Las Vegas Sun

October 23, 2014

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WHERE I STAND:

We can honor our fathers by applying the wisdom they shared

This is a happy Father’s Day.

That is because I have been fortunate in my life to have fathered a most remarkable daughter who, in turn, has made me the happiest grandfather on the planet — twice. There's nothing else to consider when weighting the happiness scale.

There are, however, considerations that define the responsibility that comes with being a father or a grandfather. And, as much as our children look to us to help provide answers to the complicated lives they lead in the 21st century, those of us who no longer have our fathers with us are reminded how much we relied on their wisdom and guidance when they were here to help us.

Click to enlarge photo

Sun publisher Hank Greenspun.

I think of my father often because I am trying to continue a tradition of community service through the Las Vegas Sun that he started in 1950. His belief that the people of Clark County and Nevada needed a progressive, responsible voice to provide the kind of credible news and information they needed to make informed decisions is as valid today as it was when he started the Sun 63 years ago.

That is why I often ask myself, “What would Hank do, or what would Hank say?”

I suppose I am thinking about this because today is the one day a year we set aside to honor our fathers. How better to honor their memories than to respect the wisdom and experience they used to make their decisions?

Besides, in matters like those I will discuss today, my dad’s experiences were right on point. For example, let’s talk about the IRS.

Hank understood that taxation was as vital a part of our democracy as was our ability to have free and fair elections. And while he often loudly decried the heavy-handedness with which the IRS tried to collect taxes — and the patent unfairness they directed toward tip earners in Las Vegas, in particular — he never became part of that anti-tax crowd that seems to have overtaken the citizen psyche in this country.

Hank believed in the necessity of government to provide some respite from the chaos in the affairs of man. And for government to function, it has to have money. He also had little patience for fringe groups. Even though he supported — read that tolerated — their right to exist and spew their often venomous beliefs, he was more concerned with the practical application of just enough government to ensure that all Americans had an equal opportunity to succeed. And not one bit more.

His practical, common-sense position was the hallmark of his generation, which served it well.

Putting those interests together, anything that would undermine the credibility of the IRS to do its job would incur his wrath. Especially if the IRS created the mess in the first place, as it appears to have done regarding the Tea Party.

Having said that, my father would be railing against politicians who would use the stupidity of IRS operatives to try to gain political advantage by undermining the credibility of the president. He understood decades ago that we live in a very dangerous and complicated world, so we should be the last people on earth who would want to convey weakness to the rest of the world because of an issue like this.

As much as he believed in congressional oversight to protect us against government abuse, he would distinguish what some petty politicians are doing to gain temporary political advantage from that vital role of Congress.

So, what would Hank do? He would caution against those who wish to whip the citizenry into a frenzy before the facts are known — something he always knew before he started whipping. Nowadays, the 24-hour-a-day news cycle spends more time frothing than fact-finding so by the time the facts are known, all rational thought has left the building.

On another, related front, there is no end to the ways we can take a simple issue of right and wrong and complicate it in such a way that it gives aid and comfort to our enemies.

Take the National Security Administration leaks, for example. I remember Dad telling me that if you don’t agree with a law and choose to violate it, you must be willing to take the consequences.

There are some who wish to deify Edward Snowden for leaking the highly classified government surveillance operation that collected data about our phone calls in an effort to ferret out those who would do us harm. I am not one of those people.

And I am certain my father would not have been, either. He often said that we live in a very dangerous world and naivete was our greatest enemy.

As a highly contributing member of the Greatest Generation, he fought hard for freedom and liberty and did not take the role of either lightly. He knew that both security and liberty were intertwined and that we couldn’t have one without the other.

He had a very healthy respect for our Constitution and a first-hand understanding that there were people in this world who couldn’t care less about our rights, except to use them against us.

I am certain, had Dad lived to see 9/11, his first, second and third acts would have been to do whatever was necessary to make sure that it would never happen again. And, if that meant stretching the constitutional prohibitions to the edges to effectively stay ahead of the bad guys, he wouldn’t hesitate.

I know there are people who disagree. There are some who claim to hold the dictates of the Constitution in the highest regard, as we all should, and claim that those of us who disagree with them don’t. That is not true.

In my mind there is no conflict between abiding by the Constitution and doing what is necessary to keep our people safe. We just have to understand that our great strength is also our greatest weakness when dealing with people who want to kill us and who don’t give a damn about our rules of the road.

But, whatever our differences may be, there should be no question that what Snowden has done was a clear violation of his oath, of the law and of the bond he had to every other American citizen whose life he has put in jeopardy. I know it isn’t perfect, but we have a democratic process by which we make the rules about how we must behave, sometimes under penalty of death. If those rules need to be changed, we have a process to do that, too.

But none of us has the right to unilaterally put our fellow Americans in harm’s way just because we don’t agree with what is being done. Especially those who have taken a specific oath not to do so. I believe some dare call it treason.

So, quarrel all you want about whether the government is going too far to prevent another 9/11 or worse. But do not quarrel about the crime that was committed. And for that, according to my father, there should be no running away. He should stand up in his own country and face the consequences of his actions. My father’s life experiences exemplified that.

It is a shame to have to think about such things on Father’s Day, but it is also heartwarming to know that the lessons we learned from our fathers are more valuable now than ever before.

Father’s Day is a good day to celebrate the fathers we do have and remember the fathers who are no longer here. I remember Hank Greenspun, and I remember my late father-in-law, Arnold Smith. And I remember so many wonderful dads who made this community what it is.

If we are to honor our fathers on this and every other day, we would all do well to remember what they taught us.

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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