“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.
Every major change in society over the centuries is abrasive and unrelenting. This is a major change that owes no apologies, and will continue to float away a lot of the garbage in our society just as high tide floats away debris. The fact that people are not articulate, and are not prepared to pen an essay with footnotes and supporting data is irrelevant. The 60’s changes pushed the country and the world without a articulate spokesperson or figurehead. Welcome to change. It’s happening without any request for permission. This is inevitable.
Hmmm . . . I’m not sure what you think the inevitable change is. who do you think is the garbage in our society. And, just for my own curiosity, how did you land on my blog?
Just my lucky day finding you, and wanted to “shed” some light. The ineivtable change was promised by President B.O. and the transformation doesn’t follow a recipe. The garbage is the old ideas of Russia’s “worker’s paradise”, and “Congressional Ethic’s Committee”. Consider that PRAVDA has done a better job of discussing the homeless and unemployed in the USA than our commercial media. The ethic’s committee is the review of lobbyist deals they missed.
Well, I’m glad you found me. I agree, there is no formula for change. Shall be interesting to see how it happens. By the way, I had a post that included hobos. Here’s the link to it: https://writingshed.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/prepare-the-soul-make-it-ready-move-it-to-tenderness/
Look forward to more discussions.
I landed on your blog by searching a quote by Anne Lamott. After reading your blog I wanted to respond to your comments on health care. I believe that everyone on the planet has the right to receive health care. I don’t believe that everyone should be on the hook for paying for it. If someone decides to not exercise, smoke, and make poor food choices then why should I have to pay for their care when they get heart disease or cancer? Especially if the government takes this money from me at gun point, referring to being arrested for failure to pay taxes. Anyway our health care system does need some work, but the new Obamacare system is not the answer. It will go broke and it will lead to the collapse of Medicare and possibly rationing. The numbers don’t lie.
Sorry to take so long to respond. What I would say is that if you don’t have access to health care then your right to it is restricted. I see health care as I do police and fire services.
The curious thing about the requirement for health insurance is that there really is no way to enforce it. That’s why I like the public option. I’m hoping it gets implemented eventually.
As for paying for someone’s illness that is caused by lifestyle choices, I think that is a dangerous road. Toxic sites tend to be located near poorer neighborhoods. Would illnesses caused by exposure to toxic environments be caused by lifestyle? What if someone eats right, exercises, and doesn’t smoke, but develops cancer?
Landed here searching for the quote that opens your article and was so engrossed by your writing and thoughts that I kept reading to the last comment. As such I’m really late to this party, so no expectation of a response… still, I wanted to note of a few items:
First, I love your comment about not having the right to construct the world in our own image. It perfectly encapsulates my recent disillusion with the Republican party.
I’m a registered Republican but am probably ideologically closer to a libertarian. I came to the party because I believe in limit government, strict controls on government spending, and pro-business reforms. The Republican platform at the local level where I grew up did many great things that contributed to a flourishing of entrepreneurial competition that revitalized the local economy. I experienced first hand and at an impressionable age the tremendous benefit to society derived from deregulation and the removal of government involvement and wanted to vote in such a way as to engender such principles more widely.
I’ve constantly found myself balancing that desire first against the party’s social agenda, with which I have serious contraventions and later against the reckless spending of recent Republican administrations. I have always found the Democratic interest in government run social programs distasteful enough to prevent any conversion however.
In the last few years though, something has changed. Either in my own perceptions (thanks to the internet it is now MUCH easier to track what actually happens in government than it was when I was young) or in the party itself that has made me supremely uneasy with the Republican platform.
Reading your comments finally made it click – they have become the party of ignorance. While it would be unfair to generalize too broadly, I think it is safe to say that a plurality of republican supporters have demonstrated shockingly little interest in facts. Instead they are motivated by the narratives their leaders and pundits have constructed. There’s nothing inherently wrong with toeing the party line (actually there is, but our political system makes it something of a necessity), but to do so without a fervent effort to examine the pertinent facts and verify the validity of the narrative you’ve been fed is downright frightening. Certainly not an appropriate way to govern a nation. Like you, I am terrified of people who accept narrative over truth – who willfully choose the story (PPACA is unconstitutional and takes away our freedom) over the far more complex reality.
In any-case I’d like to add your thought to my general collection of quotes… I might put it up on my facebook or in an email sig: nothing serious. Would you mind?
