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