In a magnificent gift to the freedom-loving American people, the Republican House majority has successfully negotiated a delay to the implementation of the ill-conceived ban on the legal sale of 100-watt incandescent light bulbs, which was to have gone into effect two weeks from Sunday, January 1, 2012. The new deadline for the ban is now September 30, 2012, just 38 days before the end of the Age of Obama, Deo volente.
This ban, part of a 2007 omnibus national energy and security bill — which, as everyone duly notes, was signed into law by former President George W. Bush — was about more than light bulbs. Far more.
It concerned the inside of every home in the United States of America, from the frailest shack to the most opulent compound. It became as much of a lightning rod as abortion. It touched the hearts and minds of a free people who, unlike Cubans in 2005 and the cowed population of the European Union in 2009, did not want their basic liberty to light their homes to be by a bulb of the government’s choosing.
The fact that the most popular substitute for the traditional light bulb was (is! — it’s still for sale all over the land) filled with toxic mercury, the grotesque “compact fluorescent” bulb of environmentalists’ dreams, hardly helped the cause of its proponents, the all-too-familiar very green lobby.
The one thing the environmental lobby underestimated, and underestimated big time, was this basic fact: human life is part of the environment.
Deeply-loved and endlessly-hugged trees, the spotted owls, and the baby seals of yesteryear all have their lobbies. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have long thought nothing of destroying personal property (spraying the mink coats of wearers with permanent red spray paint as they walked along cities from Fairbanks to Atlanta) and demanding that the National Institutes of Health and other research centers end the scientific tradition of testing medications on mice and rats who, in the process, invariably die, so that human beings might live.
There was only one species the environmentalists failed to take into account in their thrust for mastery of the seas, the skies, and the Earth. And that was their fellow man, people who — like the environmentalists claim they do — care about their children, their grandchildren, and all who come after them as stewards of the planet, a responsibility the environmentalists claimed they alone took seriously.
This human species banded together in the United States of America and did something that the Cuban people cannot do and the human beings in the European Union are too dulled to do: we made clear our grievances to our elected members of Congress. We used our powers of speech, of logical argument, and, yes, of deep outrage that one Steven Chu, Ph. D., an unelected member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet, dared to tell the American people what we should do inside our homes and with our hard-earned money.
Last July, as the House of Representatives sought to accomplish what it finally, and victoriously, did accomplish yesterday, the president sent his Nobel Prize-winning physicist secretary of Energy (like his Nobel Prize earned him the right to boss us around) to lecture the American people on what we should and should not do. That was a huge error in judgment. Huge.
Here is what the condescending cabinet member said to us — us, the pathetic, scientifically uneducated, financially ignorant, unwashed, energy-profligate, unable-to-balance-our-own-checkbooks fools he takes us to be — on light bulbs:
“Right now many families around the country are struggling to pay their energy bills, and leaders in the House want to roll back these standards that will save families money.…
“You’ll still be able to buy halogen incandescent bulbs. They’ll look and feel the same, but the only difference is that they’ll save consumers money.”
Of tea partiers’s philosophical argument that the law would deprive consumers of the choice of lighting products, Chu said, these standards are not taking choices away, they are “putting money back in the pockets of American families.”
Well, the Republican Congress fought back.
It showed Secretary Chu, President Obama, and every environmentalist who seeks to control what kind of light bulb you and I can use exactly what a Congress responsive to a free people can do. We are not Cuba and we are not the European Union.
As Dylan Thomas wrote exactly 60 years ago: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” We did, and a Republican Congress listened and acted. Thank you, Congress. Thank you, Founding Fathers, for a system that, even in the Age of Obama, Pelosi, and Reid, still works.
In just three weeks and one day, our beloved 100-watt incandescent bulbs will join cocaine, shoulder-fired missiles, and heroin as illegal to sell in the USA. Aside from the lighting, what’s wrong with this picture? Why must our choice of light bulbs be constricted by the federal government? What’s next? Our choice of clothes, furniture or — here’s an idea for the Department of Education — the books adults may legally read? Will it come down to a two-way choice, between Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope? Where will government intervention in our personal decisions end? Mandated “green” coffins and “environmentally friendly” tombstones?
Each of us has our own way of coping with the wretchedness of the oncoming days of mercury-lit, or halogen-glaring horror. For example, I described mine here and PJM’s Claudia Rosett described hers here.
It pains me acutely — like an attack of appendicitis — to write this paragraph, but an excellent article on the choices of light bulbs legally available both before and after December 31 appeared in one of the least reliable and my own least favorite newspaper in the United States. Yes, The New York Times, here. One reason the article was so good was that it steered clear of politics, not even mentioning that it was none other than President George W. Bush who signed this egregious legislation into law. The existence of this welcome lacuna was doubtless because the article appeared in the Thursday “Home” section. Had it been an editorial or what they call at the Times a “news story” (known elsewhere as an editorial) in the main news section, the entire focus would have been on Bush.
And now, as the days dwindle down to a precious few, we incandescent light bulb-lovers have been accorded our own song. Yes, a melody with soulful lyrics, and a candle-lit video to express our roiling, complex mix of feelings, ranging from outrage to horror to sorrow. It’s a heady fusion of emotions, with all who’re concerned about this impending disaster living in a state of incandescent fury and palpitating dread, as we descend on Home Depots and Lowes stores, as well as neighborhood hardware stores, swooping up cartfuls of these precious, soon-to-be-forever-banned 100-watt incandescent bulbs, along with dimmable incandescent floodlights.
When friends come for dinner, we turn down the dimmers, and magically, everyone appears gently younger than they actually are. “You look marvelous,” they say, and, of course, everyone does look marvelous when illuminated by 20 watts when the 65-watt incandescent flood lights are dimmed. For that matter, everyone also looks great in the dark. But we do have to see our food, and so some illumination is helpful.
Soon, we’ll all be gathering under New Bulbs, illuminating every imaginable detail of our lives, not to mention our food and ourselves. We’ll look back with nostalgic tristesse at the many books we read by 100-watt incandescents, and remember our friends’ beloved faces kindly lit with a little help from our dimmers. It may come as quite a shock to see what they really look like.
As we collectively prepare for the grim realities ahead, we can hum along to this lilting song, brought to us by the folks at the Club For Growth. I know — who knew or even imagined they purveyed heart-rending ballads, as well as hard economic data? But they do.
To watch this farewell song to man’s greatest invention for reading — indeed for living in all its many splendors — between sunset and sunrise, click here. Hear it and weep. Or read a good book by one of your remaining 100-watt incandescents and dream of the glory days soon to be snuffed out by legislative fiat in one of the dumbest acts of Congress since Congress first convened.
May there be a moment of silence at the Thomas A. Edison Service Area on the New Jersey Turnpike on December 31 at midnight, in honor of the great inventor of the incandescent light bulb.
