Eva Murray: Politics, the middle ground, and a few probably unwelcome observations

Sat, 11/05/2016 - 7:00pm

It would not be a good idea for me to write a political opinion column, because nothing is simple enough in my worldview or my experience to fit into a succinct, tidy, manageable, gross oversimplification. That seems to be what some people like in political discourse: gross oversimplification.

It’s never simple. For one thing, we ought to be concerned about a system-wide phase-shift to the right, and the shift in usage of the word “conservative” to refer to people who are simply “mean,” and of “Republican” to indicate “practically medieval.” This has being going on for a while now — certainly longer than the current Presidential campaign — and enough is enough. “Conservative” in standard English did not used to mean “patriarchal to the point of barbarism,” “scientifically ignorant,” “violently xenophobic,” or “eager to shoot another human being for a mere property crime,” nor should it pinpoint someone’s taste in beer, motor vehicles, and AM radio. In the old days it just meant “greedy fat-cat with cigar.” That was enough.

The verb “to conserve” has been forgotten. I am hardly a conservative spokesperson, but even I know that the noun “conservative” was never supposed to mean “an angry, resentful white person who takes pride in bad spelling and thinks the foreigners are monkeying with the weather.” That’s an insult any way you look at it.

A few other thoughts from a committed people-watcher, in this overwrought political season: (Later, everyone can attack me personally online. Sigh.)

*The pop-culture stereotype of what is portrayed as “real American” has shriveled to something way too narrow. We are all Americans, whether Alaskan, Hawaiian, New Yawkuh or Angeleno. “American” does not mean “country,” and “country” does not mean “has a southern accent,” and “southern” does not mean “Appalachian,” and “Appalachian” does not mean “dumb redneck.” Also, there are plenty of astute and gentle citizens who are happy to own the title “redneck.” The country-music-video-industrial-complex does not own the rights to “American.”

Then there’s the comic theater of the Mainer who affects just a slight Tennessee drawl when he walks through the doors of a Tractor Supply. It happens and it’s pretty funny.

*People who think they shouldn’t have to pay taxes might try living out in the bush without public services. That having been said, nobody likes to get ripped off. We taxpayers should be paying attention, and should indeed jump up and down and raise hell when we believe our tax dollars are being misspent. But I believe the point is not to spend the least money possible all the time. “I’ve got mine; screw you!” is not how we advance the culture. I believe the point is to spend wisely, get the most done for the money, and provide the best public services we can afford as a group. I believe we should want to take pride in the infrastructure, public safety agencies, public health agencies, educational institutions, and cultural institutions which we have all chipped in for with our tax dollars. In the ideal world we should end up feeling like we got what we paid for. There may be robbery going on, but we are not being “robbed” when we pay for teachers and EMTs and firefighters-- whether we personally need them or not in any particular year. Have you heard the folks who rave about how they shouldn’t have to “give the government any of their money,” but they still expect somebody to come through and plow the road?

Just the same, watch out for those Blue Ribbon Panels of Experts. The more consultants are involved in a taxpayer-funded project, the more we might want a fairly aggressive audit.

*The argument that “we don’t want government telling us what to do” logically either applies to both gun rights and marriage rights or to neither. No cherry-picking your government interference. That having been said, society reserves the right to protect itself from violence. That’s called “living in civilization.”

*People who think packing heat will prevent them being victims of crime may not actually know how crime works. That cute little ladylike pink pearl-handled revolver in your purse won’t do you much good when the bad guy sneaks up behind you. Tough guys who have never lived in the dangerous parts of major cities should not preach to city-dwellers about what they would do if they got mugged. They do not get it.

*“I got here first” is not acceptable among toddlers as a mechanism for distribution of Graham crackers in preschool. How in h. e.-double-hockey-sticks is it acceptable for adults handling important resources? Alright: does that attitude make me a communist? I am not now nor have I ever been, et cetera, et cetera, although I do own and operate both a hammer and a sickle. I also believe that “From those to whom much has been given, much should be expected.” Does that make me a communist?

None of the white folks was here first anyway.

