Book Store Politics

A few years ago, when it was his appointed month to choose a title for his book club, my dad picked Me Talk Pretty Someday by David Sedaris. Having heard both my brother and me rave about it, and having read one or two of the essays for himself, he thought it would be a nice change of pace for his club, which is made up solely of retired junior and senior high teachers and two librarians.

This is a book club that reads Cormac McCarthy, John Steinbeck, literature from Iran and Iraq. Satire, under the best of circumstances, isn’t necessarily appreciated unless it was written by Jonathan Swift but I guess my dad thought the book’s humor would transcend the members’ reticence.  It wasn’t until he walked into the book club meeting and noticed only two of the six women in attendance, and both of them with withering looks on their faces, that he realized he might have made a really bad decision. The book was vulgar for vulgarity’s sake, the two women said. They only came to book club to tell him to never, ever make such a selection again. There were too many swear words, and offensive content. The other women didn’t show up out of protest – they had stopped reading the book after the first essay. The men in the book club had shown up and even read the book, but they agreed with the women – too vulgar, too base – not the sort of material a book club needs to spend its time discussing.

Contrary to the way I would have reacted, my dad didn’t take their reactions personally – he even laughed about it. “I forgot my audience,” he said. “I forgot who I was working with. I mean, these are the kind of people who grimace if you pour a second glass of wine at a dinner party – these are people who happily spend hours debating the merits of serving a loaf of bread versus individual slices at the next spaghetti dinner fundraiser. They aren’t going to appreciate humor above and beyond a well-crafted knock-knock joke.”

That’s sort of how I felt this weekend when I watched half a million people show up for the Glenn Beck rally in Washington D.C. – for a couple of years, ever since the election, really, I had more or less forgotten or, at the very least, ignored, the Tea Party and all its many levels of crazy.  I forgot what we, as a country, are working with and that is, a growing party of white people convinced their rights are being stolen out from under them, and by this they mean more or less that the government is doing the unthinkable and sharing their rights with, God forbid, as much of the country as possible.

What astounds me about the people from the Tea Party who give interviews isn’t their conservatism – I have had moments, on certain issues, where I have understood where the other side of the fence is coming from – and it isn’t their Christianity, because I am a Christian albeit not one who prosthetizes in the streets – but what comes across as their comlete and total  lack of empathy for anyone other than themselves.  Members of the party talk about returning to values – of restoring honor to our country, but they don’t mean returning to values by finding a way to feed and house our nation’s poor – and restoring honor doesn’t mean finding jobs for the hundreds of thousands across the country without them. Instead, they focus on the same old tired subjects of abortion and gay marriage, as those these two things are somehow ruining the morality of our country as a whole.

A couple of years ago this group would have raised my ire substantially, with its threat to put up Sarah Palin as the Republican presidential nominee and its rabid hate speech against Obama, as well as their malicious and ridiculous questioning of his religion. Now, though, I just feel sad for this group – this group that seems so full of hatred and darkness and out-right racism. It’s more apparent now than ever that those who flock to hear a television and entertainment persona decry the state of our country are doing so because, like so many of us, they are scared – scared about finding or losing jobs, scared about the plummeting values of their homes, scared about the state of the public school system and whether or not they can one day afford to send their children to college. These are fears prevalent throughout the country, and it is so much easier to admit them and choose to face them together instead of hiding behind this idea that our values are somehow more corrupted than they were a century ago.

I guess this situation is only going to get more heated and volatile as the mid-term elections near, so this sort of rhetoric will only get louder. Instead of getting angryand hollering back I’m adopting the mentality of so many of my friends, which is to let the crazy spill forth and roll like proverbial water off a duck’s back. The only truly beneficial thing I can do is move forward, following my own moral compass, ensuring I am as educated as possible on the issues affecting our country and let these people scream and carry on until the crazy overpowers and defeats them, whether in the form of Sarah Palin as a presidential nominee or a slow burn over something else. I used to think maybe we’d all end up, eventually, on the same page – that we would all agree to read the same book and discuss it like reasonable adults. One thing Saturday’s rally proved – that’s not going to happen …we couldn’t be farther away from each other in the book store if we tried.

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5 Responses to Book Store Politics

  1. Smithereens says:

    Some Europeans just as Americans are as scared (I wrote “scarred” first but perhaps it’s a good image of what crisis does to people) and fear doesn’t make for reasonable adults. Politics is about passion unfortunately, and little about reason, because ultimately it’s about power. So I fear extremists of all kinds are in for good and it would be a mistake to overlook them out of a good heart, on both sides of the Atlantic.

  2. J says:

    Perhaps, I have just tuned out this noise for some time (I mean, what has Palin really contributed to in the way of commentary to the political discourse over the past year other than cryptic messages 140 characters at a time? And Beck…Don’t get me started–hot air and chalk boards). But, there are a lot of very scare, vulnerable people out there…And, I sympathize–I do. But, I can’t help but think that they’re missing the point clinging to messages like ‘restoring honor,’ which while sounding good do not really mean anything on their own. Perhaps, it is kinda like the book club–David Sadaris isn’t vulgar for the sake of vulgarity but the style is deliberate (but it is part of the characterization, narration, etc. Some members in my book club said the same thing about their being too much ‘bad language’ in the Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao–a book I picked and loved!).
    I guess, if you focus on style or words alone, you miss the bigger picture: the need for good education, healthcare, jobs etc, (which has always been the point to government). After 8 years of ‘style without substance,’ (personified with mission accomplished banners, etc) I would’ve thought we’d be past this! But it is a challenging time and I can understand the fear/anxiety. Good post! Miss you. OXOXO-J
    (sorry for the long comment! I owe you a call!)
    PS: Here’s a good article which puts Beck’s rally numbers into perspective: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/08/was_the_glenn_beck_rally_turno.html

  3. moe99 says:

    Wonderful essay. i just wish I could think of something positive to do to jerk these folks out of the rut their nonthinking has put them in. Someone a while back said that the reason that Satan is attractive is not necessarily because evil is so compelling, but that he/it provides all the answers to all the questions. You don’t have to think for yourself. It’s laid out for you and you just go on the completely pre-arranged route.

  4. Smithereens – you make a wonderful point about this fear not just being an American fear – all across the globe people are worrying about whether they will be able to continue feeding, clothing, educating their families – and this kind of fear absolutely breeds fanatacism. Something for ALL of us to be aware of!
    J – thanks for the link! The article was really enlightening. And I am extremely interested in a lot of the more recent backlash against Beck because of his mormonism…
    Moe – thank you, and WELCOME. I look forward to getting to know you through your blog.

  5. SA says:

    I don’t even know where to start on the Tea Party people…

    I guess what I am looking for is a political ethos that is founded on virtues like compassion and integrity and perspective. Whereas the Tea Party is generally characterized by resentment and avarice and envy, which are regarded correctly as vices by the major religions and humanist philosophies of the world.

    I sort of see the Tea Party as the logical if histrionic end point of Baby Boomer excesses; their entitlement, their self-indulgence, their materialism. The toxic sediment at the bottom of a clouded beaker.

    I recognize that their viciousness is the product of profound fear, and that they should be pitied, and patiently educated.

    But then I see the Tea Party advocate at the Corner of North and Damen with his Obama-with-a-Hitler-stache poster, and I give up and think: I hope these fucking people die in a fire. All of them.

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