As the pale, weak sun rose beyond a charcoal gray cloud bank on Sunday, November 6th, the first day of the country’s dismal return to Standard Time, it was clear that the moment had come to lighten up.
Soon I was at Home Depot making a beeline for the light bulb aisle. Why? Because the end of days is drawing nigh. Not in the Biblical sense, but in the Environmental Protection Agency sense: there were only a scant eight weeks (now only seven) before the end of the light bulb as we know it. As of January 1, 2012, Americans will have their freedom of light bulb choice snuffed out by an omnibus 2007 law requiring that general-purpose bulbs be 25% more energy-efficient than the current, justly-beloved, incandescent bulb.
There are a few exceptions, but the next 49 days are the last for the sale of 100-watt incandescent bulbs.
An excellent summary of this disaster-in-the-making and the grim options that will follow in its wake is here.
In July, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. As the House debated the ultimately failed repeal, Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, who had introduced the doomed measure, argued:
The 2010 elections demonstrated that Americans are fed up with government intrusion. The federal government has crept so deep into our lives that federal agencies now determine what kind of light bulbs the American people are allowed to purchase.
This vivid report from England in 2009 on the last days of the sale of incandescent bulbs there — ordained by a similar European Union ban on traditional bulbs — is a cautionary tale of what we can expect at lighting retailers in the United States on New Year’s Eve 2011. There could be more people at Manhattan’s two Home Depot stores than in Times Square.
As I’ve written here before, part of the meaning of freedom is freedom of choice. Every green American who wants to read by mercury-ignited compact fluorescent bulbs is free to do so. Every environmentally-motivated citizen who desires energy-efficient halogen bulbs should enjoy that choice, too. But many of us desire incandescent bulbs, just the way Thomas A. Edison invented them.
You know something nefarious is afoot when the Obama administration trundles out its own personal Nobel laureate (other than the incumbent himself), Energy Secretary Steven Chu, to lecture us — us, the pathetic, scientifically uneducated, financially ignorant, unwashed, energy-profligate, unable-to-balance-our-own-checkbooks fools he takes us to be — on light bulbs:
“Right now many families around the country are struggling to pay their energy bills, and leaders in the House want to roll back these standards that will save families money.…
“You’ll still be able to buy halogen incandescent bulbs. They’ll look and feel the same, but the only difference is that they’ll save consumers money.”
Of tea partiers’s philosophical argument that the law would deprive consumers of the choice of lighting products, Chu said, these standards are not taking choices away, they are “putting money back in the pockets of American families.”
Contrary to Secretary Chu’s disingenuous statement in July, viz., “They’ll look and feel the same,” they neither look nor feel the “same.” He may be able to fool some of the people some of the time, but I regret to inform Secretary Chu that he can’t fool me — or tens of millions like me– any of the time.
These ghastly light bulbs casting their ghoulish, glary light — all gussied up to appear to resemble the older, familiar bulbs — are the light bulb equivalent of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
I, for one, did not elect President Obama, nor did I insist that he select Steven Chu to tell me how to “put money back in” my pockets. My pockets are my business, not his. You look out for your pockets, Secretary Chu, and I’ll look out for mine.
Where do you get off telling me and my fellow Americans, “these standards are not taking choices away”? It’s obvious you think we’re idiots, but idiots of that magnitude? These standards are unquestionably taking choices away: that’s why 100-watt incandescent bulbs are flying off the shelves at Home Depots nationwide. Here’s a photo of my purchases from last Sunday alone — not my last foray by a long shot:
All the bulbs I bought were incandescent. Secretary Chu’s vaunted halogen bulbs hurt my eyes. And the highest wattage compact fluorescents available at Home Depot last Sunday were the equivalent of 40 watts of incandescent bulbs. Maybe Secretary Chu can read by 40-watt bulbs but I can’t. If you’d like to read the Department of Energy’s guide to compact fluorescent bulbs, try reading it by daylight, here.
Contrary to this president’s view of his compatriots, many of us are adults. We were children once, but not recently. We can take care of our pocketbooks all by ourselves. My checkbook is balanced. Is the federal government’s?
The most tragic part of this tale is that it didn’t have to come to this. No sooner had the Republican Congress announced it would vote to repeal the 2007 law this past July, than the light bulb lobby swooped in to protect the manufacturers’interests — not, of course, those of the incandescent bulb-loving public:
[The] manufacturers … had begun producing the new bulbs, and feared the rollback of the standards would undermine their investments in developing energy-efficient bulbs. Bulb-maker Philips began an aggressive lobbying campaign, meeting with lawmakers and staffers on Capitol Hill, urging them not to roll back the light bulb law. They brought along samples of the new bulbs, similar in appearance to the old bulb.
No member of Congress should have been fooled.
The Senate voted against the repeal, and Obama would have vetoed a repeal, but the manufacturers’ heated lobbying was not in the public interest — of course.
Soon, if the Obama administration has its way, we’ll move seamlessly from the diminished light bulb to the energy-efficient vacuum that will take 90 minutes to clean a carpet that now takes five, and an energy-efficient hair-dryer that will require an hour to dry a head of hair now dried in three — in order to “put more dollars in your pocket” as Secretary Chu likes to say. Of course, vacuuming carpets and drying hair may not be high on his to-do list on any given day.
Which leads us back to Home Depot. After checking prices on Amazon.com, eBay and a wide variety of online lighting specialty firms, the lowest prices I found were at Home Depot. They charge $3.97 for an eight-pack of 100-watt incandescent bulbs, with each bulb enjoying a double-life of 1,500 hours.
Yes, the enviros are busy as Santa’s elves. But instead of confecting toys for good girls and boys, they’re out to make Christmas ever less merry and bright.
Their newest concern (what’s an environmentalist without a concern? A day without sunshine, it would appear) is to prevent celebrations that have used frankincense for Christmas services for oh, two millennia, from using it now.
No, no Congressional action — yet. But if you were planning to celebrate the gifts of the Three Wise Men, you’d better buy some extra frankincense this week and freeze it for the decades ahead, after Dutch and Ethiopian environmental scientists have warned that the ancient tree that produces the fragrant resin is, like baby seals and spotted owls, endangered.
The number of boswellia trees, which produce frankincense, could drop by half in the next 15 years and all but disappear in 50 years, figures suggest.
The incense has been a key part of Christmas since one of the Three Wise Men carried it as a gift to the newborn baby Jesus.
Dutch and Ethiopian researchers say that a combination of fire, cattle grazing and insect attack could destroy the boswellia trees.
Dr Frans Bongers of Wageningen University in Holland, which carried out the research, called for boswellia plantations to be left alone for five to 10 years to encourage new growth.
What are these scientists going to warn us about next? The shortage of myrrh? Tree ornaments? Wrapping paper?
I hear the forthcoming research project of the Environmental Protection Agency will be to examine Santa’s headquarters at the North Pole, with the idea of ordering the white-bearded doyen of Christmases past to forsake his historic home and move to Antarctica. They suspect global warming in his present digs.
