Typical America

by Linda Romano | 11/2/00 6:00am

Recently in Washington, President Clinton celebrated the 200th anniversary of the White House. Complete with the type of fanfare that only fife music is appropriate for, Clinton evoked the memories of John Adams and Franklin Roosevelt; it was a day, he conveyed, to appreciate this nation's rich history.

It was a typically American way to commemorate an event, because our country likes history that is pretty. Never mind the stigma that Clinton, himself, is responsible for attaching to the White House -- not just the White House, but the very room that is perhaps the most well-known symbol of the presidency. Air-brushing our way into the future -- it seems to be our greatest strength, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the upcoming elections. Sure, we'll hear the occasional sob story about the old woman who can't pay for her medication or the child who doesn't have a desk at school. But, whatever their party, politicians are ignoring a part of our history that isn't even all that ancient.

Just about a year and a half ago, I settled in to watch some afternoon television, and all I saw were special reports. I didn't pay much attention at first -- in New Hampshire, a tree falling down is usually grounds for interrupting television. But I caught the tail end of one reporter's story -- something had gone awry in a small town in Colorado. A dozen students and a teacher dead, many more injured. What had just happened?

As is our way, for about two or three months, we were almost overwhelmed with what had happened. We feasted on speculation, blame and memorials. For a short time you couldn't pick up a magazine without reading something about either the victims, the shooters or either of their families. What do we hear about them now? Time hasn't made those people any less dead -- time hasn't changed the violent way that they died. Time has only convinced us that it is somehow acceptable to abandon this part of our history. We receive that message most strongly when the people who are vying to lead us into the next century avoid the topic.

I don't know why I feel as if presidential candidates have a responsibility to address this issue. Maybe it's because Columbine was surrounded by a slew of school violence that seemed to fade far too peacefully into the background. Does anyone even remember the name of the boy in Arkansas who shot some people at his school? I don't. I know he was young, maybe nine, maybe 11, much more than that I can't tell you. Maybe I'm most disturbed, because I wasn't even all that shocked when I heard about what happened in Columbine. I was definitely upset, but I felt almost as if it hadn't happened there, it would have happened somewhere else. How could it not happen again? No matter how many times we are shown that something with our children is not right, we grow weary of trying to get to the root of the problem. Bellowing out bold but vague proclamations about making this country safe is not going to cut it.

If I were running for president, I wouldn't talk about this stuff either. As people file into voting booths, who wants to be remembered as the candidate who made speeches about kids who shoot other kids? Why not stick to our already famous formula? Talk about it only when you have to -- when you're standing at a memorial service in front of thousands of high school kids. Talk about it very severely a few more times at a few more press conferences, then shove it away until the next time it happens. Don't worry about whether or not you are doing the right thing; after all, you have history on your side.