Jewish World Review June 8, 2004 / 19 Sivan, 5764
Promiscuousness in political discourse seems rampant in the countryside. It can be rather one-sided and rude and turns up when you least expect it.
For example, my wife and I go to an antiques store housed in an old barn, a place that fairly reeks of Americana. But if you leave an e-mail address after making a purchase, as is customary these days, you later get a message from the store exhorting you to join a "Bake Bush" sale, sponsored by MoveOn.org, a left-wing group working to defeat the President.
The owners must have presumed this to be a respectworthy idea. But on the whole, even if you were a registered Democrat, it seemed a bit, well, out of place and intrusive.
Then there is the nearby shop that specializes in fresh homemade pasta, where the owner frequently regales customers with her opinions and said on a recent occasion, loud enough for all to hear, "I hate Bush!" assuming, apparently, that anyone who walked in to purchase some pasta would not mind if the proprietor also retailed her political views.
What if you decided to disagree with her? You begin to wonder if, like the Soup Nazi on "Seinfeld," she would refuse to sell you any linguini.
There used to be a place for this kind of off-the-cuff political banter. It was called a barbershop. But I haven't heard a political conversation in a barbershop in years, and I go regularly. It could be that opinions today are too rabid, political feelings too raw, to carry on such conversations in proximity to large, single-edged razors.
We have a theory of why people feel so free to air their views in public. It has to do with cell phones. People accustomed to chatting away on their cell phones on trains, in theater lobbies, on the street forget what it is like to be discreet and what is appropriate to share with strangers within earshot. They lose their sense of personal boundaries.
Everyone in the store does not need to know about your dinner plans. Nor does everyone need to know for whom you are voting in fact, that's one reason voting booths have curtains.
My wife and I were at cocktail party at a neighbor's house a few years ago in the aftermath of the Bush-Gore campaign, chatting with what appeared to be a grown-up man, when one of us (I won't say which) happened to mention that he or she had voted for Bush. The fellow actually snorted with outrage, then sputtered, "I can't talk to you," and walked away. Luckily he didn't throw his drink in our faces, but he definitely gave us the heebie-jeebies.
You see, in an instant you become a nonperson, beneath contempt. The President is an idiot; ergo, you are an idiot. And so are your sisters and your cousins and your aunts.
In our rural corner of Connecticut, the bumper stickers have begun to bloom. Nearly all run along the lines of "Beat Bush," "Regime Change Starts at Home" or, rarely, "Kerry for President." Remember the days when campaign posters said things like "We Like Ike"? Gone. Now it's "Anybody But Bush" or worse.
If you drive around the scenic hills of our area, you can't help but notice that many of the stop signs have been defaced. Vandals have stenciled the word "Bush" in white paint under the lettering, so they now say: "STOP BUSH."
Yet in Litchfield County, Conn., the rolls of registered Democrats and Republicans are about equal. So you would think that common decency would lead people to respect this large body of opposing views or at least refrain from belligerent "sharing." Nope. It's chic to be angry at this administration, which results in random acts of political cheek.
It takes a certain amount of effrontery to parade your opinions in public in such negative ways. Democrats think of themselves as the sensitive ones. But maybe they're not anymore.
I guess people just think it's the '60s redux. But I can't recall anything quite like it from that period. I do remember that the delicatessen owner in my hometown, a tough Irishman whose son was with the Marines in Vietnam, used to display American flags around the store and harangue me and my long-haired friends to get a haircut and enlist.
It's probably not the same thing. Then again, maybe it is.
JWR contributor Woody Hochswender, of Sharon, Conn., is a former reporter for The New York Times and columnist for Harper's Bazaar. Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Woody Hochswender