*Being coarse, spouting rude language, offering insults, and using sloppy English does not prove you more “authentic” than another who chooses words carefully. Thoughtful public speech does not equate to artful lying, and is not by definition oily or underhanded. It is behaving like a professional.

*Some believe that mankind by nature is inherently bad, and exceptions –good people—are few. Others assume humans are on balance good, although once in a while there’s a bad egg. I suspect that a great deal of political thought rests on this basic, core understanding of humanity, either way.

The second perspective might be a bit Pollyanna sometimes, but the first attitude can really lead us into deep cultural trouble. “Those other guys, they’re evil,” is an age-old tactic used by leaders to get people to line up and take orders, for better or, often, for worse. It is undeniably true that people can be –and historically have been, again and again---manipulated and controlled by a “champion” who encourages fear and blame, encourages this attitude that “everybody else is bad, and against us.” That’s as old a power-grasp strategy as you’ll find in any book. Yeah, that. We’re even taught to fear ourselves, suspect our free thinking, and that only following a leader can keep us out of trouble. Before you accuse me of working for the Dark Side, remember that I am not talking religion here. I can do that at length, if you wish, but you’re buying.

In any event, we may have enemies, but Mexico isn’t one of them.

*Sure, we like to call ourselves anarchists, here on this island, and joke that we live without rules. Not quite. Some of us just know the rules by heart. That’s called being a decent neighbor.

But people rightfully resent the suggestion that we would all misbehave except that we fear retaliation. No. Most of us were raised better than that. Most of us can behave ourselves well enough, usually. We do not resist the temptation to engage in mayhem only out of worry about arrest, hellfire, or “a good guy with a gun.” We do not need to be “kept in line.” We are able to keep our misdemeanors petty and victimless, and our public behavior reasonably controlled, all by ourselves, thank you very much. And, for what it’s worth, here in America we are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. I’d just as soon not be treated like a probable criminal. You don’t need a sidearm in my presence. I’d feel the same way if I weren’t white, of course. You get what I’m saying? Un-freakin’-believable what goes on in this country sometimes.

*The hard part of politics is the middle ground. The middle is complex and does not yield itself well to advertising or propaganda. An enormous amount of passion, treasure, and noise go into making complicated issues out to be extremely simple, all-or-nothing arguments. We are asked to believe that there are only two widely-divergent options. For example: either any wrathful S.O.B. may have any gun anywhere any time, including a machine gun in the grocery store, or alternatively, the tyrant will be coming to your house soon to confiscate Uncle Herbie’s deer rifle. Somehow I don’t think so.

Personally, I see no problem with folks like me having hunting rifles, and it’s fun to see the young kids on the front page of the newspaper with their first deer, but I’d just as soon not everybody buy his own shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile just because, you know, he can afford it. I have no concerns about gun collecting, because without ammo the hobby is no different than monkey-wrench collecting or stamp collecting. People who amass huge stockpiles of ammunition in their homes might be a bit more of a worry for the neighbors. See, I told you this wouldn’t be simple. They don’t let you just keep a crate of dynamite on hand, knocking around under the stairs, now, do they? My husband thinks that’s a shame.

You shouldn’t care, but I’ll tell you that these days I am a registered Republican. The right-wingers say, I suppose rightfully, that I am a “Republican In Name Only” because to be a Republican you have to support the governor and the talk-radio cranks, pay dues to the Flat Earth Society, and believe that there is a conspiracy afoot to outlaw Christmas. Or, maybe that’s what people who aren’t Republicans thinks a Republican does. In any case, I’ve called myself a “gun-owning, moose-eating, home-schooling liberal.” Don’t stereotype me. Don’t stereotype anybody.

Deep down I am still looking for Margaret Chase Smith. I never vote “the ticket” and I vote for a lot of Democrats. I’ll keep the nominal “R” for the meantime, to be counted as a Republican against barbaric attitudes, in favor of good science, and in mind of the “party of Lincoln.”

In 1950, Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith said:

“Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism—The right to criticize; The right to hold unpopular beliefs; The right to protest; The right of independent thought…”





 Eva Murray lives on Matinicus

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