Tuesday, December 22, 2009

(Not) Good Country People

Did you notice? The last post was written from 3rd person point-of-view? It felt weird and uncomfortable, as if I were representing someone else's views and opinions instead of my own. I hated writing essays for school; I procrastinated until all semblance of writer's block faded with the daylight. But I really enjoyed writing personal or reflective pieces, as well as fiction.

Someone wrote that it's much easier to agree on nothing than it is to agree on something. While "nothing" is always zero, there are many possible "somethings." This is why the Republicans were able to vote together so much during the Bush years, and this is why the health care reform process has been so painfully slow during the Obama era. I listen to the debate on the left: public option, and what kind of public option? Medicare buy-in? Subsidies? How much? They're debating actual issues! Compare that to the objections and self-removal from the process by the Republicans.

My point, here, is that when writing in 3rd person, I listed some typical liberal positions: gay marriage, universal health care, removal of troops, etc. But what I love about the democratic party is that it really does have room for a variety of positions. I know many people who call themselves democrats that don't support gay marriage, or that don't think a single-payer health care system is a viable option, or that believe our military has important roles to play in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are many "somethings" democrats, liberals, progressives, whatever we are, believe in. We may not always agree on a singular point of view, but that's so much better than the alternative: a belief in "nothing."

I'm reminded of a quote (in bold, below) from Flannery O'Connor's "Good Country People." Joy-Hulga (named "Joy" by her mother, she lost her leg as a child; she changed her name to "Hulga" in order to accurately reflect the ugliness she felt) is being seduced by a used bible salesman. He wants her to remove her artificial leg. She initially refuses, as "she took care of it as someone else would his soul, in private." She asks hims why he wants to see it.

He says, "Because it's what makes you different. You ain't like anybody else."

Well with that, Joy-Hulga removes her artificial leg: "it was like surrendering to him completely. It was like losing her own life and finding it again, miraculously, in his."

But this being a Flannery O'Connor story, the used bible salesman steals the artificial leg after she resists him. He says to her, "You just a while ago said you didn't believe in nothing. I thought you was some girl!"

Unfortunately, Joy-Hulga had assumed he was just "good country people." She says, "You're a fine Christian! You're like them all - say one thing and do another."

He explains that he wasn't born yesterday and adds, "you ain't so smart. I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!" He leaves her stranded in a barn loft without her leg.

(Before we read O'Connor in class, I tell the students that she's my favorite short story author. After they've read the stories, many are slightly incredulous: such ugly and offensive characters!)

Anyway, even though the republican party is supposedly the Christian party, the party of "family values," it reminds me of O'Connor's Bible salesman. The party of "no." I wish there were more moderate voices on the right, joining the conversation. There is common ground between all people, but the right refuses to concede that. And as the party continues to push out moderate voices, it will become even more insular. Either way, I like my big tent: everyone's invited.

Edited to add a quote from Steve Benen's article in the Huffington Post that explains much more articulately just what I meant:

Progressive activists and progressive wonks are at each other's throats this week, but they want largely the same goals. Their differences are sincere and significant, but the intensity of their dispute is matched by the potency of their arguments.

And then turn your attention to the other side of the divide, and notice the quality of the arguments conservatives and Republicans have offered -- and continue to offer -- in this debate. Death panels. Socialism. Hitler. Government takeover. Socialized medicine. Incomprehensible charts. Incessant whining about the number of pages in a proposal.

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