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Stay or leave?

Ross Palmer’s letter to his friends was gold, pure gold, from a newspaper editor’s perspective.

Challenging, compelling, controversial. Very well written. It could not help but cause a stir if published in the paper, and on the Web.

“Cause a stir” is cover for make people think who might not always be in the habit. Hey, that’s a sad enough commentary, I suppose. But it’s also true. Actually, I believe it’s always been true.



Tickle, prod, push ” engage the emotions ” and the brain will follow. If only to justify that knee-jerk emotional reaction. That’s probably why I don’t mind being called names, having my motives questioned in even the lowest ways, risking being seen as ” gasp ” a numbskull.

Often, maybe too often, that’s how some folks begin to think. And that’s worth all of it. I’m not talking about agreement, just thinking things through for yourself. Sometimes, when we’re done huffing and puffing, some of that little seed of reason even blooms. Sometimes we even change our minds, when miracle of miracles, we finally thought something through. (My superiors will tell you that they regularly see this metamorphsis in yours truly. Ah well. At least I have some familiarity with the process.)



Anyway, Ross is a one-time Vail Associates spokesman who when I knew him ran local political election campaigns. Sometimes for Republicans, lately for Democrats. Ross had the cynic’s window seat on the process.

Then he got married, moved to Washington, D.C., and a few years ago had a child. Which of course changes everything.

So a couple of weeks or so ago, Ross sent out his letter. The family had had enough of America’s ills and had secured the visas and permission to move to New Zealand. Universal health care, government opposes the war in Iraq, fewer guns, fewer modern influences to poison the child, more focus on education, and so on. They were out of here. Now they are settling in to their new life in a new country.



Their e-mailed letter inspired some bruising responses between friends all along the ideological spectrum, some totally in support, some pretty bitter about their decision.

Me? Forget the politics. I’d move to New Zealand in a heartbeat just to live there if not for a wife and family who would loath to sever their ties to their lives and extended family and friends in the States. Nothing particularly principled or patriotic about it. New Zealand’s beauty and remoteness appeal strongly to me. It’s a flaw, but I really don’t look back much. Or maybe that’s not quite it. I treasure the people in my life, but I don’t mind that the ones in the past live mainly as memory. Move enough, and there are lots of memories.

So Ross is in New Zealand. And my commentary pages now are littered with responses to his letter published as a commentary, “Why we’re leaving the U.S.”

Many are angry, some are thoughtful. Clearly, though, the authors are engaged. Whatever the quality of their response, I’m glad they participated in the discussion. That, at least to me, is the key. Participating in a civic conversation. However uncivilly.

There’s yet plenty of hope for America. We tend to be hardest on ourselves. Still, New Zealand. I think I could handle living there too.


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