Last night I had dinner with five associates whom I have known for many years. I suspect all five are registered Democrats, although as I write this, it occurs to me that I have never asked. Here’s how it breaks down.
My closest associate of the group is a moderate Democrat. On religious and social issues she is right of center. If it was not for the inability of Republicans to articulate basic animal rights and our incompetence on debating the issues of the environment and energy reform, she would probably be a moderate Republican. I am hopeful.
The four others are two married couples. One couple is from my parent’s generation (70ish). The other couple is from my generation.
The older couple is some variation of socialist/communist… real living and breathing specimens of a failed political era who, at almost every opportunity, identify most with whatever policy sides with the working class proletariat and against what they perceive as the wealthy bourgeoisie business owners and Wall Street profiteers. Usually their positions are “supported” by “studies” found on the Daily Kos. She can be found quoting NOW and PETA. He typically relies on academic think tanks and the mainstream media (which, he points out, is owned by rich white conservative businessmen who are obviously sympathetic to the far right). The debate almost always remains cordial… until we start drinking. Then… not so much.
The younger couple is typical of their generation. They thought the real estate bubble was their shortcut to prosperity and probably spent beyond their means in anticipation of finding a pot of gold just around the next corner. He is a moderate and the least political of the bunch. He seems strong on gun ownership and personal liberty, but gets squishy on social issues and those which his other half is passionate. They are dialed in. They watch Jon Stewart and know about all of the hip restaurants. Their news sources include Saturday Night Live, Katie Couric, The View, Oprah, TMZ.com, PerezHilton.com, and any one of the plethora of magazines you might find sitting in the lobby or your dentist’s office. She actually offered up the highlight of the evening by saying that my disgust for socialism and communism was, “so ’80s”. Apparently she is unfamiliar with this little nugget of nostalgia.
Last night’s political discussion ran the gamut. It was heated, passionate, and sometimes disrespectful. Regretfully, I found myself occasionally departing from civil debate and stooping to use gross generalizations. But my personal failure did not come close to the sheer lunacy and incoherence of my counterparts.
The most heated topic was about the mortgage crises and the economic ramifications moving forward. I began the discussion by asking, “Who’s to blame for all of this mess?” I wasn’t looking to pick a fight and wasn’t interested some variation of the answer, “fat cat greedy Republicans.” I was genuinely interested in understanding who and what they thought could have prevented this mess. I suspected it would be easy to stipulate there were many people involved at many points up and down the economic spectrum. Such a stipulation was not forthcoming. Their answers were striking.
The younger couple was indignant. They claimed that with their first hand knowledge of real estate (He worked in lending and land development, she has had jobs in real estate marketing and apartment leasing), they knew for a fact it was the greedy Wall Street bankers who were to blame.
I asked them about personal responsibility. What about those people… the home buyer, the real estate agent, and the mortgage broker… who each knew in their heart that the stated income, no doc, interest only, no money down loan on a half million dollar house approved for a couple who had one income and one BK between them was wrong?!?! I argued such transactions were dumb at best and at worst, downright fraudulent. Just because so many people on so many levels of the food chain were complicit doesn’t make their transactions any less wrong.
To this, they argued… in no particular order… “people should not be expected to understand the fine print,” “everyone should own a home,” and “our education system failed us” (apparently!). Even with their intimate understanding of the above scenario, never once did they acknowledge fault with the home buyers and the speculators for biting off more than they could chew. It was always the fault of mister fat cat businessman.
And so the discussion spiraled downward…
Eventually, I asked what they intended to do about this mess. As real estate professionals and as homeowners, the impact of recent developments on their lives is obvious. To this they began a pitch on the benefits of moving to Canada. Tops on their benefits list was free healthcare. According to them, “it would be cheaper to have a baby.” They also argued that the United States had hosed them and they would be more inclined to give up their home in the United States than to give up their jobs in real estate.
I suggested the younger woman was being unAmerican. I did not mean it as a label or as a generalization used in the heat of debate. In using the word “unAmerican”, I was specifically describing her as one whose actions and arguments were uncharacteristic of some of the core principles for which America and Americans have become known. Americans buck up in tough times and through hard work, innovations, and free enterprise, they rebuild what has fallen into something far better and stronger than before. To pickup one’s life and move to another country for the benefit of “free healthcare” is both desperate AND unAmerican.
In the end, I was more frustrated with myself than with them. The fact that words escaped me in the face of such weak arguments was disappointing. Their inability to coherently connect the dots probably overwhelmed my sensors. I didn’t know where to begin… basic facts, history, business, economics, media, politics… it was too much. In the interest of maintaining whatever cordial relationship we maintain, I sometimes rationalize their wrongheadedness by telling myself that they collectively view the world through a different set of lenses and with a different set of values. But in my heart I know they’re wrong.
Hopefully, there will be a next time… and I will try again.