Saturday, September 20, 2014

sucking on the lemon

When I moved to Mexico in 2009, the debate over Obamacare had just begun.

My sole source for how the discussions were developing up north came from The Economist, The American Spectator, and National Review.  Each magazine had differing editorial policies on the topic.  And they each published some very thoughtful pieces on the options facing Congress.

I was convinced that a high-level policy discussion was taking place between the political elite.  It wasn’t until I returned to Salem for a visit in 2010 that I learned there had been no high-toned discussions. 

Both parties had reduced what could have been an exercise in scholarship into a mud wrestling match that would have made pigs leave the sty.  Four years later, we are learning the extent of the deception used during the passage and enactment of the legislation.

I thought of that missed opportunity at dinner on our last night of the cruise.  We were dining at Qsine -- a specialty restaurant on the ship whose concept of serving food is supposed to be edgy, but comes off as far too jejune, if not pedestrian.  The pictured sushi-pops are a perfect example.

There were five of us at dinner.  Ken and Patti, of course.  I knew the couple who had joined us for dinner had leftist sentiments.  That did not bother me.  In fact, I was looking forward to having a frank exchange of views over dinner.  Diverging opinions are not necessarily a recipe for animosity.

Or so I thought.

Patti and I had earlier discussed how both American political parties had made a mishmash of the recent food stamp debate.  To read the press, you would think that the choice was between letting millions of Americans starve in the street or letting a budget go out of control that will have our grandchildren starving in the street. 

I heard nothing about areas of agreement -- such as, what is the purpose of food stamps or welfare in general?  And what is an appropriate assistance level that meets some basic needs, but also provides an incentive to do something better?  Without some common agreement on that question, the process devolves to positioning as opposed to finding common interests.

The topic should have been a great hook to talk about finding common ground in these discussions.  So, I pitched a slow one over the plate, and the husband of the other couple grabbed the ball and did not turn loose of it until he proved my point.

To my opening “Patti and I were discussing food stamps the other day as an example of how real issues get lost in political posturing,”  he began what can only politely be called a diatribe.  One of those diatribes that appear to be based on logic, but are merely facile.  A bit like the food we were being served.  All form; no substance. 

He was quite proud of his particular denomination of data -- the religion of the left.  But, like most quasi-socialist arguments, it was heavy on logic and devoid of almost any relationship with human behavior.

I guess the proper regulation of humans will cause us all to act as compliant automatons.  And we all know how well that turned out in Uncle Joe’s neighborhood.

I was ready to join the conversation when my political philosophy was referred to as “intellectual masturbation.”  Where can you go with a comment like that?  It has all the subtlety of tossing out one of the other conversation-stopping bombs. 

You know them.  “Fascist.”  “Racist.”  “Sexist.”  Code words to show one’s moral superiority while reducing discussions to choruses of teeth-grinding and growling.

Frankly, I was shocked.  Even though I should have seen that the outcome was inevitable.  There are not very many people who any longer find joy in the give and take of witty repartee. 

Ken and Patti do.  Along with my friend John Hofer.  I cherish my friendship with them because an afternoon spent discussing serious issues is like spending time with Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward. 

So, to those few people on this planet who are still capable of looking their political and social adversaries in the eye and building bon mot on pun on sardonic wit, all with the grace of Dame Edith Evans, I raise my far-too-precious codsicles. 

Long may they wave.

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