a liberal in orange county

I’m not usually a big talker on planes… my usual modus operandi on planes is headphones in, hood up, nose buried in a book. But if someone engages me, I’ll make nice and pretend that small talk is not my least favorite thing in the world, and sometimes that will pay off. On my return trip from my visit to the Communications department at UPenn where I might be pursuing a PhD next year, I had an airplane conversation that I’ll remember for a long time.

It started because I was wearing a Milwaukee Brewers hat. As I sat down next to an old couple in my row, the husband (Jim), a St. Louis Cardinals fan, asked me if I was a Brewers fan, to which I responded “yes”, and we got to talking about baseball. He told me some fascinating stories about growing up in St. Louis and being a batboy for the St. Louis Browns (now the Baltimore Orioles), a team that included Satchel Paige and Eddie Gaedel, the shortest player to ever have a plate appearance in professional baseball. But when I told him why I had been visiting Philadelphia, the conversation got really interesting.

Jim was a 70+ year-old Korean War veteran from Irvine, California, and had the political leanings one might expect from that demographic. He was a Republican, and I had to bite my tongue a bit when he said that he really didn’t like a lot of the policies that Obama had put in place. But as much as I may have disagreed with him on policy matters, it quickly became obvious that we agreed upon a lot when it came to problems of the current political climate. Though we disagreed on the causes, we both wanted to see more working together from our elected officials, and we were both tired of the divisiveness of the rhetoric coming from elected officials, the claims that the other party is “Anti-American” (again, I didn’t get into assigning blame for this, because while I think the Republicans are more guilty of this, I didn’t want the rest of the flight to be awkward). We agreed on the respect due to veterans, though we disagreed on whether America should be in Iraq. And most importantly, in my eyes, we agreed that the greatest hope for America lies with a responsibly informed citizenry holding their elected officials accountable for enacting the policies they were elected to enact.

I think the most valuable part of this flight was a reminder that there are people out there who, while they hold policy views that are wildly different than mine, agree with many of my beliefs about the things that are necessary to improve the governance of our country. And that’s a great starting point. Given more time, I would love to talk to Jim about policy, because I think that there are plenty of things we could learn from each other based on a mutual respect for each other’s ideas.

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6 Responses to a liberal in orange county

  1. Great sentiments in an ideal world. If we lived in, say, Switzerland, and all we had to argue about were domestic policies like these ( http://www.eda.admin.ch/eda/en/home/reps/nameri/vusa/wasemb/polaff/wasurp.html ) I might agree with you. However, we live in the United States, which as of this past weekend began bombing yet another country and killing still more people half-way across the world. It’s not enough to say we should all just get along and work out our differences politely over tea when our government is murdering people on a regular basis.

    Would this have been your advice to the revolutionaries in Egypt or Tunisia? Or, for that matter, for those British subjects who rose up against their King to declare American independence? Or for all those who participated in civil disobedience during the civil rights movement? If not, what then is the exact point at which you believe political differences become important enough to justify anything other than holding a “mutual respect for each other’s ideas”?

    • frouglas says:

      Honestly? You’re comparing the U.S. to Egypt and Tunisia? That is absolutely ridiculous. Once again, you are calling for revolution and I will not support that.

      Like it or not, we live in a democracy. What alternative form of government would you prefer? One in which Nicholas Kramer calls the shots? What if you’re wrong about something?

      What Jim and I both agreed on is that the best hope for America lies with its citizenry. If we fail to rise to that occasion, so be it. We’ll get what we deserve.

    • frouglas says:

      One more thing: you cite the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Do you recall how things changed then? There was a change in public opinion, and the institutions of the American government (those same institutions that are in place today) corrected an injustice. Again, you misconstrue my calls for more compromise as being content with the status quo. And again, I will try to explain that my calls for more compromise and working together do not preclude the possibility of shifting public and governmental opinion, exactly what the civil rights movement accomplished in the 1960s.

  2. That’s more like it! Finally some anger – or at least some incredulity – from you!

    However, I must say, that’s a rather extreme interpretation of what I wrote above. Not only a revolution, but one in which I am in charge of the new government! Wow. Please reread what I wrote, and notice that I asked you a real question, and did not “compare the US to Egypt and Tunisia” as you suggest. I’ll repost my questions below.

    “Would this have been your advice to the revolutionaries in Egypt or Tunisia? Or, for that matter, for those British subjects who rose up against their King to declare American independence? Or for all those who participated in civil disobedience during the civil rights movement? If not, what then is the exact point at which you believe political differences become important enough to justify anything other than holding a “mutual respect for each other’s ideas”?”

    My point implicit in my question, especially regarding the civil rights movement, is that sometimes the difference between the status quo and basic morality is so great that you have to do more than ask in vain for more compromise. (This is not the same as calling for revolution, but rather suggests that people need to engage in the kind of civil disobedience that was demonstrated in the civil rights movement and in the recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia). But I really do want to hear your answer to that question.