Is there anything environmentalists don’t want to ruin with their never-ending urge to “protect”?
I have a question whose answer I probably should have learned years ago, but didn’t. What’s the best, or least worst, way to break off a romantic liaison that’s lasted on and off for decades? I’m 72 and my lady friend is 66. I’ve been giving her the silent treatment for the past three months and she’s responded by not contacting me all summer.
I’m an Elder of my church and I know what I’m doing to her is wrong. I don’t want to hurt her. Her feelings for me are probably deeper and more loving than mine are for her, which are more sexual than emotional. Hers are both. I’m not sure I want to deal with the emotions she feels (when we were last together, she wept, which was a turn-off for me). If she didn’t love me, I’d want to continue a sexual relationship with her. Or should I be more understanding of her feelings and not end it at all? I’m in turmoil over this.
The last time I didn’t know what to do about her, when I was much younger, I asked my mother. I’ve been reading your advice column all summer. Now I’m asking you.
I find it very hard to be a good person.
Penitent in Pittsburgh
I’m glad you’re ready to seek alternatives to the silent treatment. Most people who resort to it genuinely don’t know what to say, often because they don’t know what they want to do — and saying nothing seems like the path of least resistance. The advantage, they think, is that at least they won’t say anything they’ll regret.
What they may not understand is that even though it appears passive and therefore neutral, it actively inflicts excruciating pain every single day. Speaking directly to your lady friend may seem difficult after three months of silence, but it’s the only decent thing to do. It shows her the respect and empathy she deserves, and that you’d want from anyone in a serious relationship with you. Perhaps you’ve been incommunicado because you’re uncertain whether you do want to break it off with her. But the silent treatment is no substitute for communication. It’s cruel and unusual punishment
It is, I regret to tell you, for cowards who don’t have the guts, the decency, or the empathy to use one of the unique gifts of humanity: the power of speech.
IT’S NOT CALLED “BREAKING” UP FOR NOTHING
As the great Neil Sedaka put it, for the first time in 1962, breaking up is hard to do. There’s a reason that a “break-up” includes the word “break”: it’s a fracture, a rupture, a shattering. Not only is it difficult to accomplish, but it’s even more excruciating to be the target. Many people never recover from a heartlessly-administered split.
Breaking up in an empathetic way is one of the most difficult responsibilities we face in life. Why? Because breaking up is an act of rejection and abandonment. At its essence, it expresses the death of hope, the slough of despond. The musical chords have changed from major to minor:
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Breaking off a relationship is analogous to a death. You’ll be telling her the relationship has died. You will have died in her life. You may not want to die in her life, and you may not want her to die in your life, either. That may be one reason you’re in turmoil.
Breaking up is also akin to firing someone. A pink slip, be it physical or metaphorical, is no way to end it. The movie Up in the Air showed the despair and rage that come with being fired, especially by a hired gun to whom your boss has outsourced the task. This scene was deleted from the final version because of the spontaneous, strongly-worded responses of two of the fired employees. It vividly portrays real employees’ reactions to being fired. Being the casualty of a bad romantic break-up feels just as painful:
THE SILENT TREATMENT
For those who can’t outsource firing or breaking up, there’s always the cruel course that Penitent in Pittsburgh has taken for the past three months. The silent treatment is surely the easiest way out for the emotionally lazy, the busy, and the careless — careless in The Great Gatsby sense of the word. Along with Chinese water torture, the silent treatment is the ideal way to inflict the maximum degree of anguish while exerting the least amount of effort.
You do nothing. No calls, no emails, no texts, no letters, no explanations, no sense of responsibility. Just a long, soul-crushing silence. Too self-absorbed, too distracted, far too important to bother to be a decent human being. You figure she’ll get the message sooner or later. Why trouble yourself with the effort it takes to speak from the heart, face to face, when silence is so effective? Cruel, but effective. Unconscionable, but effective. Despicable, but effective.
As Leonard Cohen wrote, “Hey, that ain’t no way to say goodbye.”
What, then, is the way to say good bye?
BE AS KIND AS POSSIBLE: YOU’RE PRACTICING SURGERY WITHOUT ANESTHESIA
The answer to that question is a corollary of the general rule of life: always be kind. Even when you break up with someone — especially when you break up with someone — you have a duty as a decent human being to do it with as much kindness as possible.
Since you’re lopping off an entire person from your lady friend’s life — to wit, you — try to be more of a surgeon than a butcher. Understand that, like a surgeon, you’ll need a careful plan because you’re dealing with quivering human flesh and a beating heart — not a slaughtered carcass on your well-worn chopping board.
It never fails to astonish me how people who attend weekly worship services live their lives on the days that are not the Sabbath in ways contrary to every tenet of Judeo-Christian ethical conduct. It’s as if they believe that by showing up at a religious service once a week they’ve earned a free pass to be as heartless as they like the other six days. What’s the point of weekly worship in public if not to be reminded every seven days of our absolute duty of kindness to our fellow human beings?
From your question, it sounds as if your lady friend has done you no wrong, nor been either cruel or unfair to you. She wept, but that hardly seems a fireable offense. It sounds as if your reason for wanting to break it off is your increasing discomfort with her desire to be in an emotional love affair when your desire is for a dreamily-exciting, sentiment-free zone of sexual satisfaction. You sound remarkably like an older version of the kind of man George Gilder described in his classic book on unattached men, Naked Nomads.
HOW ORGASM AFFECTS WOMEN’S BRAINS DIFFERENTLY THAN MEN’S
Your attitude toward her love for you may be related to a newly-discovered biological fact that’s the subject of a stunning, recent scientific discoveryconcerning the difference between men’s and women’s brains during orgasm. Your situation sounds like a living, heavily-breathing illustration of these new findings. A study by Rutgers University psychology professor Barry R. Komisaruk compared brain activity in women and men during orgasm. His research revealed that while making love, and at climax, women’s brains are bathed in a pain-killing, defenses-lowering hormone that leads them (us) to fall in love with the person with whom we experience orgasm:
A key hormone released during sex is oxytocin, also known as the “cuddle hormone.” This lowers our defenses and makes us trust people more, says Dr Arun Ghosh, a GP specialising in sexual health at the Spire Liverpool Hospital.
It’s also the key to bonding, as it increases levels of empathy. Women produce more of this hormone [than do men], although it’s not clear why, and this means they are more likely to let their guard down and fall in love with a man after sex.
However, the problem is that the body can’t distinguish whether the person we’re with is a casual fling or marriage material — oxytocin is released either way. So while it might help you bond with the love of your life, it’s also the reason you may feel so miserable when a short-term relationship ends.
Men, on the other hand, instead of getting a surge of bonding hormone receive a surge of … pleasure.
‘The problem is that when a man has an orgasm, the main hormone released is dopamine — the pleasure hormone. And this surge can be addictive,’ says Dr Ghosh.