One last item on your own final point (in your last comment). I see a fairly large disparity between police and fire services and healthcare as a matter of scope. I believe everyone has a right to emergency medical treatment and have no problem paying into that as a member of society. This is the medical equivalent of police and fire fighting service. Long term healthcare is another matter entirely. Just as the police aren’t in charge of installing the locks on your door or repairing damage caused by a break in (they only show up for acute incidents) so the social aspect of healthcare can (perhaps should) be limited to acute care. I’m not prepared to have a debate on whether that is or isn’t a good thing. Just wanted to point out the parallel you drew between healthcare and emergency services is, in certain respects, a false one.
Aidan, thank you for your thoughtful comments. Please feel free to quote me or to forward a link to the blog or add something as an email sig with attribution.
I appreciate the distinction you made between emergency services and health care. I guess for me, what it comes down to is that I just don’t think we should deprive people of health care because of inability to pay.
I think it’s a VERY complex subject (health care delivery system), one that doesn’t lend itself to sound bites. The whole death panel topic I found particularly annoying since I have been a hospice volunteer and have seen my parents, in laws, and several older friends make their wishes clear.
Nothing is black and white, including black and white (there are shades of both). I worry that the desire for power for the sake of power has become the goal.
Again, thanks for your thoughtful comments. Here’s to more conversations.
“I worry that the desire for power for the sake of power has become the goal.”
Agree. I don’t think this is a new development, after all the Jeffersonian pundits of their day used to accuse Adams of planning to crown himself emperor. But the ability to capture votes is certainly a higher priority than truthfulness or quality of ideas.
I guess the really vexing part is that it seems to work. I would love to live in a society where anyone who hurled ridiculously exaggerated insults at a political rival (accusing democrats of wanting to destroy the republic or likening Obama to the Nazis, to name some presently popular examples) would never again be taken seriously. The voting public would expect discourse to be rooted in facts, not hyperbole. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.
I suspect you and I would fervently disagree on a wide range of political topics, but that is no reason for vitriol or accusations. There are real reasons in this world to be wary of the intentions of another person or group… political differences (in america) aren’t even close to being one of them.
The only useful strategy for discourse in a republic is civility. Particularly if the goal is to serve the people and move forward the nation one has been elected to lead. Sadly that doesn’t seem to be the goal of many of our “leaders” today. Hopefully members of both your party and mine will one day correct that failing.
Sorry it took so long to reply. I’ve had a back problem that kept me away from the computer.
Again, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I was once called a pinko commie bed wetter. It was said with affection, so I like calling myself that at times.
What good discourse does is let you see the other person’s point, which generally leads to a more wholistic approach to problem solving.
Last Saturday’s shooting has left me in a state of bewilderment about how to move forward. I think Obama hit the mark when he made it about being worthy of a 9-year old’s faith in our country. I just wonder how it will play itself out.
Unfortunately, I was not surprised by the shooting. I remember how surprising it was –unbelievable– when JFK was killed. Now it just seems par for the course. I don’t know what to make of it.
I guess the big challenge seems to me is how to tone down the voices that are churning an us and them environment.
Thank you for engaging.
Let’s keep “talking.”
Wow…a respectful discussion here! I have found that the more well-informed conservative-leaning people I have run into “get it” in terms of government’s purpose. They get that we’re not taxed to death, and the only difference between now and then (then being time up through the 60’s, when federal tax rates could soar upwards of 90% marginal), is who is in the “higher tax” group. I, and many of these friends, are economists, and we realize that when tax rates were super-high, “normal” people were not in the top 10% of income earners. Nowadays, the top 10% starts at just over $100K household, which is “normal” people in many larger cities, and just barely enough to have a decent life (to give perspective, I live in DC, fall just short of that $110K-ish number, and live in a space that most people in the U.S. would be appalled at but can just afford comfortably, thankfully single and childless, so it’s comfortable for me and my plants). However, from that point incomes grow at a ridiculous rate. The average American household earns just under $50K (50th percentile), the top 10% starts at around $109K, and the top 1% starts at around $450K. So, 90% of people make 1/4 or less of what 1% of people do, and 50% of people earn 50% or less of what 9% of people do, and that’s not healthy for the economy (while high income earners consume a lot, they don’t consume proportionate to their share of income…one can only use so many base consumer goods, and more expensive consumer goods don’t have the same labor-theory-of-value inputs, i.e., it only takes so many people to build a yacht, so less people are employed in making high-end consumer goods than broadly needed regular consumer goods, depressing employment when a few people can afford a lot of nice stuff and most people can only afford a basic existence).
