Over the weekend I listened to a Politics & Prose podcast that featured Jon Meachum discussing his new biography of George H.W. Bush (high on my Christmas book wish-list). There were many insights worth sharing, but one of my favorites was a quote from President Bush addressing then House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich and one of his lieutenants, Representative Vin Weber. Rep. Weber had asked the President to tell them his greatest fear about them (i.e., the conservative wing of the party). Bush responded "I’m worried that sometimes your idealism will get in the way of what I think is sound governance." (emphasis added).
In using the word "idealism", President Bush was allowing these partisans their ideological passion without accusation of fault. Sure, the quote is certainly patronizing, but we can presume the alternative would have been to say nothing or to tell them to "carry on" fighting the "good" fight.
Ever since I heard that, I have been trying to think of political convictions in the context of idealism. As I've suggested previously, one of the perils of engaging in political debate is that there is rarely a final disposition from which to judge whether you were right or wrong. Every outcome has a spin and because we have generally maintained partisan balance between the branches of government, each side can normally find room to blame the other. You may think your party's actions were correct, but what good is that if you will never be able to convince the other side?
Wouldn't things be a little lighter, a little more enjoyable, if instead of seeing each other as right or wrong, informed or uninformed, smart or stupid, we just viewed one another as idealists? An idealist may say that if only government would get out of the way, we would all be treated fairly and become prosperous. An idealist may say that if only the government could take control of XX, we would all be better off. Very rarely, and only along certain main drags of state capitals and Washington, D.C., will you see those engaging in political debate with malicious (or fully funded) purposes. Most of us engage because there is some ideal world in our heads and we want to advocate on its behalf.
It's been about six months since I said that I didn't have any Republican friends with whom I would be interested in discussing politics. It was a quick reminder of just how many Republican friends I have, how many of them read this blog, and how sensitive they are to reproach. I really didn't mean it as an offense to others - it was a self-critique. And quite frankly, it wasn't even true. What I am really tired of are political "fights". I've depoliticized my Facebook and cut back on this blog because I've found that there is far too much flesh and bone in political speech. Feelings are hurt, regardless of intention. Beware of attacking someone's idea for you never know how much of themselves they've put into it. You may end up with blood on your hands.
I love to write and will continue to do it as much as I can. And when I can figure out a way to respect someone's idealism, while advocating for my own ideal world, I will. But at the very least, especially for this holiday season with all the family gatherings that may ensue, I thought this may be a good way for all of us to look at each other. Idealists.
Have a great Monday doing what you love!