That’s why so many more men tend to suffer from sex addiction.
A lack of a signal from a man that the woman is accepted and loved can often lead a healthily orgasmic woman to be unable to achieve climax with a man who doesn’t communicate enough acceptance and affection to allow her to lower her defenses sufficiently to relax.
As for your being “turned off” by her tears, a study in the January 24, 2011, issue of Science magazine (behind a firewall) found that
Emotional tears are thought to be uniquely human and have puzzled biologists and psychologists for many years. Using a double-blind study comparing female emotional tears with control saline, Gelstein et al. (p. 226, published online 6 January) investigated whether human tears may convey a chemosignal. Even though the tears could not be smelled, tears nevertheless decreased the sexual appeal of women’s faces. Female tears also lowered sexual arousal and reduced testosterone levels in men. A subsequent brain-imaging study highlighted differences in functional activation in the brain. Emotional tears thus seem to contain chemo-sensory signals related to socio-sexual behavior.
Once you understand that, you may want to re-think ending your relationship because her weeping was a “turn-off.” All that means is that you’re a man.
If, after careful consideration of what you may lose — forever — by ending this relationship, you decide that you want to break it off, here’s my advice.
First, if you’re wondering why it’s so important to do this in a loving way, it may help if you imagine how she’ll feel about you afterward. Do you want to leave her with such feelings of anger and hurt that she’ll think, “What a total bastard he is”?
If your answer is, “I don’t care what she thinks,” no need to read further. Just continue the silent treatment. There’s no hope for you.
If you do care, would you prefer that when she hears your name in the future, or reflects on you, she thinks, “What a great guy he is. He treated me with great sensitivity and kindness and I’ll always think highly of him and be ready to help him in any way I can”?
I trust that your preference would be the second response. To achieve that, you’ll have to be gentle and non-accusative. That is, you can’t blame her for being who and what she is. That includes blaming her for loving you. For most women, loving a man feels like a natural part of love-making. The recent studies of brain scans demonstrate that by experiencing love-making and climax with you, her loving you is part of basic female biology and neurology. This is the woman, after all, with whom you’ve shared a bed. You’ve fallen asleep embracing her and awakened to her smile. You’ve already subjected her to a three-month silent treatment. I, for one, see no reason to add insult to injury.
I suggest meeting her in public rather than where either of you lives. Perhaps there’s a restaurant you’ve frequented together that you both like, and where she’ll feel comfortable. On the other hand, you should prepare her in advance so that she doesn’t anticipate that this will be just another in a series of enjoyable dinners with you. And to say something as unclear as, “I have something important to discuss with you” could have the unintentionally callous effect of making her feel that a marriage proposal or a suggestion that you live together is in the offing. It’s better to say something like, “I have some difficult news I want to tell you when we’re together,” or “I want to see you to discuss a painful subject.”
If she’s at all curious, she’ll ask if your health is all right or whether a member of your family has died, and you’ll reassure her on those grounds, but under no circumstances should you make clear in advance that this will be a goodbye dinner. That must be done in person. If she responds, “So, we’ve come to the end?” Say, “I want to talk to you in person, I don’t want to discuss anything further on the phone (or via email, texting or ‘chats.’)”
As difficult as it may be for you, you’ll inflict less pain on her if you take full responsibility, placing the entire burden for the break-up on one of your flaws. You could say something like, “From the beginning, I’ve thought of you as a great person, a smart, fun, sexy woman. I’ve been attracted to you from the day we met. I’ve always felt a real bond with you. But we’ve talked about our goals, and I know you want a relationship with me that you can depend on, and I’ve come to realize that I can’t give you the caring relationship you rightly want and you highly deserve.”
If that doesn’t fit you or your circumstances, then discuss a different flaw of yours that, you will tell her, has already begun to gnaw away at the relationship, and will ultimately destroy it. You might say something about how loving and loyal she’s been but that you cannot in good conscience accept her love and loyalty when you know, in your heart and mind, that you aren’t going to be as caring as she deserves. In fact, you could say that if you were selfish, and didn’t care about her feelings, you would continue seeing her, but that you possess not only a sexual organ but also a conscience. Above all,
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Your goal — if you decide to break it off — is to extricate yourself from the relationship without leaving her distraught or feeling that she played her cards all wrong. Perhaps she did. She apparently loved you and let you know it, despite your lack of love for her. But why inflict additional pain on her if you can end it without causing more anguish by forcing her to re-play each minute you were together in an effort to discover what she should’ve done differently? That’s consigning her to the torment of the damned. I would think that she’s had ample opportunity to re-examine all that transpired between you and that she wishes she hadn’t wept in your presence.
“CAN WE STILL BE FRIENDS?”
She may well ask, “Can we still be friends?” The answer to that depends on whether you want to be friends. If you don’t, I wouldn’t slam the door in her face by saying, “No, we can’t.” I’d suggest a softer landing, such as, “I’ll always value your friendship. But for the next few months, I think we should go our separate ways because I’m afraid that if we’re together, we’ll — or I’ll — continue to behave as I have with you. I think I need to take some more time off and then, afterward, I’d like to be friends and stay in touch.”
Resist the temptation, especially if she hasn’t asked, to ask her whether you can still be friends. You may think you’re offering this option in a spirit of generosity, but it won’t be received in that way. You may be telling yourself “I believe it’s the gentlemanly thing to do.” No, it isn’t. You’re just trying to reassure yourself that she won’t go away furious at you.
This is self-protection masquerading as civility.
What you’re trying to do by asking if you can still be friends is to keep the break-up from being messy. But by definition it is messy. Even exquisitely-performed surgery is bloody.
In the fullness of time, she may contact you or you may contact her in an attempt to create a friendship from the shards of this break-up, but to request it immediately is selfish. It will not reassure her that you still harbor affection and respect for her. She will feel it as an unfair imposition — that you want it both ways. You want the reassurance that she’ll continue to be there for you, and the freedom to abandon her as your lover. That’s being a jerk, not a mensch.
If you eventually contact her before she contacts you, and she fails to respond, give up. Don’t continue your pursuit of a “friendship.” If she doesn’t respond, bow out. If you want to get back together romantically and she doesn’t respond, bow out. This is precisely why you shouldn’t act precipitously now, because if you do, you may be burning a bridge to one of the few people on the planet whose loyal affection and warmth you know you can count on.
If you can, emphasize that you’re sad, too. Say that this was a very special time in your life and that you’ll always think warmly of her. Leave her with at least a shred of self-respect. Make sure she understands that you’ve thought long and hard about this and that you’re convinced this will be best in the long run, although very painful for both of you in the short run.