The difference, I guess, between me and my more conservative friends is that I think the government can direct money where it needs to go with tax policy. Lower capital gains taxes put money into the stock market, entrepreneurship, and other investments, and that would be a more powerful tool if tax rates on crazy-high income earners were higher than they are now. Businesses would be more likely to spend money on their businesses (hiring, expanding, research, development) if corporate tax rates on profits were higher. What these people often (oddly) fail to consider is that you don’t have to pay corporate profit taxes or regular income taxes on money the business or the individual saves, invests, or spends on making the economy better.
The other difference is that I see government as the most efficient distribution mechanism for things businesses need. Businesses need well-educated citizens who are healthy and ready and able to provide their knowledge and labor to businesses. Sure, we could seriously cut taxes by radically reducing the money we spend on education and allowing citizens and businesses to keep that money. However, that would lead to a system (even more exaggerated than the system we have now) that would allow the richest to educate their progeny well to compete in the global economy and leave everyone else barely literate, eliminating numerous smart and talented people from the pool of potential employees and entrepreneurs. That is simply NOT the reality of our current economy. While we need to focus more on trades in education (I would kill for a good medical assistant, stylist, mechanic, and HVAC technician who didn’t have to spend insane sums of money – for what they make and do – on their training), the numbers truly say it all. People with Master’s degrees have an unemployment rate of just over 3%, while high-school dropouts have over 25% unemployment. Education is so necessary, and a minimal expense for a lifetime of self-sufficiency and tax-paying (full disclosure, state-school MA here, done with federal student loans, so I think the government is getting its money’s worth out of me, considering that I pay more than the cost of one year of college in taxes every year, and will for the next 30 years).
While “choices” are often cited (as above) as a justification for not paying someone’s expenses, again, the numbers win. The more education a person has, the less kids they have and later and when they’re able to support them, the less likely they are to be obese and smoke, the more likely they are to exercise regularly – and it’s not just about access to gyms and healthy food and birth control (it’s partially that), it’s about having something to live for, beyond the pleasures and pressures of the here and now. I think everyone can understand this on some basic level. Think about a stressful time at work or home that you just never thought would end. Were you tempted to drink more? Eat more cake? Maybe bum a smoke off of a friend? Now, look at the difference between girls who play sports and those who don’t (well-researched). They have something outside of their peer group and home life to be their best for – and they’re less likely to have sex at an early age, get pregnant, smoke, do drugs, skip school, etc. The government can efficiently make this a reality by providing a challenging education with real opportunities for educational advancement and fulfilling jobs, providing mentoring and involvement opportunities in schools and communities, and de-linking born-into wealth from future opportunities. These changes would take a long time and a healthy investment, but be well worth it. In the meantime, I’d rather pay for a poor adult’s preventative care than their emergency care, someone’s job training than their lifelong welfare, someone’s stable home than a slum where slinging drugs and prostitution are the only avenues to a better quality of life, etc.
Sorry it took so long to respond. I was offline and then got taken over by various life thingies.
Thanks for your response. It is great to have an economists point of view. I think one of the worst things about our economy is that it seems to be driven by quarterly profit reports.
I think Obama did something really good with his State of the Union speech. I think he started using business language to frame the business of government. It’s just a different business model than other businesses.
Let’s have more rational discussions!
I’m thinking of starting a blog (called “Changing the Story”) that would be a place where well spoken people (such as yourself) could have a forum. Would you be interested in being part of such a blog? Depending on who is involved, I am thinking that participants would write twice a month or weekly.
Let me know what you think.
I am leaving town today and will be where I have intermittent Internet access. I plan on checking in once or twice during the week. I will be back next Friday (the 4th).
Tell me more about yourself if you feel comfortable. You can reach me on email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Terrific and wonderfully written. Hope you don’t mind, but I’m posting this on facebook.
Thanks. I, of course, welcome your sharing this on Facebook. I love people visiting the Writingshed. You sound very interesting. I like that you studied coffee. Well worth it!
I like your idea for starting a blog where the well spoken could have a forum. I believe that when you put politics aside and start talking to the individual about their daily lives, their needs, and their community, we can find common ground even if your beliefs might be further from their own on the political spectrum. In essence, I think many of us are socialistic in our behaviours, wanting our friends and family to be happy and healthy, and wanting to share or trade what we can to help them. We don’t have time in our lives to be totally self sufficient, we need to have regulation, and infrastructure to help ease our burdens, something a lot of people don’t seem to realize. Bottom line, there is a commonality that many of us share, and if we can just figure out this common ground, I think we will all be better off for it, and that is where change really happens. So please, start your blog, so that we can begin this conversation in ernest.
