Saturday, February 09, 2008

fundamental change

It's a well known cliche that all politics is local. Sometimes it's personal as well.
A friend of mine and I got into an animated argument over dinner at our house a couple of days ago...the subject was politics. He and I may well end up voting for the same candidate come November but until that day comes we cannot seem to avoid picking at each other. For my own part, I'm suspicious of my own inclination to play the contrarian just for the stimulation it gives me.
Knowing this about myself, it's no wonder that I see political conversation as a cryptic and perhaps unconscious means of personal disclosure. Could it be that discussions about the war in Iraq or health care or campaign funding are really discussions about how well I'm getting along with my wife, how successful I feel in my job, or whether I feel appreciated by others? When is politics politics, and when is it an elaborate masquerade? And when it's the latter, shouldn't we just skip the political foreplay and cut to the chase?
I recently began picking up on my friend's penchant for pronouncing the phrase, "fundamental change" in nearly every utterance he makes on the subject of politics. It is his mantra - has been, I realize, since I've known him. We need fundamental change...until we get fundamental change...the only way is to fundamentally change, and so on... Since noticing this phrase, I've begun to feel its effects in more and more personal terms.
My friend may be talking about renewable energy or the insurance industry but there comes a point when I hear the words "fundamental change" and I want to say, "Don't you like this life, this world? Do you really want to fundamentally change it?
The words seem to put me in mind of that rather well known sci-fi trope of creating radical change in the present by going back in the past and making the slightest, seemingly insignificant revision (Bradbury's story for example where someone inadvertently steps kills a butterfly in prehistoric times and thus completely rewrites human history). It's crazy and out of proportion to what my friend intends, yet I begin to feel as if his relentless invocation of fundamental change is little more than a rejection of this set of circumstances which cradles my own happiness, this community in which my family resides happily, this happy life which I may not deserve yet which I cannot imagine forsaking.
Obviously, my friend intends no such thing. He only means to enlarge happiness for many others. Why then do I chafe at his language?
I manage to wrankle my friend with my words as well. He laments the failed bids of Kucinic and Edwards to which I respond that the rhetoric of class warfare has not got much traction with Americans in general. He clearly hates the phrase "class warfare" and calls it a smear derived from Republican talking points. I can see that I've struck a nerve. Simultaneously I feel like recanting and redoubling my charge. He is my friend; he's at my house for dinner, and things are getting a bit testy. Nevertheless, I'm on the verge of crafting a syllogism composed of the terms, Two Americas (an Edwards campaign slogan), fundamental change, and class warfare when my friend beats me to the punch with a crack about Obama.
He asks me if I've read the article detailing how Obama "caved in" on health care?
Excuse me? Don't you mean compromised?"
No. Then he repeats the offending phrase. He caved. Did you read it? He asks me.
I bite. No.
My friend begins a tale whose source, he identifies as a Boston Globe story run several months ago about Obama's legislative work in the Illinois state legislature. Illinois democrats had written a universal health care bill. It was, my friend claims, a done deal. All it needed was a signature...but then Obama caved in to the insurance companies who hated the bill. They pressured him; he caved and then he rewrote the bill which was then signed into law. Illinois lost it's best chance at getting universal health care. My friend shakes his head ruefully and says, I lost a lot of respect for Obama when I read that.
I look at my friend and repeat silently in my head his words....caved in...done deal. Has he no sense of proportion? Will he say anything at all simply to score points in an argument? Internally the story's logic doesn't hold up. How precisely does a bill go from being a "done deal" needing only a measly signature to give Obama the very prize he's been fighting for to instead him stabbing his allies in the back by gift wrapping a new bill for his most ardent political opponents?
Our conversation hits the tipping point and soon our wives have melted away, leaving us to gnaw away at each other's arguments.
It's not that they're angry with us for locking horns like this; rather, it's just that they crave their time together; they too are friends. I note their absence and feel a twinge of regret over my inability to manage my own impulses. My friend and I aren't really breaking any new ground; we're just recycling arguments we've already read and reciting arguments we've already rehearsed in our heads many times.
We run out of steam. Both of us are aware that we've been left alone at the table. All this while, our kids have been playing together blissfully, migrating from from to room, giving my friend and I a berth, as they parade by in sundry costumes - pirates, royalty, jungle creatures. They are the very picture of companionship.
People talk about things like politics and religion for many reasons. Sometimes they do it for sport. Tonight however I'm not enjoying myself. What do I want, I ask myself? What does he want?
I imagine that my friend will never be happy unless he is on the margins, the perennial activist and outsider issuing warnings and going largely unheeded. I on the other hand want to belong; I want acceptance. He and I can never be happy in the same ways. I know this because he is taking his family away from us and our kids to go live on the other side of the country. Our children will not grow up just down the street from one another, they will not be classmates and best friends as we had once envisioned they would. We won't skip down the sidewalk to have these impromptu dinners at each other's tables or feed each other's pets when the other is away. Change is coming, and I'm not looking forward to it; in fact, it pisses me off.
It's all got nothing to do with politics really, but all I can say to my friend is, "Kucinic...I don't believe he ever really wanted the fucking job."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Kevin. I had not visited your Blog since you and your family had returned from France. You had been talking about it quite often recently and I thought I’d take a look at what you had to say.

I did not expect to find myself slammed by you in such a self-righteous tone. I understand yours and Beth’s animosity towards me. Trust me, I have felt it quite strongly. I understand that your upset…but you are both operating with a sense of over-blown self-righteousness that nearly reeks of ‘fundamentalism’.

I would just ask that you leave your personal character assignation attacks for a face-to-face conversation rather than broadcasting your hatchet job on your ‘friends’ character.
You are not the epicenter to which all things revolve around. Life is so much more complex and our personal situation is not so black and white. To briefly and publically bare my soul, this difficult process has brought Meg and my family much closer together in spite of you and Beth campaigning for my demise (or personal exit sans my wife and family).

I admire and respect you Kevin. But I do not appreciate seeing good people (myself included) dismissively compartmentalized into one’s anecdotal caricature that is grossly inaccurate.

In spite of being on the receiving end of your anger...I still love you, Beth and your family. I'm hurt by this and feel somewhat sleezy by posting this public reply rather than just talkiing to you about how I feel. I can say that since I know that I'm a very good person that has done countless good deeds and will continue to do so until the day I die, tragically you don't truly grasp who I am.

Maybe at some point you will truly understand me......will you print that version??

In an effort to try to see the positive side to everthing (believe it our not, I routinely do this) have inspired me to take a new look at that is less critical, but rather looking at the whole person. It is enabling me to come out of my post-Edwards funk and dare I say - have the Audacity to Hope?

3:41 AM  

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