HOW TO ENSURE YOUR OWN PERSONAL BERTH IN HELL FOR ALL ETERNITY
Don’t even think about having sex with her first and then telling her that it’s over. For that degree of pure, unadulterated selfishness there should be a special, everlastingly flame-licked sector in Hell designated for men who indulge in a farewell act of intercourse when they know it’s the final one and their partner doesn’t. This is nothing but exploitation. I mention this because you wrote to me, “I find it very hard to be a good person.” Helpful hint for future reference: good people don’t exploit others just because they can. Especially women who love them.
MAKE SURE YOU’RE NOT MAKING A REALLY STUPID MISTAKE
Before you do any of this, make certain that your reaction to her tears and to your summer of silence don’t lead you to make an irrevocably self-wounding or self-destructive mistake. You may live to regret cutting off a woman who’s been part of your life in such a loving way for so long. Ask yourself whether you’re ready to say adieu or whether, deep in your heart, you might feel this way instead:
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Don’t do something you’ll regret forever and will never be able to undo. It could well turn out that, when you meet her to break it off, you’ll feel like this.
If you do, pull back from the precipice and recognize how lucky you are.
How do you behave or talk in a workplace of liberals who monitor every behavior for political and social correctness?
While my colleagues are hard-working, the general setting of my workplace is extraordinarily liberal. It is expected that you will be just as liberal as the socialist working next to you. Worse: in 2008 we had meetings where the managers talked openly about who had donated to Obama’s campaign. They regularly went online to see who had — and who had not. The head of the company — loyal and generous Obama supporter that he was — did nothing to discourage this outrageous behavior and so, in 2007, I began to feel as if I were living in the People’s Republic of China. I still feel that way, now more than ever. I’ve never said a thing about my conservative views, but believe me, it isn’t easy.
What should I do?
Sleepless in Seattle
This is a serious problem and one that particularly afflicts those who work in academic settings, in the media, and in the entertainment industry. It’s also likely to affect any conservative or libertarian working in a blue state. I’ll give you my advice on your best options for dealing with this, but first I’ll say why the situation you’ve described has become a widespread phenomenon in workplaces across the country.
The problem you’ve described stems from a convergence of four factors that are far more prevalent today than at any time in the past seven decades, possibly since the Civil War (although I can’t speak personally of that era: I don’t go back that far).
They are (1) the increasingly high concentration of liberals in certain sectors of the economy; (2) the militant intolerance displayed by liberals; (3) the steep decline in civility everywhere, including the workplace; and (4) the lowering of barriers to discussions of topics that were, in the not-so-distant past, deemed off-limits, especially in the workplace, but even at social gatherings in general: politics, sex, one’s earnings, and one’s religious beliefs. This is a toxic confluence of trends that afflicts our professional and social lives and results in a less tolerant environment in which one’s “zone of privacy” is far narrower than ever before.
(1) Types of work that attract more liberals than conservatives:
Your email address tells me that you work in a university. I’ve long wondered why academia is so strongly skewed toward liberals (by some estimates 90% liberal versus 10% conservative, except at explicitly Christian universities and colleges). Last week, I heard an explanation that rings true. It comes from Tim Groseclose, professor of American politics at the University of California at Los Angeles, who explained, in a fascinating interview with The Daily Caller’s Jamie Weinstein, that liberals want to direct the lives of others whereas conservatives don’t. A person whose goal is to direct the lives of others, according to Professor Groseclose, will be drawn to academia, the media and the entertainment industry, the last of which — at least as much as teaching and the media — has an enormous impact on how and what people think. A single film can powerfully shape opinions and points of view, and epitomize an entire era.
Conservatives tend to be less interested in proselytizing and prefer to be guided by the maxim “live and let live,” as they focus their lives on family and work. They favor less government intrusion and prefer to be left alone. Liberals, particularly in academia, he said, are willing to forgo higher incomes for the chance to have a direct impact on the lives of others.
Furthermore, Professor Groseclose added, once an overwhelming liberal majority takes over a particular occupation or individual workplace, it becomes increasingly uncomfortable to be the sole conservative, or one of a small minority, amid a sometimes belligerent, often nastily self-righteous majority. So conservatives begin leaving these environments, which they find increasingly hostile and intolerant of them and their views. (To see the full interview click here.)
In an economy as dire as ours, few employees, no matter how uncomfortable they are in their present workplaces, feel free to leave a secure position in hopes of finding more congenial colleagues elsewhere, especially if they live in a blue state or work in a sector of the economy in which liberals predominate.
Even if the economy were more robust than it is, if you work in any of the sectors that attract liberals in droves, or if you work in deep blue America, changing jobs is unlikely to help. It will change the names and faces of your colleagues, but not the underlying problem.
(2) The fact that you’re the lone conservative in a department or office of liberal Democrats would not be the problem you describe if liberals were more tolerant — or indeed, if they were tolerant at all — of other political perspectives. As I’ve discussed here and here, the current incarnation of the Democratic Party is not the big, welcoming tent it was in the days of FDR. Today, it represents big unions, including the strident teachers’ unions, academia, some minority groups, and social and political liberals.
In the wake of the budget deal, we’ve seen a dramatic rise in vitriolic Democrat attacks on the Tea Party, and by extension, on the Republican Party of which they form an influential part. Rather than merely express contrary views, the Democrats at the highest levels of the party have turned up their attacks on a scale of 1 to 10, to at least 11, thus deepening the already sharp schism between the two parties.
[YouTube video, BBC blocked on Copyright grounds]
As PJMedia’s Bryan Preston noted last Friday, Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass), a former nominee for the presidency, explicitly called on the nation’s media to refrain from reporting and broadcasting the views of members of the Tea Party — at all. John F. Kerry said,
And I have to tell you, I say this to you politely. [Let’s hear it for good manners as we descend ever further into the netherworld of extreme intolerance.] The media in America has a bigger responsibility than it’s exercising today. The media has got to begin to not give equal time or equal balance to an absolutely absurd notion just because somebody asserts it or simply because somebody says something which everybody knows is not factual.
Presumably, Sen. Kerry’s idea of an “absurd notion” is one with which he disagrees, while his definition of “everybody” is the fellow members of his windsurfing club.
This arrogance, this hubris, and this unembarrassed sense of entitlement are relatively recent additions to the traditional arrows in the Democrats’ quivers. Unlike in the past, actual political positions are secondary to extreme expressions of political passion. Vitriol overwhelms content.
After the debt ceiling talks ended and the president signed the bill, the Democratic Caucus met and a new phrase of attack began being bruited about by increasingly desperate Democrats. Suddenly, liberals from Vice President Biden to Rep. Michael F. Doyle (D-Pa) appeared on TV accusing Tea Partiers of being terrorists. TheWashington Times’ Jeffrey T. Kuhner noted that “MSNBC host Chris Matthews likened Tea Partyers to ‘terrorists’ and ‘hostage-takers.’ Newsweek’s Tina Brown called them ‘suicide bombers.’ In short, for the Democratic left, the Tea Party is evil incarnate.”