I am also going to share this article on my FB.
Would signing a bill that goes against the most basic principles of a democratic republic, such as, say, a bill that allows for indefinate detention, torture, rendition, and murder, of citizens no less, qualify as high crimes and misdemeanors? I believe, according to the constitution, it would. With a law like that on the books, the rest of the laws (Bill of Rights for example) offer virtually zero protection for anyone (but the bankster puppet masters)! Considering they have started firing up the FEMA camps (filling contracts for food, laundry, security, etc.), I hate to say it because I voted for him last time around, but a vote for Obama is about the same as a vote for Stalin at this point. We need to take a step back because we are truly on the edge of the abyss. Ron Paul 2012! ;o)
I was extremely pleased to find this page. I need to to thank you for ones time for this fantastic read!! I definitely appreciated every part of it and i also have you bookmarked to look at new things in your site.
Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed my post.
I stumbled upon this post when searching for the quote that you opened with. I saw the quote when watching a documentary “Lord, Save us from your Followers” and when reading, was engaged in your willingness to be open and discuss. I’m an Hispanic Protestant Democratic mother of two little ones that has a Bachelor’s and am pursuing a Master’s degree from a faith-based university and one thing that just gets me going is the closed-mindedness of people. The desire to argue without listening. Interestingly, I’ve engaged in discussion on facebook about the president and have heard all the arguments about why he is horrible when all I asked was why it seems so important to violently shove your opinions upon others. I thouroughly love discussion and hearing why people feel the way that they do, but I quickly become apathetic and spiteful when people tell me I’m wrong, but yet have no thought through response when I ask why. Keep the discussion going!
Carla, I’m glad you stumbled onto my blog.
The “discussion” world has certainly become an interesting one. I think that fear has taken over and made it difficult for people to be open minded, let alone open hearted.
Hope to see you again in the Writing Shed!
And keep your discussions going, too.
I’ve read several just right stuff here. Definitely price bookmarking for revisiting. I wonder how so much effort you place to create one of these magnificent informative site.
Thanks for visiting my Writing Shed. I’m sorry it took so long to get back to you. I’m in the midst of moving from California to Washington so my pick-up sticks are up in the air waiting to land.
As for the effort to create my blog, there is some initial time setting it up. Fortunately, WordPress makes it very easy. And then, for each post I spend an hour or two writing them. Sometimes it comes quickly. Other times a bit more slowly.
Hope you return to the Writing Shed.
Meh. If you’ve ever watched Leno’s man-on-the-street segments, or video interviews with occupy wall street protestors, you will find the same thing- people that protest, in general, don’t seem educated on issues. The young people at these events can’t even give coherent reasons to why they are there, nor name the Vice President of the United States, and this goes for liberals and conservatives alike.
People are just not good at oral argument, either, especially when they are put on the spot. Most of them don’t have blogs they can later sit and poke about on, searching for the perfect riposte to something said earlier in the day.
I suppose if I booked up before attending a “liberal-attended” protest and moved in and out while ambushing them, I could make them all look pretty stupid and uninformed. They may not even seem human by the end of my post.
This post actually made me sad. You said that you were 66. I’m only in my late 30’s, and I have been an atheist and Christian, liberal and conservative, and have run with both crowds. People are just people. And there are only good people and bad people. I pray that when I am 66, I do not show this basic lack of sensibility and self-awareness that this post demonstrates. I’m sad, because at your age, you should know better- and you should know people better.
Well, I’m not sure what makes you think I said I’m 66, I’m not. I’m sorry my post made you sad. I’m not sure what you saw at Occupy Wall Street protests. I never attended any because there were none close to me. I would disagree with you that people in general who protest don’t seem educated on issues, but that is my experience. What disturbed me about the Tea Party Rally I attended (four years ago now) was the level of fear of the “other” framed as freedom. I stand by that.
You’re so cool! I don’t believe I have read a single thing
like this before. So great to find somebody with a few
unique thoughts on this issue. Really.. many thanks for starting
this up. This website is something that’s needed on the internet, someone with some originality!
Thank you I hope you come back to visit.
Found your essay during a search for the Anne Lamott quotation. Given the current political climate, what you said was prescient. There is, however, a faint glimmer of hope that fear isn’t enough after the defeat of Roy Moore.
From your lips to who’s ever in charge’s ears! Thanks for visiting my Writing Shed!