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To Politic or Not to Politic

Photo by Daniel Schwen via Wikimedia Commons.

That is the question. Truly, I am not much good at it.

On Monday I made a rather veiled post because I couldn’t yet deal directly with my Sunday. Even now my mind reels with a bunch of different things that came up and that I thought in response to the situation. The situation was this: on Sunday, I spent two hours on an airplane being attacked by three men for my politics. Trust me, I didn’t start it, but the only way for me to survive the conversation was… well, to persevere.

The least active of these men was an airplane pilot (flying for free as a perk of his job, I might add). He immediately launched a speech about how he home-schools his children because the public schools in Florida are questionable, but how he moved here because it was an inexpensive place to raise his family. Go figure. He promptly turned over and pretended to sleep, but then later woke up and told us what the “facts” are.

Between me and the pilot was a divorced businessman with two engineering degrees and an MBA who brow-beat me throughout the flight, frequently citing statistics I know aren’t true and for which he had no source, telling me that numbers are all we have, and frequently returning to the “fact” that money is everything that’s important. (Not to Jebus! I wanted to say.) He started the conversation by telling me that he disagreed with home schooling and whispering into my ear about his disrespect for the pilot; his only child attends a prestigious private school, and he relocated in order be close to whatever school his son wanted to attend. I tried to fight the good fight.

All the while I was getting glares from the beefy redneck in a green sports-logo shirt in the row in front of us. It became clear that were there not a seat and several people between us, he would have physically attacked me. Instead he waited until the end of the flight to yell at me about how he’d had to listen to me all through the flight, that I was a “damn typical liberal thinker.” I tried to tell him that it wasn’t me who started the conversation, but I couldn’t get a word in. Steam was practically coming out of his ears. It occurred to me that what I should tell him was that he really, really shouldn’t wear that shiny color of green, that it really made his red face look as though it would explode. Not at all flattering.

But, seriously, it’s no fun to be attacked. And it’s disturbing to live in a world where some people not only disagree with you, but truly believe that you have no right to exist and would kill you if they could get away with it.

This is one of the huge differences between the left and the right, at least so I tell myself. I believe these men have a right to exist. They manipulate through one dodge after another, they claim authority and superiority, they believe their bad luck is someone else’s fault but that they deserve and have earned every bit of good luck that has come their way. It makes me insane, but I try to acknowledge their right to exist. I may despair of them, and I may be outraged by them, and I may even plot about things that could change their minds. But I do not wish to wipe them off the face of the earth the way they wish it so on me.

There was nothing I could say, though, and there never will be. In their minds I don’t have a right to exist and my difference of opinion is not something to be queried or examined, just something to be derided.

I know it’s nothing new to anyone, but it still makes me sad that we have become a nation where people can’t hear each other and where the arguments have become so irrational that it’s impossible to get through. There almost seems to be no such thing as the “facts” as spin doctors massage numbers and statisticians twist results this way and that. I kept trying to tell the businessman that his facts didn’t sound much like my facts, but he was unwilling to consider anything other than that my facts were wrong.

This man had a veneer of education and politeness. But our conversation on healthcare soon demonstrated how in danger I really was near him. First, he brought healthcare up. As soon, however, as it became clear that I know a thing or two about healthcare, he told me that I was changing the subject from the economy to healthcare. Second, when I told him that the U.S. is the only developed nation in the world that doesn’t have some kind of government-sponsored health care and that my husband, a Canadian, is typically devoted to government-backed healthcare, he said that he knew some Canadians that had fled to the U.S. for healthcare. I told him that I suspected he was reporting from what the right says, not from personal experience, and that even if a few grow disaffected (no system is perfect and Canada has its share of right-wingers) the majority of Canadians are devoted. But when I tried to tell him that I know several individuals who have had terrible times due to lack of basic healthcare here in the U.S., he said dismissively that individual stories mean nothing.

When the individual stories are his, when the statistics support his argument, then they are valid; otherwise, they aren’t. And he doesn’t quibble about the particular truths. Instead he claims that each method of my argument is bad even though he’s just attempted the same method.

Shudder. But it got even worse. “Look, he told me, we all want people to have a roof over their heads, to have enough to eat, and to be taken care of when they’re ill.” He acted all socially concerned. But when I asked him how that was to be if we didn’t have government-mandated healthcare, he refused to answer. Instead, he leapt on exemptions. He clearly knew nothing specific about this, but he said that Congress should have the plan everyone had to have. I said that maybe we had found a point of agreement, but that Congress had pursued a plan that has a lot of unevenness instead of universal socialized medicine run by the state. The latter, I said, would never pass because of people like him. So the private profit industry remains, for better or worse. “So you’d rather have a universal system?” I asked him.