As Commentary’s luminous Jonathan S. Tobin wrote at the Contentions blog,“Indeed, with the abuse escalating to a point where liberals now feel no shame about accusing Tea Partiers of being ‘terrorists,’” it is unsurprising that the group’s negative polling numbers have risen. He also notes:
From its beginnings, liberal papers such as the Times slammed the Tea Party as a dangerous form of populism. It was smeared with unsubstantiated charges of racism on the false premise opposition to President Obama’s signature health care plan was a sign of prejudice. Though it was one of the most broad-based popular protest movements in modern American political history with a reach that extended across the country, it was still treated by most of the mainstream media as a slightly more respectable version of the Ku Klux Klan. Indeed, when Tea Partiers vocally expressed their dismay to members of Congress and senators at town hall meetings, liberals reacted as if public dissent against politicians was the thin edge of the wedge of a new wave of fascism.
That line held until November 2010 when it turned out the only poll that counts — the ballot box — showed the Tea Party was a mainstream force in American politics. While the Republican victory put a damper on talk of Tea Party extremism, the theme was rediscovered this year as some members of Congress decided to act as if their campaign rhetoric about debt, spending and taxes wasn’t just hot air but a pledge of honor.
This is an important reason that political discourse among our fellow citizens has moved — in the immortal phrase of Abba Eban, Israel’s eloquent foreign minister, in his address to the UN Security Council on June 8, 1967 — “backwards to belligerency.” It has descended into the unchecked aggression of gang warfare — or the Pleistocene Era. And citizens take their lead from the political class. When Americans see the president, the vice president and the Solons of Congress and their media allies attacking Tea Party members and Republicans in general — all with identical epithets — can there be any doubt that such unacceptable conduct will trickle down to all Democrat partisans, including those in your Seattle workplace?
Decades ago, I lived in a deep blue bastion of the country where I observed that while conservatives were viewed by liberals as rare, exotic birds (“That’s interesting. I wonder what makes him think that?”), there didn’t exist the reflexive derision, hostility, and shunning that passes for enlightened behavior today. Republicans and libertarians were considered socially acceptable, if eccentric, human beings, not pond scum lacking a conscience or intellectual honesty.
(3) The public mockery of the Tea Party and Republicans in general dovetails with a even larger societal problem: the slow but clear coarsening of discourse and a descent into a jungle of inter-party disrespect veering into loutish contempt. Unfortunately, this tendency is not confined to liberals.
Those who thought they were alone in sensing a rising tide of rudeness can find confirmation of their impressions from a recent Rasmussen poll, which found 76% of adults believing that Americans are becoming more rude and less civilized. According to the poll,
Seventy percent (70%) say Americans are more rude to sales personnel or people waiting on them than they were 10 years ago, up eight points from last year….Conversely, 61% say sales and service personnel are ruder to customers than they were 10 years ago….Fifty-eight percent (58%) of Americans say they’ve confronted someone over their rude behavior in public, up seven points from the previous survey. Thirty-eight percent (38%) have never confronted someone about their rude behavior. Sixty-four percent (64%) of men have confronted someone in public about their rude behavior, while 52% of women have done the same.
The confrontations arise when people are so deeply offended by the rude conduct of others that they cannot help but push back and say something. Recently, I found myself behind a man in a supermarket line who didn’t realize the high price of the cellophane-wrapped cheese he planned to buy. When the young, pregnant Hispanic cashier rang up his intended purchase and he discovered how expensive it was, he became angry at her and hurled a pound of Cheddar at her face. I raced to the store manager and asked him to confront the assailant. He did, telling the man never to set foot in the store again, or he would call the police.
This rudeness and decline in basic courtesy that infects our relations with others — be it at work, in public settings such as supermarkets, or at social gatherings — is a malignant and powerful new force in our lives combined as it is with the extreme polarization of the two parties. The confluence of these developments makes for some vexing experiences, such as those you’ve experienced in Seattle.
(4) The final reason that workplaces such as yours have become toxic is the free, online information available to all, revealing your political contributions, personal data, and even — have they no shame? — your age. Whatever organizations you support — from the Audubon Society, to your place of worship (if you’ve donated to it), to charities to which you’ve contributed — are all easily accessible on the Internet. Aspects of your life that were 100% private in 1980 are 100% public in 2011.
These inroads into the personal areas of your life that you could have protected by your silence or discretion then are out in the open now, and are grist for your colleagues’ inappropriate and shameful conduct in 2008. The easy availability of your personal information places you in a more vulnerable position when it comes to office politics: your Obama-supporting manager and colleagues can easily discover, without a word from you, that unlike them, you contributed exactly zip to Obama’s 2008 election, and if my speculation is correct, that you’re unlikely to contribute to his 2012 re-election campaign (just a wild guess).
What to do?
My answer depends on two variables: the first is how secure you are in your job. For example, in a university, do you have tenure? Professor Groseclose explicitly stated in his interview that he would not have published his most recent book, Turning Left: How Liberal Media Distorts the American Mind, if he didn’t have tenure. It would have provided ammunition to a liberal political science department that would have used it to prevent him from being granted tenure. With tenure, he can now publish whatever he likes.
If you feel that your job is a secure one, you have the options discussed below. If not, you have to judge for yourself how perilous it would be for you to speak your mind freely when you know in advance that your colleagues and manager are staunch, Obama-contributing liberal Democrats. In a recent advice column in July, about dealing with liberals in social settings, two commenters wrote as follows:
I’m a guns and religion-clinging, slurpee-drinking, pea-eating conservative who happens to work in the entertainment industry. I think it would be folly for me to follow the advice in this column. I think I’d become nearly unemployable.“Don’t ask, don’t tell” has been my best policy. Meaning, I never ask a colleague what his or her politics are; I never reveal my own; and I keep my job and professional relationships.It’s sad, but it’s harder to come out of the closet as a conservative than as a gay communist necrophiliac serial killer.
I think if you read the question and the answer one more time you’ll see that the column is intended for social situations, not the workplace. I can’t speak for Belladonna but it looks to me as if she’d agree with you when it comes to the workplace. She doesn’t seem like a person who would want to see one more American added to the country’s already 9.2% unemployment.
Actually, Nim, although my post was a bit opaque, that was the point I was trying to make; i.e., that although Belladonna’s advice may be good for social settings, I didn’t think it would apply very well to the work setting. It would be very interesting to know her take on that question.
JPL17, I’m glad you raised this question. And Mr. Goldberg, you correctly stated my position. This column was, indeed, intended to apply to social gatherings and not to the workplace. When at your place of employment, unless it’s at the Republican National Committee, the Democratic National Committee or anything of that sort—like a political campaign—my advice is not to talk politics. Not at the water cooler, not anywhere in the workplace. If a social situation includes colleagues from your workplace or industry, the workplace rule of not discussing your politics would supersede the social gathering rule.
