Politics: Can We Talk?

“Don’t ever forget that you’re a citizen of this world, and there are things you can do to lift the human spirit, things that are easy, things that are free, things that you can do every day. Civility, respect, kindness, character.”

by Dave Riley

RECENTLY GREG SARGENT of the Washington Post penned the following:

Hillary Clinton’s Democratic rivals are now faulting her for joking (sort of joking, anyway) during the Democratic debate that she is proud of the fact that she has made ‘enemies’ out of Republicans…

Today, Joe Biden responded with this:

“I really respect the members up there and I still have a lot of Republican friends. I don’t think my chief enemy is the Republican Party. This is a matter of making things work.”

This was apparently not a throwaway line. Biden said something very similar yesterday: “I don’t consider Republicans enemies. They’re friends.” And during his withdrawal presser today, Jim Webb also took a shot at Clinton over this.

I didn’t grow up in the toxic political climate we have today that gives rise to comments like Mrs. Clinton’s. My mom was a Democrat, my dad a Republican, and both of them voted regularly. But I don’t recall any major disputes between them, much less any shouting matches or throwing of pots and pans. Mom did have a wickedly dry sense of humor, and sometimes when she skewered dad, I think it took him a few moments to realize what had just happened.

Maine was solidly Republican during my youth. Until Edmund Muskie was elected governor in 1955, eleven of the previous twelve governors had been Republican. For twenty years we were represented in Washington by a giant of a woman, Republican Margaret Chase Smith, who served four terms in the House and two in the Senate.

Alas Senator Smith would be castigated as a RINO among many in today’s national Republican Party for not voting lock step with the leadership. She made up her own mind — what a dastardly evil trait!

About two years ago I was asked by a golfing companion, a guy I had never met before, if I was a Republican or a Democrat. His tone of voice told me this was a discussion I didn’t want to have on a golf course. A bar maybe, but definitely not a golf course.

fightjpgIndependent, I replied.

His response (as best I recollect after the passage of time) was, “So you’re one of those wishy-washy guys who can’t make up his mind.”

I could have debated the issue with him but all that would have done is ruin the remaining seven or so holes we had left to play so I guess I proved his point by mumbling some wishy-washy comment.

Nationwide, my fellow geezers have moved to the right. According to the pollsters at Gallup, U.S seniors — those aged 65 and older — have shifted from reliably Democratic to reliably Republican over the past two decades. “From 1992 through 2006, seniors had been solidly Democratic and significantly more Democratic than younger Americans,” Gallup’s research shows. “Over the last seven years, seniors have become less Democratic, and have shown an outright preference for the Republican Party since 2010.”

In recent times, many of the punditry class have bemoaned the fact that the middle seems to have disappeared from the American political spectrum. Maybe so, but that’s not what bothers me. What bothers me is that the right and the left can no longer communicate, much less work together. They are incapable of, to use Joe Biden’s phrase, “making things work.” Compromise and moderation are dirty words representing archaic, discredited concepts of governing. It is, to coin a cliché, my way or the highway. The other side is no longer the loyal opposition or the other party. but rather a malignant boil on the body politic that must be removed. Paraphrasing an old saw, a hound in a New Yorker cartoon says, “It is not enough for dogs to win. Cats must lose.”

SEEMINGLY FOREVER POLITICAL POINTS have been scored by making wild claims . “Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as an extrovert,” Mr. Pepper’s opponent supposedly claimed during the 1950 campaign. “Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law,” The statement of course, was a hoax, but a number of the lesser educated voters in Congressman Pepper’s Florida district bought the story.

In this election, Donald Trump is on record as saying Hillary Clinton was the worst Secretary of State in the nation’s history. Without debating his point — maybe she was — I strongly suspect that Mr. Trump can’t name even ten of the sixty-eight permanent secretaries we have had, much less know the quality of their tenure in office. People on the left, which I am told, is where Mr. Trump used to reside, make similarly sweeping and unverifiable claims.

Quite by accident, several years ago I came upon a speech that Aaron Sorkin gave to the graduating class of his alma mater, Syracuse University, in 2012. Part of it stuck with me and I have quoted this part at least a half-dozen times:

“Don’t ever forget that you’re a citizen of this world, and there are things you can do to lift the human spirit, things that are easy, things that are free, things that you can do every day. Civility, respect, kindness, character. You’re too good for schadenfreude, you’re too good for gossip and snark, you’re too good for intolerance—and since you’re walking into the middle of a presidential election, it’s worth mentioning that you’re too good to think people who disagree with you are your enemy.”


Dave Riley

About Dave Riley

Growing Old Isn’t For Sissies is about aging. It’s stories of how some older people achieve remarkable successes, how some people make the lives of others better, and how all seniors have hurdles to face — maladies, loss of loved ones and more.