You Tell Me

For the second year, my husband and I went to the Texas Tribune Festival. It’s like going back to school for a couple of days, going to see panels on transportation, higher education, public schools, politics, you name it.

We sat through an interview with Ted Cruz, the junior U.S. Senator from Texas. It was long-distance, since he was too busy blackmailing and shutting down the government in D.C. to show up in Austin. Cruz, being interviewed, looked almost mild-mannered and inoffensive, with eyes like hyphens and a soft voice with no apparent Canadian accent.

Cruz said he really hated it that the President and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were forcing the government to shut down. But what choice did Cruz have, except to fight? He had to stop all the “suffering” — a word he used repeatedly — caused by Obamacare. An out-of-solar-system visitor, listening to Cruz and his gut-clutching alarm, would have assumed “Obamacare” was an incurable plague of pustules, massive organ failure, and brain-munching amoebas. Suffering!

The next day, I went to a session on Republicans and Hispanics where even the Republican Hispanics seemed pissed at the Republican Party. I went to a higher-ed session featuring a University of Texas regent who may be impeached. I showed up at a panel about women’s health and the new abortion restrictions. I heard Texas First Lady Anita Perry defend her husband by saying people were wrong about old Rick: He didn’t swagger. He walked Mrs. Perry said, “just like his mother.”

I said the festival was like going back to school — and I meant it. I love to learn, and that’s why I was there. It’s also a year in which change may or may not be happening in Texas politics, but there’s enough of a promise of change to get many of us excited. After years in political exile, we are easily excited, you could say.

But I’d also gone to sessions — like women and health — simply to confirm my own biases and get re-infuriated by people I already knew I wouldn’t like. I could say I was supporting my own side, but that would only be a fraction of the real story.

It made me think of one of the more revealing quotes of the day, when the embattled UT regent had begun his own defense by saying that the other side had started it. The other guy was the aggressor; not him, certainly not him.

Oh, brother. Where were we? The sandbox? Aren’t we a little old for this?

The trouble is, how do we get out of the sandbox and stay there? Didn’t Barack Obama start his first term by insisting he could bring civility and reason to D.C.? Didn’t he try? Wasn’t he eventually derailed by them, the other side, the right-wing nuts, the haters? Weren’t they the ones who started it?

When I finally caught up with my husband, I kept lobbing questions at him. Will we — as both a state and a nation — ever break out of this poisonous spiral? Why are we being highjacked by extremists? What’s happened to reasonable people of good will who number in the tens of millions and want civil discourse and compromise?

And, most of all, how do you engage in the biggest issues of our day without becoming a hater yourself? That’s what I really want to know after the festival is over and the Gunfight at O.K. Corral keeps playing in the U.S. Capitol.

I am so tired of all of it. I have questions and no answers. You tell me how you do it, how you keep from being a hater. Or are we all only kidding ourselves that we‘re better than they are?

(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read about finding your heroes wherever you can

20 comments… add one
  • You’re right – it’s really tough to not become a sad, cynical hater. I think a sense of humor is good, and you’ve definitely got that going for you. Other than that, I dunno. That’s all I got.

  • There is a reason I can’t stand to keep up with American politics too much. Makes me spitting mad to hear all the lies and craziness.

  • I wish I knew the answer to this. I do feel very strongly though that one side uses underhanded techniques and bias to get what they want.

  • It’s quite odd to observe this chaos and discord from my office in Australia and, until a few months ago, from France. And I found your article courtesy of my Goddard College grad-school girlfriend, Nettie Reynolds through her Facebook post.

    I grew up in the USA but have chosen to not live there for several decades now since I married a British born Australian man and life in the USA wasn’t a ‘good fit’ for him.

    I am repeatedly asked for an opinion of the rigidity, craziness, and lack of civility or compromise in the way that the USA is governed or treats its own citizens. But when I tell them that it was not like that when I was growing up — truly — they look at me as if I must have a rose-coloured glasses memory.

    We visited the States in April and May of this year and it was all a bit of a shock. The negativity lingers in the air (and is pumped out in the airwaves via the media) to such an extent that I don’t honestly know if I would ever feel comfortable living there again even if it does mean that I miss out on a lot of family time.

