A Little Less Rancor in the RoomMay 8th, 2009 © by Susan Swartz
On a soggy weekend in between rain storms four of us grabbed an umbrella table at a restaurant and haggled over optimism. Three of the four declared ourselves hopeful. The other, a lifelong eyebrow-raiser, asked, “Do you think he can really solve everything?”
Well, not everything, we chimed in. But yes, some things. And what a relief to have someone so very smart and confident, surrounded by brainy people with new, maybe even workable ideas on how to do business and government.
Well, she said, she guessed she was in the minority.
On that weekend close to 70 percent of Americans were reported as approving of President Obama, which put our table pretty much in line with the national ratio. Our admitted skeptic did vote for him and surely would not have wanted the other guy, she said. But how can we all be so sure?
Well, we’re not. Nobody’s sure of anything. In terms of tomorrow, we don’t know what to expect with the economy or another world flu outbreak. But in spite of each new calamity – “good morning Mr. President, today we have pirates” – there does seem to be a new sense of hope and even greater agreement among Americans.
Disagreement is not a bad thing.
It’s not that we don’t hold onto our differences, some deep and insurmountable. But it doesn’t feel as rancorous. My stomach doesn’t clench like it did during the last few years, when I resisted bringing up certain subjects in undeclared living rooms.
We all pretty much agree on evidence global warming, not only by looking out the window at our own freaky weather. We also seem to agree that our fairy tale spending days are over and have stopped blindly trusting Wall Street and Big Banking. At the same time, we’re getting better at trusting each other. More Americans now agree with gay marriage, which, on this, makes Iowa more progressive than California.
On some issues we still remain a tender lot. When I mentioned abortion rights to a colleague I hadn’t seen in years, she warned me off, saying, “We can’t go there.”
Lee, a friend back east, and I were talking about how there are some differences that you may be able to gloss over with an old pal or brother-in-law but not if you’re picking out new best friends. She was at party and met a woman she thought could be new-friend potential. They hit it off, discussing travel and other subjects, but when Lee, who has spent her life in social work, expressed hope for Obama’s social programs, the other woman suddenly turned cold. And that was it. Bad match. Impossible political chasm. End of conversation.
Certainly there are many issues which will continue to separate us. Taxes versus spending. Immigrant reform. The importance of unions. Using government money to teach kids to paint pictures and play the trumpet. What to do about guns. Whether and how to develop the north end of town.
And disagreement is not a bad thing. Yet, it has felt so ugly and pointless during the last years of “my way or the highway” thinking at the top. Now we’ve got a President saying it’s helpful to have differences but we don’t have to get nasty about it.
Back to the conversation under the umbrella. My friend the skeptic finally conceded that she would have to wait and see. She had one parting shot, however.
“Do you really believe he’s a true dog person?” she asked.
Doesn’t matter, we said in chorus. The kids are in charge of the dog.