`We will take back America.' Why? Do we need a larger size?

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Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney had a terrific campaign event in Cedar Rapids this past week, out at the Eastern Iowa Airport. A sick little girl kept me from attending in person, but it looked super on TV.

Unfortunately, Romney had to utter the words that are, to my ears, political fingernails on a chalkboard.

“We will rise to the challenge. We will take back America,” Romney said.

Politicians of all stripes peddle this “take back America” stuff, although Republicans seem to deploy it most. People cheer wildly when they hear it. I cringe every time.

We must take back the country? Why? Where is it? Who has it?

Maybe we left it out on the lawn and one of the neighbor kids swiped it. Perhaps we forgot it in a booth at Chili’s, or in a cubby at day care. Could it be in that coat we haven’t worn since March?

Or, does ”take back” mean we’re returning the nation for a bigger size? We have gained some weight.

I was under the impression that the nation remains firmly in the hands of Americans. We have regular elections where citizens elect leaders at various levels, from the presidency to drainage districts. Those Americans, elected by Americans, then fill assorted posts within the bureaucracy, mostly with Americans.

It seems like the whole shooting works is chock full of Americans. You can’t wave a flag in this country without hitting Americans. So unless I missed an alien invasion, I think Mitt's sounding a false alarm.

I guess what politicians such as Romney are really saying is that the nation is in the hands of the wrong type of Americans. He’ll let you, the home viewer, fill in the blanks with your own favorite scapegoats and enemies. Maybe it’s socialists or immigrants or the deadbeat 47 percent or that neighbor whose dog won’t stop barking, whatever you want. Rest assured, if you just vote right, the country will be swiftly ripped from their undeserving grasp and returned to its true and rightful owners.

Who would that be? Why, that handsome devil in the mirror, that’s who.

Problem is, this nation is not a possession that can be taken or wholly owned by anyone, or any faction, group or party. It is a collection of citizens who agree and disagree, sometimes passionately, on many issues, from taxes, health care and entitlements to who has the best barbecue. To suggest that any group can snatch the nation, or that any other Americans must be forced to surrender it simply because of their views and allegiances, is about as un-American an idea as I can imagine. It’s especially absurd when you consider how Americans are free to change their minds as their nation changes. And they do. A lot.

You can win elections. You can command Congress and the White House. You can wield considerable political power and pursue sweeping agendas.

But you’re not taking anything. You’re being allowed, by Americans, to borrow that power. And the Americans who opposed your side this time still have a voice to be heard, ideas that matter and a vote that counts. Eventually, those folks will win, and they don’t get to “take back” the country, either.

Basically, we all have a stake in the success of the nation. And the biggest problem with our politics now is the very popular idea that we should drive that stake it into the heart of our opponents. Replace the hard responsibility of seeking democratic consensus with the easy impulse to vanquish and conquer, and we’ve got even darker days ahead. And that’s something we all need to think very hard about as we approach what’s likely to be an agonizingly close election.

Maybe Romney wins it, or maybe he doesn’t. Either way, no one is taking the country. We all get to keep it. It still looks good on us.

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