A mother and her three daughters were shoe shopping at the shoe
store where I work a few days before the election. The oldest
daughter — barely 6 years old, if that — was clearly
the mouth of the group, following me around and grilling me for
information. As I was measuring her youngest sister’s foot,
she noticed the Kerry for President button pinned to my shirt.

“John Ker-ry,” she sounded out. “We’re
voting for Bush.”

I love kids this age. They have a way of dispensing with the
bullshit — of saying exactly what they mean and calling the
world exactly as they see it using the simplest and most evocative
language possible — that makes me sing and dance inside.

“Democrats, she said after a moment, “want to make
things more expensive. So you shouldn’t vote for
them.”

Smiling slightly, I bit my tongue. Hard. It was all I could do
not to give this precocious little one an equally simple and
compelling reason not to vote Republican. For example: “Well,
sweetie, Republicans don’t think poor people should be
allowed to go to the hospital when they’re sick.” Or:
“Republicans want to take your privacy away.” Or even:
“Republicans want to kill families who live in other
countries.”

But her mother was sitting right there, looking vaguely
irritated.

In an ideal world, I would have closed the store on the spot and
bought this woman a coffee on the condition that she’d sit
down and talk about the election with me. I would have asked her
why she was really voting for Bush (surely there would be a more
complicated reason than the fear that the Democrats would take all
her money away), listened carefully, and offered a series of calm,
well-reasoned, passionate replies in hopes that even if I
couldn’t change her mind, at least I could show her I cared
and wanted to understand where she was coming from, that productive
political discourse is possible.

Instead, I bit down harder, stealing a glance at her talkative
daughter. I was that young once, that blonde, that bold. Children,
for all their bullshit-rejecting acumen, cannot talk politics
because they don’t have enough information. Adults —
American ones, anyway — can’t talk politics these days
because they’ve been trained to spew childishly simplistic
talking points and shut their ears to the opposition.

I blame the Bush administration (and its media subsidiaries) and
its polarizing rhetoric. They tell us our choice is them or the
terrorists, and to me that is no choice at all. I can pick one kind
of violent religious zealotry or another. I can choose to invade
countries that neither attacked mine nor threatened to —
removing an odd dictator now and then, but at the cost of hundreds
or thousands of lives — or I can love terror and hate
freedom.

No. I love freedom, but I hate the Bush administration. There, I
said it. I hate the Bush administration for curtailing my civil
liberties and then deigning to tell me it’s for my own good,
for fanning the flames of homophobia in the name of a God they
claim speaks directly to them. I disagree with nearly every
important domestic and foreign policy move the administration has
made. I have very little patience for prescriptive religious
zealots, and I hate that the leader of the Western world —
the one with the most nukes, I might add — cannot pronounce
the word “nuclear.”

What I hate most of all is that I am using the word
“hate.” And meaning it. Dictators and terrorists and
religious nutcases and sullen six-year-olds “hate”
things. I should know better. I should tone it down.

People on the Right have the same problem, and if you think they
don’t, you haven’t been listening to a word
they’ve been saying.

We get so angry we can’t speak, and when we finally spit
out arguments, our words are full of anger and spite. Saucy little
girls we might have won over had we been patient walk away with
their good Christian mothers (decent, hard-working women who may or
may not believe that Jesus wouldn’t want gay people to get
tax breaks or joint health care plans) and by the time they outgrow
their pricey Swedish sneakers they (and their mothers) will be out
of our reach.

We (and by “we,” I mean intelligent and thoughtful
Americans — on the left, on the right and everywhere in
between) should all tone it down. More than should. We must.
Because more than half of us have just elected a president who
won’t. If there’s any hope for us as a nation, we have
to listen to each other, to find common ground. We have to respect
their Libertarian, Bush-supporting uncles, our radical left-wing
ex-roommates, our gay relatives enough to hear them out, to want to
understand and engage them. If this sounds wishy-washy to you, the
spin has gone to your head. It will be difficult and painful and
slow at times, but the old saw about walking a mile in someone
else’s shoes hasn’t done us wrong yet. Lace up and get
going.

 

Henretty is a University alum and was the Daily’s
editorial page editor and a columnist.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.