I’m a die-hard fan of Gene Lyons and here’s why:
Like sex, politics makes almost everybody stupid. With a presidential election in the offing, Americans are increasingly inclined to divide into rival tribes contemptuous of the “other.” It often seems that the higher the stakes, the more foolish the national dialogue.
Sometimes it feels as if we’re living in Swift’s Lilliput, with Big-Endians perennially at war with Little-Endians over the proper way to open a soft-boiled egg. Of course, Jonathan Swift himself engaged in furious political and religious controversy all his life. He could also laugh at himself.
But hold that thought.
Recently I wrote a column in praise of rusticity and the values of my rural Arkansas neighbors. A surprising number of readers saw it as what one called “reverse elitism” — an attack on Yankees and city people generally, although no comparison was stated or intended. Yes, white country folks mostly lean Republican, although readers couldn’t have known my neighbor’s race, and I have no idea how he votes. Therefore, to a tribalized sensibility, he must be a bad person, and I an apostate.
Lighten up, y’all: If I praise my wife, it’s not an attack on gay marriage.
Soon afterward, I received a communication from a friend in the city. He linked to a news item about scientists at HRL Laboratories in Malibu discovering a new super-light material.
“In search of profits,” he wrote, ‘Big Business’ routinely does that which our bloated federal government could never conceive of doing — inventing. This single accomplishment has more potential for improving lives and the economy than any Super Committee. Our response? ‘OCCUPY THE RICH — down with the 1%!!’”
Clearly, my friend styles himself a conservative. I responded that I was pretty sure that the Pentagon invented pepper spray, along with the Internet over which our brilliant repartee was being transmitted. As he’s a physician, I also mentioned the NIH, which conducts or funds most basic medical research in the United States.
As for HRL Laboratories, it’s a subsidiary of General Motors and Boeing, neither corporation innocent of government largesse.
No big government, no big science.
A born straight-shooter, my friend admitted using hyperbole and joked that “right-leaners” like him normally “exclude the military from the Federal government. Also NASA.”
He’d been blowing off steam. No harm, no foul.
Hippies, after all, can be very annoying. My friend felt besieged by sentimental leftists in college. He once dubbed me an honorary conservative because during a campus crusade against “lookism,” I remarked upon the irony of exclaiming over a beautiful poem or a magnificent sunset, but being expected to pretend that I didn’t notice a beautiful woman.
It’s of such moments that friendships are made.