On Saturday, July 7, I saw something I thought I would never see: A liberal Democratic governor from a “blue state,” read the words of Abraham Lincoln, arguably a founder of the current Republican Party, to a crowd largely comprised of conservative “red staters.” And upon completion of his reading, Gov. Martin O’Malley received a standing ovation. Wonders never cease to amaze.
I’ve got to hand it to O’Malley, his reading at the Maryland Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait was excellent; so was his speech earlier in the day to a gathering of folks celebrating the groundbreaking of First Solar’s energy project at the prisons.
O’Malley’s first words at the First Solar celebration were about jobs. And jobs, here in Washington County, are important, with unemployment in our area being greater than the state’s average. His second comment was how glad he was to see folks with differing political views sitting together in celebration and not ideological debate.
Oh, the boo-birds will say that the jobs O’Malley spoke of were “government provided” jobs, or the jobs were just employment for those that already have a job. But to someone without a job, you don’t care where the job came from. My friend “Dutch” Ruppersberger, congressman from Maryland’s 2nd Congressional District, told me once that: “The greatest social program in America is a job.” I doubt Dutch originated that statement, but whoever did coin it made a lot of sense.
Other boo-birds will say that O’Malley’s comments about celebration and not debate was just a poor attempt at humor. However, given the place and time along with what took place later, I felt O’Malley was being sincere.
All five county commissioners were on hand, as well as Del. John Donoghue and Sen. Ron Young. The governor was accompanied by a couple of state secretaries and the usual political accompanists. The celebration centered on the state’s contract with First Solar, the nation’s largest solar energy company installing the State of Maryland’s largest solar energy generating array. Two local firms already have contracts with First Solar for a piece of the action, and First Solar has said it wants to hire other local subs to complete the project.
The large solar array will reside on state ground at the prison complex. I know many locals have been upset over the years with having three state prisons in our county. But maybe this solar energy project, as it comes to fruition, will provide much-needed jobs to our area. Further the economics of the project show reduced operational costs for the state. Also, the project, utilizing an alternative clean energy source, won’t harm the environment.
My purpose in this column is not to make a political statement. I’m not asking you to vote for O’Malley and I’m not endorsing him for any office. Yet, for just a moment, it was refreshing to put politics aside and hear a man I would disagree with on many issues speaking about something good for our community, our state and the environment.
We are a conservative area in arguably the most liberal state in America. Yet I have not heard anyone voice an attack on America or our freedoms —no one, liberal or conservative; Republican, Democrat, independent, Green or tea. Just like it was in the 1860s our politics often divide us, but freedom and liberty unite us.
My number of American causalities at Antietam is 24,464, on one day in one battle at Sharpsburg, Md. Sure, some came from the South and others from the North, but all were Americans. All fought for freedom that day. Yet, certainly both sides viewed individual and national freedom in differing ways.
On that battlefield, Sept. 17, 1862, some were northerners, some abolitionists, slave owners, southerners, state-righter’s, unionists and on and on. Yet all were Americans fighting for freedom and liberty as each perceived those inalienable rights. Sadly, on that day and on other days at venues across this nation, it took a civil war, where many died, to settle the differing perceptions.
But on the same Antietam Battlefield, during the MSO’s concert, folks with differing political views sat together, heard stirring words and stood in applause when Gov. O’Malley read from several of President Abraham Lincoln’s most eloquent words. Would that we all could sit together, hear stirring speeches, find common ground for all of our differences and stand united as the great nation that we are.
Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.