So, I’m on record as agreeing with anyone whose own antennae and judgment suggest that a “don’t tell” strategy at work is the best job-protecting policy — as excruciating as that can be. It has one substantial advantage: it guarantees a paycheck.
The second variable is your level of tolerance for conflict compared with your tolerance for the inner turmoil that prompted your email to me. Coming out with your candid political views in a department or office that includes, by your own description, the expectation that “that you will be just as liberal as the socialist working next to you” will exchange one form of discomfort for another. Now, you are suffering in silence.
If, on the other hand, you make your views known in what I gather is a close-knit, even gossipy environment, then the insults will likely be intentional. You can expect anything from under-the-breath negative mumbles to highly audible, heated expressions of intolerance and derision.
Unfortunately, either course — whether you choose silence or speaking out — will result in your discomfort.
The question then becomes whether you want to turn every lunch hour or working hour into a potentially unpleasant argument session or, what may be even worse, subject yourself to being shunned. Revealing your true political views can cause your coworkers to cease treating you as a colleague.
What you decide to do depends upon how much you relish a good fight, and equally, how great your tolerance is to being treated as a pariah. If you speak your mind, you may experience some temporary relief and discover that you can now spend your time in the cafeteria reading a book rather than interacting with colleagues. But there are advantages to collegiality, even faux collegiality, one of them being that if you ever need help, someone will be there to offer it. Being an outcast is not an unmixed blessing at work.
My sense, based on your email, is that if you enjoyed arguments, you would have openly declared your antipathy to Obama in 2007 and by now your colleagues would be accustomed to your difference of opinion.
Even if you’re not a natural-born verbal mud-wrestler, four years of silence compounded by the same four years of working among Obamaphiles may finally have tried your patience to the point that the unremitting enthusiasm for the president has become more than you can bear in silence.
If, after weighing the pros and cons of speaking out, you decide you want to do so, I’d suggest three rules:
(1) Don’t initiate the encounter;
(2) Be calm, matter-of-fact, reasonable, and good-natured, as if you were saying you enjoy six-foot snowfalls, knowing full well that your interlocutor would prefer to live in Longboat Key, Florida; and most importantly,
(3) Try to make the issue not the other person’s views versus yours, but rather the virtue of tolerance for a variety of approaches — not whose view is correct. You could certainly mention that, historically, one of the core values of liberalism was toleration of minority views. That is, in fact, one of the hallmarks of democracy: the rights of minorities are as fully protected as those of the majority. You could even extend your hand and say, in a friendly way, “Why don’t we agree to disagree? We have so much here at work in common that we don’t have to get into who thinks what about which candidate. That’s not as important as getting our work done as well as we can — together.”
This doesn’t mean that you won’t find one of these stuck to your locker door or on the rear bumper of your car:
Or, you could beat them to the punch and preemptively display President Lincoln’s wise words on your locker and bumper first.
Whatever you decide to do, the most important thing to remember is that, in my grandmother’s words: this, too, shall pass. Since FDR, no president has been elected to four consecutive terms. This one has been fortunate to have been granted one term. If only the same could be said for the country.
I didn’t vote for Obama and wasn’t happy when he won. Still, I’m a loyal American and want to see the country to do well even if it means he’s re-elected. But the country isn’t doing well and I find that almost everywhere I go, even among people who agree with his politics, I sense a wave of anger rising up at the president. I’m normally a pretty even-tempered guy and I don’t get emotional about politics or whoever is president, but even I’m feeling irritation when I see him on TV. What is it about this president that’s so exasperating? And how can I deal with my rising level of annoyance with him?
Irritated in Cleveland
“Folks,” as the president likes to refer to Americans outside the Beltway, are getting fed up with him. You ask what it is about President Obama that causes even a normally even-tempered man like you to become incensed. Short answer: his withering condescension.
By way of introduction, a few words on the importance of presidential character in general. If you’re a politician, you don’t want voters’ assessments of your policies to be based on their negative reactions to your personality. The counter-example to Obama is Reagan: people thought he was a sunny, decent, fair, good-natured guy. That was a political advantage, especially with independents and centrists: they were predisposed to give his views a fair hearing (even though they didn’t always agree with his positions) just because they liked him.
One of the great lines in the classic 1978 movie Animal House is uttered by Dean Vernon Wormer, when he says to fraternity pledge Kent “Flounder” Dorfman, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”
Similarly, I’d say that condescending, disdainful, and contemptuous is no way to go through a presidency. Nothing is better guaranteed to alienate your fellow citizens than being addressed as if you’re the only serious adult while they’re not merely in kindergarten, but are among the dimmer five-year-olds in the class.
With Obama, we hear the derision in his mocking tone. We also intuit his nonverbal signals of contempt.
Poker players are well-acquainted with “the tell” — the tiniest of changes in behavior, from a slightly deeper inhalation of breath to a nano-second-lasting twitch that reveals a clue about the cards another player has or signals an upcoming bet in the game. Every player has a different tell, and some tells are genuine while others are purposeful and intended to deceive — an under-the-breath curse word uttered to suggest a bad hand when a the player actually has a terrific hand.
Similar to poker tells are what the psychologist Paul Ekman calls “microexpressions,” which, as the term suggests, are fleeting facial expressions that last from less than a second to a few seconds at most, and reveal the real emotions a person may be trying to conceal, or may unconsciously feel. A teenager’s eyeroll when being chastised would be a microexpression, conveying to the parent or teacher that the experience is way annoying while attempting to seem respectful and cooperative (the sooner to get it over with). If the parent or teacher looks away for a nanosecond, he or she will miss the microexpression — it is that fleeting. Another Ekman-coined term is “leaking,” meaning the unintended expression of an emotion that has inadvertently “leaked” out.
With Obama, the tell or microexpression is invariably a kind of smile, which has “leaked” out. It isn’t a friendly smile; it’s a sneer, a smirk and it’s visible in the videos in this column. When you see him break into a smile as he’s about to answer a question, that’s invariably the tell that he’s about to lob a contemptuous and condescending taunt at the questioner.
Only last week, on July 25, Obama could be seen on TV lecturing us as follows: “Now, what makes today’s stalemate so dangerous is that it has been tied to something known as the debt ceiling — a term that most people outside of Washington have probably never heard of before.” As William Kristol, editor-in-chief of The Weekly Standard, commented,
Consider the condescension implicit in the president’s statement — “a term that most people outside of Washington have probably never heard of before.” These “people outside of Washington” are not little children being lectured on an obscure subject by a worldly adult. These people outside Washington are … citizens. Judging by the polls, most of us have opinions about whether, and under what conditions, the debt ceiling should be raised. We don’t seem to be as ignorant as Obama thinks we are of the term or concept of a debt ceiling. But the president assumes we’ve never bothered our pretty little heads about such a thing…It would be nice to have a president who spoke candidly to his fellow citizens as adults.
