Cherish the many things in life above politics
By Jon Sanders
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In the heat of a presidential contest, the ambient air
quality for invasive politics goes all the way up to maroon (readers who
care to infer Bugs
Bunny's use of the word may include it). It stifles our relationships, our
conversations, our social media, our TV viewing, our roadsides and neighborhoods,
ad nauseam. So unexpected pockets of cheerfully unstagnated discourse are very
New York Times contributor Stanley Fish, known locally
for his years
at Duke University, recently interviewed his
friend Dinesh D'Souza, whose politics differ greatly from Fish's and who is
notorious himself for his film "2016: Obama's America." Fish
concluded his interview with the following hail to friendship over politics:
Finally a question more for me than
you. I was chastised repeatedly for having you as a friend, for breaking bread
with you (as I am about to do again), and for giving your "crackpot"
arguments the time of day. One reader hoped that my criticism of the movie
(which he thought too mild) might end a friendship that brought discredit to
me. The idea is that you should choose your friends or spouses or partner by
applying a political litmus test. Have the right (in this case, left) views and
you can be my friend. It doesn't work that way in the world -- witness Ted
Kennedy and Orrin Hatch, Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck and
Charlton Heston, James Carville and Mary Matalin, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and
Antonin Scalia -- and, if I can borrow from one of my own titles, it's a good
thing, too. Let's eat.
What a refreshing view! When there is a determined movement
in this country to politicize every aspect of life,
it is pleasing to find such an oasis of perspective. Especially when it is a
rebuke to that very movement.
Good manners once cautioned against discussing politics in polite company. It
touches on beliefs people hold very passionately and risks being instantly,
gratuitously divisive. After all, it is selfish and rude to disrupt a convivial
gathering. Imagine the gall of a person thinking he is providing a service to
someone he hardly knows by telling him to end his friendship with someone
simply over a different political philosophy.
As Fish perceives, there are more important things to life than politics.
Breaking bread with friends is one of the greatest.
Politics is, of course, a part of life. So are the activities that take place
in bathrooms, and they aren't polite subjects either, as necessary as they are
for the health of the body. Politics is messy, dirty, foul, and entirely
necessary for the body politic, but that doesn't mean we should revel in it or
worse, exalt it.
wrote to the church at Philippi, "whatever is true, whatever is noble,
whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable
-- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things." And
there we find family, friends, food, music and the arts, sports, and so on, and
yes, even politicians and political accomplishments, but none to the detriment
of the rest.
Speaking of the arts, years ago I had occasion to speculate on the market
response to artists such as Bruce Springsteen who use their celebrity for
politics. As I wrote,
As for our own artists, including
Bruce Springsteen, I think the public generally takes the art that's produced for its own merits, regardless of the artists'
political views. No doubt that's largely due to the fact that we do not share
the socialist's worldview of everything
is political. It is comforting to keep certain things removed from the
political sphere, including one's enjoyment of art.
It was therefore with some interest that I read of Bob
Dylan's resistance to being used by a Rolling Stone interviewer for cheap
political points. Dylan's interview is the current edition's cover. The
interviewer, Mikal Gilmore, tried several approaches, but his transparently
leading questions were easily dismissed by the legendary artist, who kept
asking him directly and with apparent exasperation, "What do you want me
to say?" At some level it seemed to be the same kind of badgering Fish was
receiving: thou shalt put serving the politics of the day first. To Gilmore and
those who think like him, it's apparently no longer enough to "be Bob Dylan";
one must continually perform the political act. It is a bleak worldview.
Meanwhile, the cover story for Esquire is an interview with Clint Eastwood,
speech with The Chair at the Republican National Convention will be long
talked about. His interviewer, Tom Junod, wrote
about his experience interviewing the legendary actor (the interview took
place well before the speech). Eastwood didn't spare criticism of the president
then, either, but Junod's decision about what to do with it seemed to reflect
my approach to Springsteen:
I didn't wind up using the Obama
quotes in my profile, not because they offended my political sensibilities, but
because they made him sound like a type
of person -- another cranky old guy, running down the president, and not always
very clearly -- when I wanted to write about what made Clint Eastwood singular,
what made him unlike any other Hollywood star who has ever lived, as both an
actor and an artist, back when he was in his prime, and, yes, even now.
Tawdry politics shouldn't sully appreciation for Eastwood's
singularity, Dylan's artistry, Fish and D'Souza's unlikely friendship, and our
own unique friendships, admirations, and enjoyments in life. Keeping what's
true, right, noble, praiseworthy, and lovely in the world separate from, not
subservient to, the dismal dominion of politics is a good thing. Let's eat.
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