Cathy Seipp has a new column up at National Review Online about Dan Rather, the cultural divide, and her personal experiences in bridging it.
It’s hard to remember now how lily white great stretches of southern California used to be, but they really were in those days, and by white I mean really white. My dark-eyed, brunette mother often said she felt surrounded by the Burghers of Munich. Visitors would occasionally feel free to look at her and inquire: “So are you Spanish or Portuguese or what?”
Not that I was exactly a Tragic Mulatto, but we never quite fit in. We were liberal, upper-middle-class (in attitude, not income) Jews, from Canada, surrounded by people descended from Okies from Muskogee. My mother volunteered for the George McGovern campaign in 1972 and I helped stuff envelopes.
What I only realized after I grew up and moved away was how decent and tolerant these boring, suburban neighbors were. They were certainly puzzled by our family’s exotic ways; my divorced mother ran her own business out of the house, and installed three phone lines in each room, including each bathroom, by herself.
They were also occasionally shocked by notions like Jesus speaking a foreign language, and now and then there were attempts by concerned classmates to save me from an unpleasant future in hell. One evening, a movie about the Rapture was shown at the local (public) high-school as community entertainment. Still, I never heard that distinct gasp of disbelief and hostile, shocked amazement that I often hear now, when people discover that, yep, I’m voting for Bush.
Go read the whole thing, and then I’ll echo her comment and amplify it.
About fifteen years ago, I moved from Venice Beach to Torrance – politically, from deep-Blue to bright Red – and believed that I’d moved from the progressive, tolerant center of the world to a place where I was sure to be a neighborhood outcast for my liberal ways.
And, surprisingly, I wasn’t. Many of my neighbors disagreed with me, and we had some interesting debates at the PTA, but on a basic level I was more than tolerated, I was accepted.
Which is more than I often am at dinners in Brentwood or the Pacific Palisades when I explain that I supported the war in Iraq, or that I shoot for sport.
My real epiphany on the subject took place about four years ago, at a December dinner in Arizona with a group with whom I’d just finished a shooting class. This is a group that is – on average – politically so far to the right that they can barely tolerate the un-Christian, statist ways of the GOP. As we’ve emailed about the election, they point out that GW Bush is a bit of a wimp, but they’ll probably vote for him anyway.
This was during the Supreme Court debates over the 2000 elections, and the television before dinner was on the news, as a heated discussion on the election took place. As may be obvious, I was the only defender of Al Gore and the Democratic efforts to win the vote in Florida in a room full of armed men (handguns are never an inappropriate fashion statement in this group).
As we sat down to dinner, the host asked each of us to say a few words of Grace. Most were religious in nature, and then they finally came to me, and I said “Please God, let me survive this meal and get home safely. The property is so large and my unmarked grave would be so small…”
People spilled their drinks laughing, and we went right back into the argument.
And I realized, amazingly, that these men and women – who disagree with almost everything I believe about government and politics – respected my right to take a stand and my opinions far more than people who agreed with me on the issues. They were in fact more tolerant of diversity than my Venice Beach neighbors.
I’m still digesting that.