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Time to afford all a 'fair chance'

For much of this election campaign, and during two previous two-term presidencies, I, like letter writer Alan Walden ("A stranger in his own land," Nov. 9), felt like a stranger in my own land. I have found myself asking, "Am I really this out of touch with what most Americans believe?" Faced with the apparent popularity of presidents and presidential aspirants espousing agendas rooted in fear, superstition, a rejection or ignorance of American history and science, and a blind faith in "business" as a cure-all for the nation's problems, I have felt dismayed. Where is the tyranny Mr. Walden mentions? Is it true that we have been following a path to an "abyss of mediocrity?" Is our unity, our "greatness" as a nation, threatened by "tribes at cross purposes?" Why am I now reassured and confident about our path while Mr. Walden and so many others are filled with dread?

I believe the root of our disagreements lies in our varied notions of what Hamlet referred to as "just desserts." What is my obligation to my neighbor when my impression of him is that he is either a bum or a crook who is eager to steal from me? Can he be said to be a member of the community if the community supports him more than me? Are those who don't produce entitled to participate? Our first Republican president gave us some eloquent guidance toward answering these questions in his Message to Congress in Special Session in July, 1861, saying that government's "leading object is, to elevate the condition of men — to lift artificial weights from all shoulders — to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all — to afford all an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life."

Joshua L. Shoemaker, Towson

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