You’d have thought I put his hand to the stove burner. “Just don’t ever ask me to pay for someone else’s healthcare,” he spat out, showing his first sign of agitation.

“So, you’re one of those debate audience types,” I asked, “who would vote just to let the injured or ill die if they don’t have private insurance?”

He couldn’t bring himself to say that. He said everyone should receive care. “How?” I said. “Do you mean that charities should cover it or what?”

“Healthcare is not a right,” he said.

“To you it’s not,” I said. “To me, it should be. To most of the governments in the developed world it is a right.”

“It’s not!” he said. “Those people have made bad choices. Don’t hold those places up as examples.”

“So you would just let those people die?” I asked. “By the way,” I said, “the U.S. has the highest per capita expenditure on healthcare and we have a terrible record on life span.”

“It’s not a right,” he said.

“If it’s not a right,” I said, “then you mean you would just let people die?”

It could have gone on this way for ever. I really wanted to let go, to stop it, but I just felt that would seem like defeat, and I wasn’t willing to be defeated.

Thank Jebus for the landing of planes. After that I only had to deal with the redneck guy accusing me of being selfish because I temporarily moved forward to get my fragile bag out of the overhead bin where I’d been forced to locate it several seats away from mine after all the gentlemen had shoved me aside to grab up all the nearby space.

This is crazy and incoherent. Sorry. It hasn’t been long enough. It replays like a bad dream. Others wisely tell me not to talk with these people. But it saddens me to live in this world, split.

4 responses »

  1. Lisa,

    Martin Luther King, Jr. asserted, “Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”

    A staggering amount of the population has decided that, post-college, no new ideas or thinking is required or desirable in life. Generally, this leads to denial, which leads to anger at anyone who might perturb that denial into any sort of awareness.

    One wonders what causes people living in such denial to seek out political debate, when all they want to do is win an argument, without actually listening to the person they are debating. An inability to connect the dots seems to point at a deep sickness (“I wouldn’t let someone die if medicine can save him, except I refuse to pay for it, nor do I have any idea who would pay for it.” That is moral stupidity.)

    Barney Frank, when confronted by a particularly extreme Tea Partier at a town hall meeting, said, “Trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table.” I thought he was being nice. I would have said, “You are a deluded ignoramus. Next person.”

    Based on your description of the athletic jersey, the fellow in front of you must have been either a hapless Eagles fan or a hapless Jets fan whose team (either one) had lost or was about to lose again. (Cf. Noam Chomsky on the distraction of sports in Manufacturing Consent.) Both teams are known for having trolls as fans. Football may be better than life, but it is no substitute for life.

    There is little evidence of bona fide debate in this country, which is, in part, why the best we get out of the mainstream media is pseudo-discussion, which is, in part why statesmanship is nearly impossible, which is why, in part, the Occupy Wall Street movement is necessary.

    On a side-note, the pursuit of happiness is considered an inalienable right; how can health care be construed as absolutely irrelevant to the right to the pursuit of happiness? Sick people have the right to pursue happiness so long as they don’t think they have the right to get well?

  2. Yes, yes, and yes. I continue to question myself as an antidote to the types who don’t. But my blog could have gone on for pages blowing holes in the things they said. Pages and pages. I just don’t know what to do in the face of such paralysis. My brother has been a debater for years and years; I don’t know how he’s done it. Thanks as always for your well stated points.

  3. I loathe those kind of encounters that internally thrash my brain and sensibilities black and blue. The profound exasperation you experienced is exactly what compelled me to write The Healer of Fox Hollow. In our last presidential election, I was deeply dispirited by the stridency of hollow debates and the demonization of all those who didn’t share the belief system of whoever held the mic. To better understand what unifies us, I imagined myself with radically different mindsets from my own. In the end, writing this story left me with more questions than answers. But it widened the doors of my understanding in ways that I’m working to translate into meaningful action and also, a different paradigm of thought and language that somehow identifies our common needs and wants in empathetic sharing before we get to the business of trying to solve our problems. Got to try something because I have too little brain moxie left to keep bangin’ my head against these divisive walls.

    (By the way, pub date for the book is May 2012 with YOU in the acknowledgements. Radically different, thanks to many of your comments, from the version you slogged through.)


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