Wednesday, October 27, 2004

A Lack of Civility

Yesterday it happened to be that I was conversing with two of my most favored co-workers in their office, one of them a moderate Republican, when a hardcore conservative man who ironically looks like Howard Dean (with a bigger paunch and a bigger head if you can believe it) walked into the office. I don’t even know why Dean, as we’ll call him, came in – but I assumed it was to banter with his political soul-mate. Dean’s been the most bombastic about Dubya’s reelection in the office and something about his salesman style this-war-is-great-let’s-have-another enthusiasm caused me to snap practically unprovoked.

I said, pretending to be amicable Dave, “Hey man, I remember you brought your daughter to work earlier this year – she was adorable, really cool kid.”

He responded: “Oh, you met her? Isn’t she great?”

Then I said: “Yeah, but if you succeed and Bush is reelected – how will you feel about her fighting in the next Bush war?”

Dean’s face went red, looked as fearsome as Howard Dean’s after a lost primary. He blasted back something to the effect of: “We’re fighting now so we won’t have to keep fighting more wars for years and years after!” and stormed out of the room.

Later that afternoon a company-wide email went out cordially asking all employees to keep political discourse polite. Read: “Dave. Reel it in.” Dean had gone straight to the head hancho to complain about my political sabotage. While I’m open to the idea that I was inappropriate and offensive and maybe even “creepy” according to the two in the room with me – Dean going crying to our corporate mommy instead of confronting me man-to-man rendered the idea of an apology moot. This morning he waved and smiled his fake salesman grin when he passed me in the halls.

But why did I do it? Why did I want to hurt him?

Republicans and even moderate Democrats with ambiguous feelings on the war have a hard time understanding - forget empathizing with - the pain, outrage and disbelief the Iraq expedition has evoked in those who have despised it from its conception. To us the war in Iraq has been at once a massacre, a disaster, an (extant) lie, initiated by a formerly-marginal cabal of ideological chickenhawks, perpetrated by the most feckless administration in American history and defended by an equally cynical and vicious political machine. That the election has been in doubt after no weapons of mass destruction were discovered and the situation became a bloody morass – is beyond our incomprehension. We had no right to break Iraq. We had no good purpose. The situation on the ground is beyond salvageable.

For those who hate this war, when we see unapologetically giddy advocates of this administration crowing for his reemployment – fairly or not, we see miniatures of ever-smug Dubya trampling on our sense of decency and reason. This election at its core isn’t about John Kerry, it isn’t about tax cuts, rich vs. poor, or even social security, or the thousand other critical issues I wish it were about; it’s about a foreign, bloody, utopian, imperial misadventure in the Mideast. All the more painful is that the lie that is the war’s orchestration was enabled by the genuine pain and anguish felt by Americans after our worst modern day tragedy.

I wish I could be polite about this. I wish I didn’t have to be hostile. But the families of the thousands of dead soldiers and Iraqis needlessly killed, and those forced to pray every night that it’s not their child who’s one of the newspaper-nameless killed in the latest ambush or car bomb “over there” probably don’t think Bush or even Dean should be smiling. And for a moment, right or wrong, I made sure he wasn’t anymore by hitting him, albeit it cheaply, with an argument he must know at heart is true: the war is well and good as long as one of his own doesn’t have to fight it.

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