In the historically significant and successful musical “Hamilton,” the key musical number is “I’m Not Throwing Away My Shot.”
The title of the song has a double meaning. It refers to both the burning ambition of Alexander Hamilton to pursue every opportunity and his fatal decision to “throw away” his shot by not firing directly at Aaron Burr in their famous duel.
In these fraught times, there are opportunities for the nation, the business community and government to take advantage of all the changes that will come in this unique moment.
Politically, it also has the means for both the left and the right to do well by doing good. So, as a fellow rooted solidly in the middle, here’s my advice to both sides to not throw away, a shot, or chance.
To My Friends on the Left.
Public opinion polls and other indicators suggest that many more people are open to the issues of use of force by police and the various disadvantaged states of many Americans of minority status.
The image of a white police officer kneeling – fatally, as it turned out – on the neck of a black man has ignited a popular outrage not seen since 1965 when civil rights supporters were brutally attacked trying to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge to demonstrate for voting rights.
That created enough public demand for reform that it became possible to pass the Voting Rights Act, which tore down all racial barriers to the ballot box. One of the people who crossed that bridge and was beaten was John Lewis, who recently died at 80, mourned as a hero.
But imagine, if you will, that same procession crossing the bridge in a different light. Instead of wearing coats and ties and dresses, carrying American flags and singing about freedom, they advanced profanely, chanting “F— the police!” and slinging bricks, stones and other implements of hate.
The struggle for public opinion is sometimes waged on TV. Initially, national sympathy was with – and still is, I think – those who want to see more restraint from law enforcement officers when using deadly force against unarmed people.
But it threatens to spin out of control. Sincere efforts to rally the nation’s conscience are starting to segue into an aimless desire for street theatre and confrontation. Opportunists have taken advantage of the moment to loot and vandalize, leading some people to have trouble distinguishing between protesters and rioters.
Liberals and progressives of all colors should be stepping up and embracing specific legal remedies that can be addressed through the democratic process. Misconduct by some cops does not justify misconduct by others, both on moral and practical grounds.
At this moment, it looks like some actual, lasting progress can be made in restoring trust between police and minority communities if we can stop demonizing each other. This is the key moment. Don’t throw away your shot.
To My Friends on the Right.
Conservatives have had a long-standing worry about the power – and its potential for abuse – of government. True conservatives should consider appropriate reform to be an issue for them, too.
Just as more people on the left need to step up and condemn the street violence, more on the right need to step up and condemn the difficulty in disciplining rogue cops and deputies – a small number of the whole– who cause most of the grief.
We know that the power of some police unions has been an obstacle to making progress in this area. Public safety employee groups often intimidate politicians. After all, who wants to go on record as being “anti-cop” while running for re-election?
It’s the job of any union – and I’ve been a union guy for all my adult life – to protect and represent the interests of its members, and sometimes that means standing up for the wrong guy.
Conservatives have been generally skeptical of unions. I’m not advocating for union-busting, but I do think that conservatives could join in efforts, through the right kind of reform, to keep that small number of bad apple cops from staying on the force shielded by an unreasonable labor contract.
States’ rights have been a cause for the right for decades. Maybe the idea of sending federal forces into states where the local governor and/or mayor are opposed to that action is a states’ rights issue, too.
All of these represent golden opportunities to increase support for the right from some minorities who have been voting left for years because they saw not much support for their interests from the other side.
Put another way … don’t throw away your shot, either.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts column is posted on Wednesday. He does not yet have all the lyrics in “Hamilton” memorized, but he’s working on it.