Assumptions, Stereotypes and the Death of a President

So, having somewhat recovered from some nasty surgery inside my face, I was all set to write something loving and sweet about Chanukah; or something like that. But today changed all that.

What I read on facebook today in many instances were  posts or responses that were knee jerk awful.  That George H.W. Bush was a racist, elitist bad white man whose time was done and that his eulogizers were playing to the public, or the cameras. I was stunned by these comments. And I think they do a disservice to the commenters even more than they do the commented on.

I am an unashamed liberal, and I did not agree with much that President Bush believed in although I have to acknowledge he accomplished much good in bipartisan fashion. That being said, here goes. I listened to almost all of the service today and listened intently to those very eulogies. What I heard was the heartfelt admiration, love and grief that those who were speaking had for the late president. And I am old enough to know the truth when I hear it. Those breaking down were not acting, that is clear. And more, what I heard were people listing the same qualities over and over again, and telling stories that were exemplary of those qualities. They weren’t just blowing smoke, they meant everything they said.

And what they said was that George H.W. Bush was a man of great decency and humility who saw everyone from the janitor to the king and took time for them all. What they said was that he was a man of humor and a man who took the time to write personal notes to many with whom he had great differences. Now this is all aside from politics, this is about the man and how he left the office a place we could respect despite our differences. My impression of this president was never of someone whose “patrician” upbringing and status was an obvious characteristic, it was never of someone that placed his personal fortunes above what he perceived were the needs of the country. Maybe I was wrong, but I don’t think so.

It is true that one “side” loses every election. And it is true that we will always have differences of opinion. What was true and seems less so now is that many of our public servants really do put the interests of the many, of the country, above their own. In the currrent climate that seems an old fashioned and naive notion, but I believe. What matters is that everyone understands that win or lose your voice, your vote, counts. My son asked me when he was young why we recycled when everyone didn’t. I can only answer that if each of us did our part, many of our problems would be solved; but it always counts.

It is a terrible thing to think that civility, dignity, humility and humanity are outdated. What matters is how you treat people. What matters is respecting other’s views without ire or anger. What matters is that white, black, rich or poor at some point you know that the interests of the future, of the many, matter more than anything in the now. What matters is heart. And despite disagreeing with many of his political positions, I think George H.W. Bush had heart, in spades. And that I respect.

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Things I Want My Son To Know #23 ~ Value Every Life

The whole country is rejoicing that our armed forces finally got Osama Bin Laden; and well they should. But there is something troubing about the over the top, hysterical parties celebrating death; it is somehow unseemly. The interviews with the first responders who survived 9/11 have a very different tone, and we should learn something from that. They are glad but subdued, they know its right but know it won’t bring anyone back. In general, a death for a death is not a good policy if you really think it through. But, as usual, I digress.

What all this is really about is that we should not celebrate death, we should celebrate life. When you pass a homeless person on the street, don’t laugh or make fun of them; try not to look away. Each of those people is or was the loved one of someone, a son, a daughter, a father, a brother. They are not homeless and dirty because they chose it as a way of life consciously or rationally.

When you meet someone you dislike, try to listen to their point of view; try to understand how they came to it. You may never agree but you may learn something. How people got where they are is extremely instructive about how they think and feel and why.

When you think about crime and criminals remember that nobody is just the one worst thing they have ever done. You don’t want to be judged by the one worst thing you have ever done. They are also sons and daughters of parents who loved them in many cases; in other cases they were the children of terrible abusers. Either way, it is not just about the crime.

When you meet a farmer in overalls, don’t assume you are better then he because you wear a shirt and tie to work. Farmers feed us and, hopefully, take care of the earth. It is terrible hard work, often with little reward. Listen to what he has to say; you will definitely learn something about work ethic and committment.

When you meet the President, whether you agree or disagree, you should respect the office and the terrible obligations it presents. You should be able to hold a conversation ~ be well read enough and know enough about your world to speak with intelligence.

In every case, value what is good in people and don’t dwell on the bad. In every case, be a good listener and you will be a good learner, you will understand people just a little better. In every case, be able to talk to people. When you can talk to a homeless woman on the street and to the President with equal interest, and everyone in between, then you will be a well-rounded person.

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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.

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