Politics As Usual

I indulged myself this morning and watched some of the recent conversation between Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly, and as often happens when I drink from the political talk Kool Aid, I wound up depressed and depleted. This is no criticism of the two men themselves – their back and forth was, as they say, spirited and, for my taste at least, refreshingly civil. Nor did either of them say anything that left me worried about the imminent demise of Western Culture or the free market or public education or whatever the worry of the day might be. No, my brief despair was brought about by my own desire to see one of these two men proved wrong. What a lousy place to be. There are happy truisms, and then there are truisms you perhaps wish were only sometimes-truisms, for instance: Anything you do to another, you do to yourself. So as I wished for one man’s defeat, I was also wishing for my own.

When I was a senior in high school my English teacher suggested I go into politics. In response I looked at her as if she had suggested I open a bordello. But she was persistent. “If not you, Bill, then who will lead us?” I took this for the compliment it was intended, but worried that she secretly perceived a glaring character flaw, namely that I believed, “Yes everyone is right in their own way, but some of us are more right than others.”

The arts would be my oasis from this sort of poison. But that it were so simple. Sometimes listening to writers talk about other writers is like listening to a Republican talk about a Democrat (or visa-versa, of course). It is why I find the actual writing such a needed antidote. In order to even come close to saying what I want to say, I have to open my heart. I know what I write is not for everyone, but I sit down feeling as if it is. Everyone wants to love; everyone wants to thrive; everyone wants to live in peace. The gift of democracy, it occurs to me, is the people we don’t agree with. A tyrant would force us to get along, but in Democracy we must choose to do so—just as the writer must accept his rejection without hatred, just as the reader must accept the bestseller status of a novel she would never enjoy.

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