It’s As American As……..

I have said it before and I will say it again now, I am often troubled by the vituperative nature of the dialogue in America these days.  It feels as if people are fighting each other verbally for some idea they have of what is “American”.  It feels often as if people are saying “I am more American” than you and I am right.  And if you think I am not right, then you are not really American.  I say that what is American is the dialogue itself, and we have lost sight of that I think.  What is important about America is that we have always had the dialogue and respect for the dialogue and for those engaged in it.

It seems, currently, that it is futile to engage in talk, if I express a political opinion I am either wrong or silly or I am simply dismissed or ignored.  So I decided to take a different tack and talk about what is really and indisputably American; food.

Almost as much as sports, food is a matter of regional and ethnic pride in this country.  I was lunching on barbecue the other day and the restaurant offered a stunning array of sauces.  I knew, for example, that the golden mustard based barbecue sauce is a staple of the Carolinas, and the sweet generally associated with St. Louis.  And I am not a barbecue expert by any stretch.

I have lived in many regions of the country and have had the privilege of learning in each one.  Fresco in southern Cali, green chili in Nuevo Mexico, crab cakes in Maryland, maple syrup in New England and cornbread and fried green tomatoes in Florida.  And so much more.  As a result of living in New England I still make applesauce and can it every year.  As a result of living in New Mexico I still wrap lots of things in a warm flour tortilla.  Since I grew up in New York, I still love good rye bread, especially with pastrami.  And Florida strawberries make the best jam. And so much more.

Starting with politics and ending with food.  Maybe if we all just sat down to a meal and tempered our dialogue with shared food we would understand each other better.  Maybe if we broke cornbread together the dialogue would be tempered with respect.  A ridiculous idea I know, but this baker of apple pies can dream, because our food is as much a reflection of our diversity and the rich tapestry of our culture as our political points of view.

Agreeing to Agree?

I have had a couple of experiences lately that, a year ago, would not have inspired much thought on my part.  But this week, they did.

I was with a friend of mine, someone with whom I never discuss politics because we have very significant differences of opinion.  And it is a sign of the times that we don’t talk.  I remember a time, not so very long ago, when I could break bread with a table full of friends with divergent opinions and we could have a civilized, respectful, if spirited, discussion.  Because of the polarization of our society, our country, we had tacitly agreed to disagree because on a personal level we like each other very much.

To my surprise, we had a discussion, albeit brief, about the fact that our world is in shambles.  We agreed that the public life of our country is, currently, a circus.  So, apparently, we have now somewhat less tacitly agreed to agree.  And we have started to see Republican politicians expressing consternation over where we are, something I would not have thought possible six short months ago.

But I had another experience, one that I think has become commonplace in our culture.  I allowed myself to be drawn into a political discussion, something I avoid like the plague these days.  And I listened, I think politely,   and I tried to express my opinion, as quietly as I could.  The response I got was to be interrupted and told that I am silly, my views are silly and it was silly to discuss my views.   This I think has sadly become the norm, where it isn’t even worth agreeing to disagree and there is no value in listening to one another.

If the hope is that we can return to civil discourse, to respectful disagreement and to the collegial solving of problems, then that first encounter gives me hope.  Those few “moderate” Republicans quietly wondering give me hope.  The election of women, transgender and gay candidates around the country gives me hope.  Perhaps we are agreeing to agree so that someday, again, we can agree to disagree.

And Kagan On the Other Hand?

Kagan scares everyone, liberal and conservative alike, except the President who, we presume, knows who he is nominating. Politics anyone?

So after yesterday’s post and its idealistic rhetoric, let’s talk politics.  Religion aside there is a whole other conversation going on; although the conversation about her being Jewish seems pretty loud.  Generally speaking you hear lots of grumbling from conservatives if there is a liberal paper trail, or at least one they can interpret as even marginally liberal.  And sometimes you hear grumbling from conservatives when, as now, there is virtually no paper trail, although that is not particularly common.  What is unusual, as far as I can tell (and I am not an historian of these sorts of things so feel free to correct me), is that liberals are now grumbling because there is no paper trail. 

There are whispered rumors that she is secretly much more conservative than we lefties would like, hiring so-called conservatives onto the faculty at harvard and allegedly adopting Bush-Cheney ideals in memos about Guantanamo.  National Public Radio tonight quoted a memo tonight that Kagan wrote when she was in the Clinton White House recommending that Clinton approve or support legislation banning partial birth abortion with exceptions only for rape, incest and the life of the mother, an obviously controversial position depending on your vantage point.  That, for sure, is a discussion for another time but what is clear is that everyone is scared of Kagan because nobody really knows where she stands. 

BUT… do we really believe that Obama or his crew have not asked her some of these questions?  Do we really believe that Obama is nominating her with absolutely no clue of her position on important issues, or at least her inclinations?  I find that mind bogglingly naive.  As I wrote yesterday, we have seen many appointees change considerably in their views from where we thought they started as their years of service progressed.  Nevertheless, knowing very well the judicial temperature on the current Supreme Court, and knowing very well whose chair he is filling, it seems impossible to me that there have not been some very serious, very intense and very private conversations between the President and Kagan.

So anti-semitism aside, religious, racial or gender “majorities” aside, the politics have to be in play.  That’s what we in America are all about.  So ideally we expect the scholar, the thinker, the ultimate lawyer, but can you have that and your ideological favority too?  Don’t know, stay tuned.