    Keep fighting the good fight, Ruth. I maintain hope that the tiny sliver of those of you with good sense and open hearts will prevail.

  • It helps to remember that when you hate your opposition—they win. You have to keep your mind open enough to try to understand why they think the way they do. Maybe there’s a grain of truth there. Maybe there’s something you should be thinking about. If you just lump together people you disagree with as idiots or devils, you’re joining those you dislike the most. Perfectly nice people can disagree sharply on how things ought to be done–in a family, in a homeowner’s association, or in the U.S. Congress.

  • My only answer to the conundrum you pose is to keeping offering civility even when it’s not reciprocated.

    and your story makes me miss being in Ausitn…

  • I know, our politics sadden me. In UK they have some of the same issues we do (like gay marriage), but they debate them with so much more intelligence. And, of course, they have great healthcare over there, and no one ever thinks to complain that having great health care is a form of “suffering.”

  • Paul Link

    Agree completely, Ruth. At this point I only donate money to Congressional incumbents if they have joined the Problem Solvers coalition, created by the No Labels organization. It at least shows a willingness to reach across party lines to develop workable solutions.

  • I agree—the political venom distresses me and saddens. People who I know to be rational, caring and kind people on both sides of the political spectrum become absolutely crazed when they join a political debate. Rational thought is lost in defense of a position, and kindness leaves the room. I can’t solve the problem or even a small part of it all, but I can live on the side of mutual respect and kindness, regardless of one’s opinion. And I can expect that same respect and kindness from others. Simple, however, not easy. It mostly requires that I limit my political news exposure and sadly avoid conversations which I know will be unproductive and stressful.

  • Ward Link

    Poor Ted. He’s just tryin’ to keep up. He saw Wendy filibusterin’ and saw all that press. “I gotta git me some of that,” he must have thought in his de-Canadianized brain. So he went to the Senate and filibustered, and we learned about Green Eggs and Ham (who says Republicans don’t care about education?) And he voted to cut food subsidies to kids. He’s just tryin’ to help God-fearing farmers everywhere — and teach those lazy kids that they need to start pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Build it yourself, like a good Republican. Now with Michelle B. and Sarah P out of the picture, someone has to lead the crazy parade.

  • carol Link

    I think you are right to hate Ted Cruz.

  • We are all definitely better than they are, but I’ve got no answers either.

  • Move to Massachusetts. We have Elizabeth Warren. Our straight-talking senator gets right to the point regarding what certain Republicans have done to our government and why. Google it on C-Span.

  • Good question. I have no answers, other than only to tune in enough to be informed without getting enraged.

  • I stayed off social media as much as I could this week, that’s how I’ve kept my sanity.

  • merr Link

    I used to not understand why people got upset with politics. Now I understand. And now I understand why they call the distasteful, politics, regardless of the genre.

  • Craig Smith Link

    It may be too late. Not to be cynical but its all I know.
    I do think the blood for this mess is on the boomers hands
    While we were loving and stuffing daisies down gun barrels we should have been laying a political structure in place.
    And Rick Perry’s mom passed down the corn cob she used so little Ricky could walk that way

  • bonehead Link

    I think assuming hate is an emotion to be avoided is starting at the wrong place. It’s a natural human emotion. Control and focus will use the energy that comes from hate to fix some or all of the problem that caused the hate reaction. It’s a good reality check to make sure the facts of a problem that cause the hate are valid. Propaganda is great for creating bullshit that people get all jacked up about. The effect of propaganda can be seen in people hating Obamacare and loving Affordable Care. Make sure your facts are straight, use control and focus and hate the bastards all you want as you work toward a solution. If you don’t hate bad things something is wrong with you and I don’t think that is the case with most sane people. Most people were never taught to think critically and are swayed by the latest TV ad, which is why our country has found itself in a shit stew.

  • It’s all so sad. Things have become so extreme politically, that I can’t even watch the news anymore.

  • Denise Johnson Link

    The answers are pretty simple, it just seems that both parties are working for the wealthy and Wallstreet and not for the people.

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