It was like a movie, really. Four people seated around a dinner table, discussing politics. One of them is me.
One of them, Jules, is a self-proclaimed liberal who enjoys championing the causes of the impoverished third world peoples, but who favors swift and certain retribution for the stupid, of whom apparently our entire country is made.
One of them, Kikki, is a liberal with European sensibilities, as a first or second-generation American (her family is Belgian and French Canadian) probably she is one of the American-hating Frenchie liberals (frog eating surrender monkeys) we seemed so concerned about a few years ago.
About herself, she likes to quote David Sedaris: “You have to be a patriot to be an ex-patriot.” Except, as near as I can tell, she seems to love America as much as anybody, and is more verbose and thoughtful about where she thinks we are headed than most.
Funny story about Kikki: we were in a hotel, and she said to me, “Hey, check out those hot football players.” I, ever the American, looked immediately at the TV in the bar, which was playing a football game; before I realized that she was discussing the hot soccer players in the flesh in front of us.
The final piece of the puzzle is a blind-faith conservative christian, presently attending a private high school with textbooks written from “a christian perspective”. The high school also has a large drug problem, but I suspect the brains of the person in question have been addled by natural means, so it really isn’t relevant.
The conversation turned, as these conversations always seem to these days, to the preposterously far-off presidential race, and, almost inevitably, to the honorable Mr. Obama.
“Both he and Hillary have peaked too early, ” Jules proclaims, and, although she neither smokes nor drinks, in my imagination this statement was punctuated by a long drag of a cigarette or a dainty sip of a margarita. “Thing will come out about him, God knows……” “He wasn’t really vetted in the past,” I agree, “And you can’t be a politician from Chicago without getting your hands dirty somehow. Oh, they’ll rip him to pieces later.”
“I’m looking for someone who isn’t on the radar yet.” Jules went on. “Like Patrick Kennedy. I’m interested to see what he’ll do. He’s got potential.” “God, it’s 2007,” I pointed out, “I’m the only one here who’ll be able to vote, and I haven’t picked a pony yet. Too early.” “Oh, I know,” Kikki says. And then someone mentioned it. I don’t know who, but somebody said it.
Somebody said that Barack Obama is a Muslim.
Thing is, Barak Obama isn’t a Muslim. And I said as much.
“Okay, Fox News – Fox News, for heaven’s sakes…” (here the conservative eyes me warily) “Fox may have failed to verify and then run with the story about him going to a Muslim school, but in actuality – ” “Just an elitist school for rich kids, diplomats’ sons, etc.,” Jules jumps in. “Right,” I say, “He’s a rich snob elitist just like any of your standard dems.” “I know,” Jules says, “I like that.”
But then both she and Kikki – although Kikki denies it now – reiterated that they thought Obama is a Muslim.
“Oh, he totally is,” the conservative chooses this moment to jump in. “And I’d hate to see the day one of them gets elected to the highest office in our country.”
As we all sit there in a mild state of shock, wondering if she really just said what we just heard her say, she barrels on.
“You know, they all want to kill us. It says in their Koran that they have to kill the infidels.”
“No, it does not.” Kikki says definitively. “But – ” the conservative tries to say, but Kikki doesn’t let her get it out. “It does not. That is a load of crap.”
“No, you haven’t seen it,” the conservative says breathlessly. She doesn’t really know that Kikki hasn’t read the Koran, and I wouldn’t put it past her, but the leap in logic doesn’t appear to bother the conservative. “I have seen the section where it says that. They showed it to us in class.”
Time out from the story for a few paragraphs: There’s this movie called “Gentleman’s Agreement” from the just-barely-post-WWII-era. In it, Gregory Peck, a maverick reporter, pretends to be Jewish to uncover anti-Semitism. He meets, obviously, with a great many obstacles, including his girlfriend, Kathy, who is a ninny. But there’s a conversation Kathy has with Dave, another character, when she tells a story about a man making an anti-Semitic joke at a dinner party. Kathy observes how nobody called him on it, even though they were all sickened by it.
“I wonder if you’d feel so sick now, Kathy, if you had nailed him. There’s a funny kind of elation about socking back. I learned that a long time ago.” Dave says. “It was a story,” Kathy tells him lamely. “Sure, a man at a dinner table told a story – and the nice people didn’t laugh. They even despised him, sure. But they let it pass. ” Dave says. “If you don’t stop with that joke, where do you stop?”
I’m also reminded of a recent discussion Jules and I had about a TV station that showed Gone With the Wind and completely removed all traces of the n-word as though it never existed (read about it here).
“I agree that it’s offensive, damn straight, and I’m not going to associate with anyone who says it,” I told Jules, “But when it’s in a historical context, when you are trying to portray an era in which things were unequal, were prejudiced – you can’t act like people never said it. It’s a corruption of history.”
“Well, I agree,” she said, “But the word I have a problem with is the other F-word. There is no historical context for that, and saying it is just hateful.”
I knew exactly what she meant, and if you’re involved in a theatrical community, you do, too. A hint: It’s the F-word that doesn’t end in ‘k’. The F-word that Isaiah Washington called Grey’s Anatomy co-star T.R. Knight, and denied doing so at the golden globes, to the shock of nearly everyone watching. The F-word that Ann Coulter called John Edwards not too long ago.
Should those people be fired? I don’t think so. But should they be run through the mill? Yes they should. Should we all issue a hearty “What the f-word-that-ends-in-k were you thinking?” Yes we should. Who taught them that it’s okay to treat fellow human beings with such disdain? That’s what chills me, the absolute disdain for life.
Besides which, who raised them to use such words in public? The Good Ol’ Boys network – sadly still gasping its not-quite-dying-breaths here in the south – at least seems to use a modicum of subtlety, quiet intimidation, as it were. Perhaps, though, since the other F-word is becoming so commonly used in public now, they needn’t worry so much about the rest of us condemning them, calling them on it, telling them that it is not okay to spit on our family, our friends, our acquaintances, or even that creepy guy at the office just because of what god he prays to, who he chooses to love, what color his skin is.
And one more thing, about Superman: not a lot of people know that when Superman started out on the radio, he was always fighting Nazis. A side effect of the Post WWII era, I suppose. He was always bringing down people who were ruining America by attempting to make it too ethnocentric. In every storyline, there would be a rousing speech about diversity making us great, and about how it didn’t matter where your family was from, or what church you went to, this was AMERICA, from sea to shining sea.
Back to the story: I think about what my mother always told me about being polite. I am a guest in Kikki’s home, so is the conservative. I owe it to Kikki to make an effort to be nice. But if it doesn’t stop here, at this table, where does it stop? How can I live with myself if I let this go? The buck has to stop somewhere, and it might as well be with me.
Kikki is about to respond, but then I jump in. “Well, there are a lot of places in the Christian Bible that are violent and unsavory, but I certainly don’t hold that against all Christians.” Then I smile at her real big. “Just the fanatics.”
Anyway, the point is not that Barack Obama is not a Muslim. Although I was completely right about him, if the man’s not a christian, I’m a zebra, check it out.
The point is that your mother was right: you shouldn’t discuss politics at dinner.
And if you must, be polite – but whatever you do, don’t let the unacceptable slide.