    You also wrote above that you and Jim agree that the US citizenry is the best hope for America and that “we’ll get what we deserve”. I could not agree more – as I wrote recently here ( http://original.antiwar.com/nkramer/2011/02/27/the-immorality-of-empire/ ) I strongly believe we all have a responsibility for our government’s actions, and also as I wrote recently here ( http://original.antiwar.com/nkramer/2011/03/15/occupy-washington/ ) it really is up to “the people” to stand up for what they want. So we agree on that much…

    • frouglas says:

      You say that “[i]f we lived in Switzerland”, you might agree with me, but since we live in the U.S. you cannot accept my premise. You then go on to ask if this would have been my advice to the revolutionaries in Egypt and Tunisia. That, to me, draws a very clear line between an application of my views on America to the recent situations in those two countries. The answer is no, the views I express regarding American politics could not be applied to Egypt and Tunisia, precisely because they lacked the capacity to vote their leaders out of office. The American people, on the other hand, enjoy that luxury. As to exactly what I would have recommended to the Egyptian and Tunisian people at this juncture in their uprisings, I cannot say. I believe that they are much more qualified to speak to the state of their of governance than I am, so I defer to their judgement in these cases.

      In my own country, however, there is no point at which I think that I need abandon a mutual respect for the views of other American citizens. Implicit in my belief is the acknowledgement that, regardless of how much time I believe that I have spent thinking about an issue or the extent to which I believe my views are based in fact rather than my existing prejudices, I may be wrong. In your responses to the things I write, that is exactly the viewpoint I think you are missing. The leaders of the civil rights movement, as I see it, did not at any point decide that the difference between the status quo and basic morality was so great that they needed to circumvent democracy to achieve their ends. Instead, they worked to change the status quo. Whether that was through the changing of public opinion (a direct effect on democracy) or through the courts (one of the tools of our democracy), I believe that the most successful aspects of the civil rights movement took place within the very same constructs of democracy that we enjoy today.

      I don’t think that it is possible to change the status quo by telling a substantial portion of the American public that their views are invalid. And like it or not, Nicholas, there is a substantial portion of the American public who disagrees with your views (and with mine as well). This is evidenced by the fact that our politicians are not consistently voted out of office by landslide margins. Based on your comments, it seems to me that you would like to disregard these objections because they are incompatible with what you believe to be “basic morality”. I am unwilling to do that.

      I believe that the above represents the answer that you requested from me. In turn, I would ask a question of you:

      Let us start from the premise that our government is broken. How do you propose to fix it?

      Because if your answer is anything other than a revolutionary overhaul of our political system, than I would say your referring to my calls for compromise as “vain” is invalid. There is nothing preventing people from engaging in the civil disobedience that you ask . . . but they choose not to. And while I encourage you to work to win people over to your point of view and will work to convince people of the correctness of my own views, I am not convinced that my view (which is, in fact, very much in line with yours) is indisputably correct. The fact that other people (like Jim) who take the future of our country as seriously as I do and yet arrive at different conclusions about the policies necessary to achieve the best possible future gives me pause. I still think I’m right. I will argue until I’m blue in the face (or I’m convinced that I’m wrong, which anyone who knows me will know is probably well after I’m blue in the face) to convince people of the correctness of those views. But I will not simply ignore the views of people like Jim (and the substantial portion of the electorate who continues to vote people with whom I disagree into office) because I think that I know better than they do. Most importantly, I don’t think that my beliefs about other peoples’ political views on some issues should interfere with those aspects of governance that we may be able to agree on. It is precisely for that reason that I think the acknowledgement of good faith on the part of people like Jim is important. I think there are policy issues on which we could reach an agreement and which would improve the lives of American citizens. My personal opposition to some of Jim’s views is not so important to me that I will sacrifice the quality of life of my fellow citizens to prove that I am correct.

      In closing, a quote from Winston Churchill:

      Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

  3. Doug, this is a truly excellent post! I appreciate the time you put into it.

    I agree with most of what you wrote. However, one point of contention: you argue “there is no point at which I think that I need abandon a mutual respect for the views of other American citizens.” Again, in terms of most policy issues, I agree that this is a great (and rare) viewpoint to hold and I wish more people shared it. I, for one, do my best to understand why others (especially those with whom I disagree) think the way they do. But, to use the civil rights example again (or, even more extreme, the example of slavery in America), fundamentally this was an argument over whether some people should have less rights (or no rights at all) purely because of the color of their skin. That is one point at which I would argue it is no longer necessary (or helpful) to maintain “a mutual respect for the views of other Americans citizens.”

    As to your question (“Let us start from the premise that our government is broken. How do you propose to fix it?”), I freely admit that I do not know. I agree with you that it is within the power of the American populace to change things for the better through democratic means, though due to the current power structure significant change is unlikely.

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