum, but in general. For example, I think the swastika is a despicable symbol. But I would not want a law preventing someone from tattooing it on their body. And I love and respect our flag. But I am nervous about attempts to preventing its desecration. Our values are stronger than some fool who wants to burn the flag or carve a swastika into his forehead. The market place of ideas and the court of public opinion must be our censor.
Freedom of every person to worship God in their own way
When FDR made this promise, he was speaking to two groups in particular—Jews and Catholics. It’s hard to believe today, but both religious groups were the focus of much antipathy not so long ago. FDR was telling young believers about to head to Europe and Asia to fight that we would build an America free of burning crosses and bigotry, where all faiths would have equal respect.
In this era, the promises of religious freedom is again being tested. We should hold true to our values. We should trust our Constitution. Our laws give religious practices (not just the ones we are comfortable with) the greatest degree of forbearance. And it’s worked. For America to stay America, we must give all religions equal respect.
Freedom from want
This may be the most controversial of the Four Freedoms. It’s depicted in Rockwell’s work as a family sitting down to eat a great feast.
I read recently about a public school cafeteria who refused to give a child a warm lunch because his family failed to pay their bill on time. The policy was to literally give the child lunch and make him wait in line, check his status, and then take away (and throw away!) the lunch if his parents had not paid. A cafeteria worker described how the little boy’s eyes welled up in tears as she took the tray from him and dumped it in the garbage.
Some say that the only way to overcome poverty is through self-reliance and hard work. I believe in hard work. But I also believe in being big hearted and fearful enough not to punish a child for the financial status of their parent. Uncle Sam is really not just Ebenezer Scrooge in a fancy suit. And poverty is not a symptom of sin. It’s a symptom of a society (for whatever reason) that failed to keep its promise.
Freedom from fear
This was FDR’s most ambitious pre-war goal. He wanted to end an era when children went to bed fearing the enemy invasion, which is again featured in Rockwell’s great work—two parents tucking in their kids at night. I grew up fearing the bomb. I had nightmares of Soviet strikes and melting cities after watching “The Day After” in school. But, thanks in large part to Ronald Reagan’s decision to reach out to his enemies with humility and grace (and great personal charm), that fear has lessened. It should lessen still.
An Island without fear
Why do I bring all this up? I dare not compare my humble post on Grand Island to that of the great work and office held by FDR. And FDR himself may have been a man of great ability, but he too, was far from perfect. But I love the optimism and courage of his promises. I respect his willingness to set his sights on lofty ambitions even in the face of harrowing threats. Thus, I reference the Four Freedoms today to prepare you for what I hope will become our shared vision for my next three years in office.
Let me first remind you of my own promises. When I started in office nearly one year ago, I shared four main goals: respect every citizen, support small business, create and enforce the Master Plan; and beautify the island. We are making great strides towards each of these goals. But there is more to be done and our sleeves are rolled up.
Starting next week, I will present to you my revised vision for what our Island can be in a four-part series of letters. I cannot cure want, or fear, or address the concerns many have over the great constitutional questions of our time. But as an Irish proverb says that I live by, “wherever thou art, act well thy part.”
We can play our part Grand Island. We can be that shining town in the river, set apart as exemplary, inclusive, and fearless. We can be grand!
I have received several complaints on this, so I find it necessary to provide a quick update. This past week the town board voted to allow a single trapper to trap on 3 parcels. He will trap fox, coyote, and other animals.
I voted against it. I voted against it because over the last year, I have come to deeply disagree with the practice of trapping on public land on Grand Island. There are too many complaints, too little appropriate land, and too little benefit to our town to endure the risk just to allow a handful of people to trap.
I, by no means, mean to attack my fellow councilman who have tried desperately to find a middle way on this. Unfortunately, we have spent hundreds of man hours reviewing the single application and related land parcels to find a middle way. I too once wanted to find some middle way. Maybe the romantic vision of the frontier ideal appealed to me—one man or woman against the elements engaged in sport. Or, honestly, maybe I was persuaded by the personal respect I have for the family at the center of this.
But I have since taken a sober view of the reality before us. And I see no middle way given the geography and laws of Grand Island and the stated goal of the trapper, which is “sport” or in other words fun. I have witnessed on videotape (provided to me by concerned homeowners near the trapped land) the animals howl and panic for hours trying to escape. These animals then come to their demise, not with a swift gun blast, but presumably by a bat to the head. And then, of course, the animals are skinned, bones and flesh discarded.
Frankly, if you did that to a pet dog you would go to jail—deservedly. And any argument that this protects pet dogs seems specious. If our domestic animals are under threat, let us call in professionals to do a proper accounting and take appropriate action. Or let’s call this young man in to be part of the solution. But not this sporadic approach.
But I am one voice. For now, the trapping will continue.
With highest regards,