I was sitting at breakfast with some friends last week discussing politics. Jeb Bush had just made his comments about there being no place for former President Ronald Reagan or his father, George H.W. Bush, in today’s Republican Party. Anyone who has experienced the evolution of politics during the past 30 years knows just how right Bush’s comments are.
There were liberals and conservatives at the table, all equally frustrated with the gridlock in Washington, all willing to talk, all willing to explore solutions with friendly banter and thoughtful political positioning. But there was also a mood of defeat and little hope for progress initiated by Congress.
Since then I have been trying to figure out some way to engage those I know — readers included — who will move the dialogue forward, some way to approach the topic that will not enrage Republicans or have liberals roll their eyes in that superior way they sometimes do.
In many ways conservative values are sound, and I embrace some of them as my own. Few would disagree that we need to cut government spending. Most support a robust military. I don’t believe that a majority of those who identify themselves as conservative are particularly concerned about gay marriage. They can also see and acknowledge the contributions of immigrants and the need for a rational immigration policy.
Liberal values have merit as well. Supporting our police departments, fire departments and sound education for our children are not values foreign to conservatives. Most conservatives I know are also concerned about the very precarious distribution of wealth, corporate greed and the flood of American jobs going overseas. Like liberals, they do want a better place for their children.
Less understood by leaders in either political party is that the majority of Americans do not want corporations or Political Action Committees buying elections and would most certainly support a constitutional amendment to prevent the further decline of discourse in Washington.
Most Americans do not understand the origins of the crisis in our current health system, a crisis that has primarily been created by insurance and pharmaceutical company greed. President Barack Obama’s biggest mistake was taking on health care as a first-term president. The American people are not ready for health-care reform because they do not have the requisite information with which to form an opinion.
America’s energy policy is no different. Most common folks would be stunned by the degree to which gas prices are artificially manipulated. They are appalled that oil company profits are so high while the reserves for average Americans are so low or non-existent. In general, corporate greed has infected every aspect of our living.
I was listening to a commentator regarding the price of tickets at Disneyland, which currently run $87. When I graduated from high school in 1982, the same ticket was $12; adjusted for inflation that would be a mere $28 today. If Mickey, Minnie and Disney can gouge the public beyond all reasonable expectation, what can we expect of less happier places on Earth?
And finally, there is the elephant in the room. The rational conservatives I know, when pressed, acknowledge an undercurrent of racism in the far right’s reaction to the Obama presidency, a current that has more strength in the Tea Party. Acknowledging the current and doing what can be done to resist it is essential before any rational dialogue can take place.
But maybe it’s time we lifted the taboo on talking politics among friends and make an effort to sit down and share a meal with a table of divergent opinions. But there needs to be some ground rules; listen more than you talk, allow yourself to be wrong and, most importantly, enjoy the company of friends.