The hills are alive, and it’s pretty frightening, as Barbra Streisand sang way back in 1967. That was a turbulent time, like this one. And it’s not music in the air. It’s malice. Dangerous, misguided, naive malice.
We have gone from it’s OK to agree to disagree to I will ruin your dinner, and worse, if you don’t agree.
Case in point: in a recent column for the Blade, Peter Rosenstein says it was just fine to kick Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders out of the Red Hen restaurant. He argues, with hysterical irony, that we can “make a point in a civil way and try to educate her” by refusing her service in a public establishment. Civil? Educate her? Where is the Red Hen? The gulag?
Kids, this is madness. And certainly Trump’s own nasty rhetoric has fanned the flames. But it is a very, very slippery slope. Sliding down that slope with her usual wild abandon we now have Maxine Waters. Harass them all. Not just when they order a cheeseburger. But, at gas stations. At department stores. Anywhere you see them. Charge, dahlings, charge!
But is that who we are? Are we really going to sink that low? And if it’s OK for you to kick them out today, will it be OK for them to kick you out tomorrow? Who gets to decide who are the angels and who are the demons? And is it really that clear cut? Maybe we need less rage. Maybe we need more conversation.
Politics, to anyone who has ever swam in those currents, is muddy water. But to righteous zealots — on either side — it is all crystal clear. All smooth sailing in a world of good guys and bad guys. If only it were that simple. It isn’t.
Rosenstein is a Democratic Party activist. He has every right to assert that Trump is the enemy of women, immigrants, African Americans, gay people, and all that is good and holy. Others have every right to disagree with him. But, rather than have a rational conversation on the issues, usually there is no conversation at all. Not if you want dinner.
Mae West once said, “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.” Honey, we’ve all drifted. Politics is not the stuff of purity. And it does not justify screaming at people in restaurants or refusing to sell them gas at Exxon.
Politicians are not angels. They are not demons. They are politicians. When Barack Obama ran for the Illinois state Senate, from a liberal district, he supported gay marriage. But, when he ran for the U.S. Senate, and needed more, shall we say, diverse support, he was against it. When he ran for president, the first time, he still opposed gay marriage. So, was he the devil then? But, he’s an angel now? When do these lines get drawn? And who gets to draw them?
Or, for a more current example, consider Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Senator Gillibrand wants to be president. She is everything the left presumably believes is on the side of the angels.
Sen. Gillibrand may be singing with the choir now. But, when she represented a more conservative upstate New York district in Congress, it was a far different tune. She had an A rating from the NRA. The Human Rights Campaign gave her the lowest rating on gay issues for any New York Democrat. She supported a balanced budget and opposed deficit spending. She supported fining sanctuary cities. Supported making English the national language. Yes to stronger border enforcement. No to amnesty for illegal immigrants. And for good measure no driver’s licenses either. Heresy! She sounds, well, kind of Trumpian.
That was then. This is now. Gillibrand, with her eyes on the White House, has gone from A to F with the NRA. Suddenly she wants to abolish ICE. And every entitlement is a good entitlement. One might reasonably ask: purity or politics? At what point was it OK for her to keep her menu and order? Which is not to ignore that Trump has his own history of flipping and flopping. Muddy water, my dears, muddy water.
Michelle Obama famously said that we go high when they go low. If only. We live now in a world of intolerance. Of rage. And hypocrisy. The sound of malice. And of silence.
It didn’t use to be this way. Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch — fierce opponents on the Senate floor — were great friends in the Senate dining room. They didn’t disrupt each other’s dinner. They had dinner together. They behaved like intelligent, civil human beings. And for all their differences, guess what, sometimes they actually worked together.
Now that sounds heavenly.
Jack Gardner is a former speechwriter in the U.S. Senate. He worked for Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.)