The promoters of the "Greatest American" poll have certainly achieved, what I believe, must have been their goal. Here at the old folks home we have for weeks been talking about America, its purposes, its aims, its worth.
The poll started with a call for names of any American who has made a contribution to society. At the dinner table we had lots. We had to evaluate whether to include contributors to industry as well as contributors to the well-being of the greatest number of people. Should it be a politician, an athlete, a musician, an entertainer? Should Lance Armstrong, athlete who overcame personal hardships, be named or should it be Neil Armstrong, who was first person to walk on the moon. Was the space race as thrilling as the Tour de France? Did the "greatest" mean the more thrilling or the more beneficial?
Then the list of the top one hundred was named and we were asked to rank them. And that produced more introspection, more discussion of values. What should a great American be? Moral? Creative? Popular? Rich?
When the list of twenty five finalists was named we really became introspective. Said Wilma (Republican): What is Clinton doing on that list? And said I (Democrat): Who put Reagan among the top twenty five? And said Anita: Where's Susan B. Anthony?
Each of us had our single favorite, and we weren’t about to budge. But we were given three votes, and it brought about some surprising results when the second and third choices were added in. For example, Bob Hope had more votes than George Washington. The Wright brothers had more votes than Abraham Lincoln.
Last week the final five choices were announced. That really turned on the discussion. To my amazement, Clinton was gone but Reagan stayed on. At our dinner table we discussed the debate we had seen on TV. Should Washington be eliminated because he once owned slaves? He freed them, true, but only after his death. He freed them in his will. Who gave the most of himself to be an American? It was a lively time. It made us think.
Next week the two finalists will be announced. It will spur more discussions about America and what it means to us.
We may come to blows.