Thursday, August 13, 2009

What are they doing to the little children?

Civil (as in 'civilized') discourse may be dead.

The extent to which political hate talk has poisoned public interactions was made clear(er) to me recently.

I was at the bookstore, standing in line at the register in front of a little girl of about four or five who appeared to be multi-racial (which is really not important except for the irony I believe it adds to my story.) Standing with the little girl was a white (again, not important except for irony's sake) woman of late-middle age, perhaps her grandmother.

The little girl had two age-appropriate books in her hand which she was examining with the intensity of a new reader. The woman said to the little girl, "Are you sure you want that book? It's about Hawaii. That's another state." The little girl looked down at the books in her hands and then up at the woman, seemingly confused.

I believe that children, especially beginning readers, should be constantly encouraged to read and one way to do that is to excite their curiosity, so I said to the little girl, "You know, that's the state where our President was born." She looked down at her books again, shy this time, I think, since I'm sure I appeared to her as some strange bearded giant. I looked up at the (supposed) grandmother, expecting to exchange a knowing smile and perhaps a small nod of grown-up recognition that a budding reader was being primed, but my look was met with an icy stare and a longish silence.

I'm not known for hiding my emotions and the woman must have seen the puzzlement on my face, because she grimly said, "I don't want to talk politics because you and I disagree."

Thinking she was referring to the so-called 'birthers' who have been desperately denying BHO's legitimacy based on his place of birth and not being able to avoid spouting my gut reaction without restraint (you think I'd learn!) I said, "Don't tell me you're one of those nuts who think he's not a citizen." Poor choice of words, I know, and potentially inflammatory, but a significant portion of even those on the right have called it a nutty proposition. (Have you seen Orly Taitz?)

"No, no. I believe he's a citizen. But he's only going to be a one-term president," she replied.

"OK," I thought. "Here's an opening to have a real discussion." Silly me.

"Well, " I said out loud. "I think it kind of depends on what happens with the economy."

"That's right, and he's just running it into the ground and he'll only be around for one term!"

Just then, the next register became available and I left the line. As I walked away, she called after me, "You wouldn't say that about George Bush because you don't like him." I wasn't sure what she was referring to, so I continued to the register. She again called after me, louder and more shrilly, "And what about all the casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan? Why don't you ever see those in the media?" WTF? I looked back at her with a tight smile, turned, and completed my transaction. I left the store without seeing her again.

Looking back on the encounter, several things have occurred to me:
  1. She warned me - "Don't talk politics." But since when is a fact a matter of political discord? Since Fact became a matter of Faith, not Proof. (Have you seen those dinosaurs fitted with saddles at the Creation Museum?)
  2. Why did she warn me? - "[B]ecause you and I disagree." How did she know? Was my beard a dead giveaway? Was it because I'm fat? Was she reacting to my rejection of a meme that some are trying to use as a negative to be taken on Faith?
  3. Why did she jump to an immediate negative conclusion? - "[H]e's only going to be a one-term president." The question of BHO's re-electability could be ground for fruitful dialogue, but since when is a person's performance after only 13.7% of his allotted time in office grounds for summary dismissal? I say let History be the judge. (Wouldn't you agree, Dubya?)
  4. Speaking of Dubya, what's he got to do with it? - "[Y]ou don't like him." I never did but isn't that old news?
  5. Why bring war casualties into the discussion? (Well, the rant, if I may editorialize.) "Why don't you ever see those in the media?" - My first reaction still stands - WTF? If you're not familiar with the expression, ask any service member who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan (or Vietnam, for that matter) to translate the radio transmission "Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot" for you. Most will know. Besides, it was GWB who banned the media from showing the caskets at Dover AFB. And, at minimum, ABC and PBS list the names, ages, rank and hometowns of casualties every week. What else could she mean?
  6. Where did all this come from? Is it just me, or is the answer self-evident?
Perhaps a bookstore checkout line isn't the place to try to engage in discussions of this nature, but, in my own defense, disputation wasn't my intent. I'm willing to take some responsibility for the spiral into acrimony which the interaction took, but not all responsibility, and that is the root of the rancor I feel. If I now must refrain, for fear of disproportionate hostility or conflict, from innocent contact when I have a chance encounter, that saddens me and it makes me angry, angry at the purveyors of ill will and resentment that seem to dominate what passes for political commentary today.

Until bitterness is excised from public discussion of all forms and in all venues, we're doomed to hate and hurt and harass one another into bloody oblivion where the only winners will be ... well, no one.

I'm ashamed to say that I didn't think about the little girl again until I got home and felt moved to write this. I hope she reads that book about Hawaii and is transported to its beautiful beaches and temperate climate. I hope she is read to with love and honesty. Mostly, I hope she never experiences the enmity that hurts and destroys our ability to love and respect one another.

I really mean it.