“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
(from Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott; on page 22 of Bird by Bird she attributes this quote to “my priest friend Tom”)
I went to the Tea Party rally in Pleasanton on Thursday.
Given that I was once accused (with humor) of being a pinko commie bedwetter, this probably sounds peculiar.
And, given that my brain can, without warning, switch from an accepting Zen state of being into my screaming-body-painted-blue-with-the-head-of-my-enemy-dangling-from-my-horse’s-neck Celtic warrior, one might wonder at the wisdom of my wading into such a gathering all by myself.
And yet, I did.
First, it was peculiar seeing all the signs complaining about being taxed so heavily when the headlines were stating that most people were paying fewer taxes this year. I shouted this fact as I drove by, but the sign holders were not amused.
As Pat Paulsen would say, “Picky, picky, picky.”
I decided (the accepting Zen part of me) that my goal there was to engage and try and understand where these people were coming from.
Carly Fiorina had a booth there. As did the Republican Women and Republican Party.
I stopped a couple on the way in. He was wearing a tee shirt emblazoned with a portrait of Reagan. Did you know Reagan grew government, I asked. Actually, I don’t remember his answer to that one.
He tried to tell me that corporations are individuals because they are a group of individuals who join together. I was so taken aback by his reasoning that I didn’t have the presence of mind to remind him that a corporation is a group of individuals who have absolutely no accountability for what that group does. Think of Bhopal, for example.
His wife said that she thought of every president as her president but this one. My Celtic warrior slipped out, “Oh right, this one is black.”
She told me I should be ashamed of myself for accusing her of being racist.
Someone shouted to me as the couple and I part ways, “You must be a Democrat.”
“I’m an American,” I replied.
I asked a man who carried an impeach Obama sign what Obama had done to meet the criteria for impeachment. The Constitutional requirement for impeachment was high crimes or misdemeanors. What high crime or misdemeanor had he committed?
“Who are you?” he replied.
At a booth that featured Obama Czar cards, I asked the man who was selling the cards why Health Care reform was unconstitutional. After a lot of stumbling I finally said, “I think that what you are saying is that the individual mandate is what you think is unconstitutional.”
He met my question with glazed eyes. A woman who was standing at the booth said that she had to listen to my kind of crap all the time and thought this would be a day where she wouldn’t have to hear any of it. I explained that I was trying to understand what he or she meant by Health Care Reform was unconstitutional. She ignored me and to show her defiance, bought a deck of cards.
The man at the booth didn’t thank me for helping him make the sale.
I asked another man why Medicare wasn’t socialized medicine. Because we paid into it with our taxes he said. We ended up shaking hands – he even hugged me.
There were those who said people were flocking here from Canada and places like England to get their health care because they didn’t like what they got in their own country. No one mentioned how he or she was paying for it.
And finally, on the way out I asked a woman who was carrying a sign that says that government is wildly out of control why she thinks that. Frankly, I don’t remember everything she said, but this was the most satisfying and also, sadly, revealing conversation I had all day. Another woman, wearing a red Tea Party tee shirt joined us.
Given that government intrusion in our personal lives was an issue, I asked if a woman should have the right to choose. The issue of partial birth abortions came up. I said I thought that decision needs to be between a woman and her doctor.
What if a woman says that after eight months she’s tired of being so uncomfortable and just wants to end her pregnancy, she asked.
Well, how do you answer that question.
The woman wearing the red tee shirt said that yes, a woman needs to have the right to choose.
Then the woman with the government-out-of-control sign asked whether teenage girls should be able to have abortions without their parents’ permission or knowledge.
Yes, I said, and before I could answer further the woman with the red tee shirt said, “Yes, because it could be a result of incest.”
What are you doing wearing that tee shirt, I wondered.
Then, I asked if Obama is a natural born citizen. And of course up came the why doesn’t-he-show-us-his birth-certificate-no-not-that-one thing came up.
The Muslim thing came up. That he was born a Muslim. Okay, he isn’t and I’m not sure that one can be born a religion, but I asked, “Okay, can you be a Muslim and an American.”
Neither was so sure of that one.
The sign-carrying lady brought up that Obama slipped and said he had visited 57 states during the campaign. “There are 57 Muslim states she said.”
Okay, that one blew out both my Zen and Celtic warrior brain, but I refrained from shouting “What the fuck?”
We spoke for a few more minutes. The sign-carrying lady accidently released some spittle while she spoke – not as in spewing spittle, but you know, one of those embarrassing moments. She worried that I would think she spit on me. I assured her I knew she hadn’t.
We all went our separate ways.
So here is my conclusion after being at the event:
I can live with difference of opinions about health care, the role of government, size of government, and so on.
But what seems to me to be at the base of this movement is fear and anger: fear of the changing face of America and the world, and anger that they their side lost the election. I am concerned that this group thinks that freedom means freedom from having to live in a diverse culture, a diverse world.
I came of age in the Sixties, when the Civil Rights Movement led to an interpretation of the Constitution as a protector of the inherent dignity of the individual. Informing that time, for me anyway, was World War II and how the Concentration Camps showed the depth of depravity prejudice against groups of people can be taken to.
To me, the brilliance of the Constitution is that it recognizes that darkness resides in the heart of human beings, and provides a mechanism for ensuring that laws that come out of the blackest of places – those places that are fueled by fear of the other – can be overturned.
For me, freedom and liberty are about respect for the dignity of the individual. That’s why I think health care is a right, not a privilege. We do not have the best health care in the world if treatment exists, but is rationed by ability to pay.
It concerns me that the Republican Party is embracing this movement. For too long, they have used fear – fear of the other – as their method for galvanizing people. Fear is one of the basest of human emotions – it makes one do crazy, irrational things as an individual; when it is used to amass people, it leads to cruelty.
Obviously, we all have a right to our own opinion. We do not, however, have the right to construct the world in our own image. We might want to, but that doesn’t give us the right to.
That way leads to the human equivalent of the La Brea Tar Pits.
I believe we need leadership that show us a way around that.