My husband and I are fortunate to have the opportunity to travel with his company on convention once a year. This year: the lovely town of Sintra, Portugal, a Unesco World Heritage Site.
We were so excited about our trip. This was a photographer's dream! Well, excited and apprehensive, knowing we would be spending a week with 100 conservative financial planners, our first convention with this group since the election of Barack Obama.
This is a story about conservative mentality and the futility of bi-partisanship in the health care debate...
In past years, traveling with these people, we've often gotten into political "discussions". As far as I know, my husband and I are the only democrats among them. And we've always had a pact between us...we will not start anything, but when the inevitable comments are made, neither will we keep our mouths shut. And these discussions always ended with laughter and hugging and lots of "I love you!"s. We were the naive liberals...ha, ha, so cute but so wrong! But this year I begged my husband to resist. I knew they would be angry and bitter and didn't want our trip ruined with a confrontation.
Here's how it usually starts with this gang: snide comment made, maybe something about Nancy Pelosi. I try to ignore. More comments, teasing and bringing up something controversial. I feel the anger rising. Rush Limbaugh talking points introduced. Hubby engages, while I'm kicking and pinching him under the table. Finally, insults hurled...now I've taken the bait! "Communist!" always infuriates me!
From day one, the tone of this meeting was different. Several men made sneering comments about democrats and their teasing now had a malicious edge to it. Despite our best intentions, after dinner one night, we found ourselves in a heated argument with one of our associates about healthcare. Yada, yada, yada...people with cadillac insurance (mostly pro-life christians, of course), in a swanky resort in Portugal during a recession, blaming the tired, the poor, the huddled masses for all the problems. I kept trying to educate him: 45 million without healthcare, pre-existing conditions, cost, exclusions, (unnecessary deaths, you A-hole!). Sadly, even his wife was unmoved. Eventually my husband asked "well, what's your solution, then?" Answer: "I'll tell you tomorrow."
Tomorrow came and went. It was the day of the "formal night".
That morning I begged my husband...please, no politics tonight. I'm a political junkie but still, all dressed up in a little black dress, sometimes I just don't feel like it. The formal night is always like entering an alternate universe. There were diamonds and tuxes, $500 purses, even Angelina Jolie's green dress! I felt underdressed...I was wearing the same dress as last year...hey, we're in a recession! But we managed to get through the evening without a ruckus, despite the fact that the man sitting next to me mentioned Clinton (!) a few times and the woman on the other side confided she was "into politics".
I have to admit I'm part of the problem. Over the past 8 years I have barely been able to stifle my contempt for anyone who supported Bush and the Iraq War. Being told that Bush was "the greatest president ever!" just makes my blood boil. And I do love my husband, but he can be an instigator. Still, you have to pick your battles, right?
After dinner, in the bar, we were talking with a couple we had just met. Out of the corner of my eye, I see another associate who we have often sparred with, making a beeline to us. I whisper to hubby..."don't start anything!". He's thinking of later...wants to be good! Our drunk associate...I'll call him Ken, from New Orleans...tells the other couple "I love these two...we don't agree on anything but I still love them!" Hubby tries to distract Ken with asking about his activities after Katrina when he delivered food and supplies to stranded people. Ooops. A diatribe ensues: Blanco, people who depend on government, then contradicts himself with "but how were poor people supposed to get out?" The next thing to come out of his mouth made me sick. "I know this is gonna sound terrible, but only a thousand people died."
OH MY GOD.
I could taste the bile in my throat. My heart was pounding. Yet still I was determined not to have a fight.
So, I say to hubby, let's go. NO, NO, NO, everyone says. OK I'll stay. But within 5 minutes Ken manages to call me a communist, a socialist, more radical than your husband and yes, even a fascist! That's when we finally did leave.
We didn't attend the closing night dinner. How liberating! Yet, I felt blue.
Thanks to the SCREAMING heads, people who used to be friends are now adversaries. Because there's no gray area with these people...you're either with them or against them. Trying to have a conversation is futile...it quickly descends into insults and name calling. They have theirs and they don't care about anyone else. I used to be able to find some common ground with republicans, but now I'm convinced that the conservative movement seriously lacks a soul. They lost it when they decided to follow Rush over the cliff.
About a week ago, my husband crossed paths with Ken. How's Dee, he asks? Hubby informs him "she's mad at you". "Really, why?" A few days later, I receive a letter from Ken. Here's what he wrote:
I just wanted to drop a note to you to apologize for our last meeting in Portugal. I really do enjoy our friendship, even though we disagree on the way we all need to get where we want to go in our country. You are a very intelligent lady, so I guess I gravitate to having you challenge me. Then, the competitor in me wants to win. (Probably the wine did not help!) In any case, I hope we can get back to where we were.
Ken (Big Dog)
So, where do Big Dog and I go from here? If it weren't for our business relationship, we would not be friends.
Recently, we also received an e-mail from another associate:
Occasionally I'll get an email from you at my business email and I was hoping to get on your list for the hot, politically charged, left-leaning stuff that I know you must send around. I used to count on my sister for such things but I'm afraid she's mellowed and I no longer receive the good stuff anymore. Anyway, at least 4 times a day I can count on "blank" to send/forward ultra right-wing crap that is mostly harmless but sometimes makes my flesh crawl. You know, racist, hate-mongering shit that...well, kind of bugs me. Every now and then I'd like to send something back to him, and everyone else on his distribution list, that may open their eyes, but more than likely would just irritate and bug the shit out of them. I figure you're the man for the job. Between you and Dee I'll bet you could forward on some smart/funny/scathing stuff that I'd love to read and perhaps share with our less-than-enlightened friends. Until the last 6 or 7 years I've considered myself a Republican but have since felt pushed further and further left until the sound of Rush or Sean is like nails on a chalkboard. For the first time in recent memory I do not cringe when my president speaks, and am proud as hell of how he is performing on the world stage.
Anyway, I didn't mean to bare my soul, but I'm hoping you can help out with some good stuff to circulate, not stuff that doesn't hold up to a Snopes check, but smart, mildly offensive, anti-right wing stuff. You know what I mean. Can you help?
Beautiful, huh? So, whataya do? Some of these people are good-hearted...they just need to be educated. But I find myself terribly conflicted. Should I write a letter back to Ken? Would it do any good? What would I say? I'm so tired of it all, yet I know in my heart that one by one we're changing the world (and I thank each and every one of you for your commitment and persistence). Still, sigh, I wanna go back to painting.....
Leaving Portugal, as I look out the window, I see hundreds of wind turbines scattered throughout the countryside.
"Know thy enemy and know thy self and you will win a hundred battles"
Sun Tzu Wu, The Art of War