Not everything is adversarial

After seven years of overweening right-wing self-righteousness, I’m not in a mood to extend an olive branch to conservatives unless the end is whittled to a sharp point. If the ideology that gave us Tom DeLay, Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush splats against Reality’s windshield in November, the nation will have reason to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if we’d be smart to swallow our hubris and focus on … what’s the word? Governing? Leadership? Solutions?

Whichever side of the barricades you’re on, it’s obvious that the way the nation has been run since 2001 hasn’t been productive. Conservatives may point to symbolic triumphs, the rollback of workers’ rights or environmental protection or whatever, but when it comes to real problems, not much has been accomplished.

Scores of millions of Americans still have no health insurance, and about a third of what the rest of us spend for medical care goes to shuffling paper. Social Security still isn’t fixed, though if we could kick the ideology, one simple change could seal that deal for 75 years. Which, to be honest, is longer than I’m going to care. Decades after it was determined that pollution is a global health risk, industry is often free to decide what degree of regulation it’s willing to accept.

Much of this is a product of Bush administration policies, and if any of it surprises you, you probably should have been paying attention back in 2000.

But now it’s 2008, and there’s a reasonable chance the foxes are going to be tossed out of the henhouse by the armload. I can barely keep from rubbing my hands together and chuckling like Snidely Whiplash: Serves the bastards right. Let’s bust their humps while we have the chance.

But that’s what they did starting about 1992, and look what’s happened. Progressives hate and distrust conservatives. Conservatives hate and distrust progressives. Even such universally beneficial concepts as providing clean drinking water or preparing our children for adulthood have been politicized to the point that public meetings are not likely to be productive discussions, but elementary school-level exchanges of insults: “You’re nothing but a LIBERAL.”

A whole generation of voters, now, doesn’t realize it wasn’t always that way. I grew up in the 1960s in a suburban neighborhood near San Francisco. My parents and the people across the street were Democrats, progressive for the time. The neighbor on one side was an FBI agent, a real-life John Wayne professionally and politically. On the other side was a builder, growing rich bulldozing away the redwood forests and chaparral hillsides. The Republican mayor, Bob, lived in the next block, and a Democratic state senator down the street.

We could hardly have been more different in our views—yet the six families were friends for decades. The senator’s son was my babysitter. I dated the builder’s daughter. We took vacations with the FBI agent’s family, and he taught me to shoot a pistol.

When the adults discussed politics, for the most part they did it calmly and reasonably. Sometimes—get this!—people considered others’ views and changed their minds.

My Democrat mom and dad voted for the mayor twice because he was honest, hard-working and effective. When he ran for state assembly, they contributed to his campaign.

This was in the mid-'70s, when Richard Nixon was being exposed as the evildoer I’d known all along he was, and I asked my dad how he could align himself with that evil axis.

“Bob isn’t Richard Nixon,” he said. “Look at what he’s done. Only a jackass judges a man by his party.”