Similarly, Commentary’s John Steele Gordon wrote, of the same speech, “Was last night’s speech by President Obama…the moment when American popular opinion froze into an enduring, and negative image of this president? It was classic Obama: elitist, condescending, impolitic, self-obsessed, and dishonest.”
Thanks to the wonders of online video, one can see Obama’s mockery of the kinds of people he doesn’t respect, and hear the derision dripping in his voice when, for example, he referred during the campaign to plumbers. (I wonder how he felt about plumbers five years ago in Chicago when his toilet was blocked and the Drano and the snake he bought didn’t do the trick):
[YouTube Video not Available]
Condescension is an attitude whose implicit message is: “I am superior to you.” It’s gratuitously insulting, it’s anti-democratic and it’s wrong. As few people in public life have demonstrated more vividly than Obama, just because you’re highly-credentialed doesn’t mean you’re either smart or well-educated. And even if someone is bright, that isn’t the only important quality in a president.
The most important qualification for a president isn’t a Harvard degree but rather (a) competence at dealing with other people and working well with others; (b) emotional intelligence, a concept pioneered by psychology writer Daniel Goleman, meaning the ability to read other people’s emotions and being able to behave in a way that takes those feelings into consideration;(c) good judgment; and (d) character.
Character has been described as “how you behave when no one is looking,” and involves basic human decency, empathy, dependability, and the courage to understand what “the right thing” is, and then to do it. Presidents who had it include George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Harry S Truman, and George H.W. Bush.
The character essential to be an effective president is hardly expressed by dismissing and denying the intelligence of “the public” — you know, Obama’s idea of losers who’re trying to get through life without an Ivy League degree. Another way he expresses his condescension is by holding himself up as the only unflappable, self-controlled adult in the room, who’s been tasked with the tiresome duty of dealing with the volatile, immature folks “out there.” In August, 2009, John Knefel found himself irritated by Obama’s condescension in describing his liberal critics as “a little excited,” as if passion and fervor were negative qualities in an advocate:
During an interview with a Philadelphia-based radio show, Obama, once again, mocked and infantilized his critics on the left. Responding to a question by the show’s host, Michael Smerconish, about recent comments made by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about jettisoning the “public option” from the final health care bill, Obama responded, “The press got excited and some folks on the left got a little excited…” What a fantastically dismissive thing to say about health care reform advocates who feel discouraged and betrayed by the administration’s willingness to consider a bill that doesn’t include a public option. They are “excitable” — you know, like children are. Their anger, and the backlash that Obama is facing from liberals, stems from a purely reactionary mindset, apparently. Yes, why on Earth would the announcement that the health care bill might no longer contain any teeth at all cause the left to cry foul? If they were more serious and thoughtful, they wouldn’t be so excitable.
Obama seems to me to have trouble with his own aggression, and his disdainful notion of humor may be one way of expressing it without appearing (to himself, anyway) to be angry. He thinks that appearing cool is his strong suit. When he’s pissed off, he turns to contempt or sarcasm rather than overt anger. He assumes that his true feelings of hostility are concealed by his verbal jabs, when in reality, they’re revealed for all to see.
This is a constant undercurrent in Obama’s response to criticism: to denigrate his detractors by dismissive adjectives and verbs that suggest he’s the only rational one in the room.
In Portland, Maine, on April 1, 2010, he was at it again, this time characterizing opponents of ObamaCare as “hollering,” and purveying “fear mongering” through “overheated rhetoric:”
“There’s been a lot of fear-mongering, a lot of overheated rhetoric. You turned on the news, you’d see that those same folks who were hollering about it before it passed, they’re still hollering, about how the world will end because we passed this bill.”
Another of his favorite put-downs is to say, “But that’s not what’s happening. Instead, they are trotting out the exact same ideas that got us into this mess in the first place.”
“Trotting out,” is condescending. When Obama presents his arguments and his data, he’s being logical. If anyone has counter-arguments or countervailing data, they’re “trotting out” irresponsible drivel.
He seems unable to hold a town hall meeting outside zip codes such as 90210 (Beverly Hills) or 10027 (Columbia University and the Upper West Side of Manhattan) or 02138 (Harvard) or without insulting his audience, as he did in Fairless Hills, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, answering a questioner with ten children, clearly more than Obama found acceptable:
He said, “I notice some folks clapped, but I know some of these big guys, they’re all still driving their big SUVs. You know, they got their big monster trucks and everything. You’re one of them? Well, now, here’s my point. If you’re complaining about the price of gas and you’re only getting eight miles a gallon — (laughter) — you may have a big family, but it’s probably not that big. How many you have? Ten kids, you say? Ten kids? (Laughter.) Well, you definitely need a hybrid van then.”
As veteran White House reporter Keith Koffler wrote of Obama’s response on his blog, www.whitehousedossier.com, in April of this year:
Obama has no idea why the person who called him out – or why anyone, for that matter – has purchased an SUV…. But he assumes they are up to some kind of egregious mischief. We get this little lecture on fuel economy from the president who thinks nothing of trucking a convoy of heavy-duty vehicles 15 miles to go golfing every other weekend, flying to Hawaii every year on vacation, or jetting to New York City date night with his wife – who BTW flew separately last December to Hawaii for the family vacation and took a four day jaunt to Spain.Obama has carved out a nice chunk of change for himself, but the community organizer’s hatred of success and wealth abides within him. There’s real contempt in the first two lines of the statement, with phrases like “their big SUVs.” This is a person who, while pursuing his own success, continues to resent you for yours.
With miniaturized technology such as cell phones that can record video, a politician is virtually never entirely off-the-record. He may think he’s talking to a roomful of like-minded, wealthy, Marin County devotees, but then, wouldn’t you know it, one of them has a video feature on his phone, and the candidate’s intolerance, coupled with his condescension for millions of his fellow Americans whom he neither knows nor understands, goes viral:
When you add it all up, it’s clear that Obama deploys mockery, derision, humiliation, ridicule, contempt, scorn and downright nastiness when he’s outside the comfort zone of people he knows and likes. His forays into the heartland seem to evoke either anxiety or hostility that he tries to mask with what he thinks is humor but that comes across to others as a screeching fingernail across the blackboards of our souls. He’s not the smooth, cool guy his PR machine imagines he is: he’s a snob, and a nasty snob at that. He seems to be utterly unaware of how he comes off: unconscious of the intolerance, the disrespect, and the profound ignorance of how people unlike himself and his cronies live, think and feel.
It’s interesting to compare Obama’s snide condescension with the firm, effective way that Ronald Reagan expressed his exasperation in New Hampshire in 1980 — and he was exasperated. Watch how skillfully he deployed just the right degree of anger as he dealt with the moderator of the debate that was about to begin:
By contrast, when Obama finds himself feeling anger, he strikes back, but not in a comfortable-in-his-own skin Reaganesque way. Because some members of every audience will giggle or laugh, if only out of nervousness, Obama hears the laughter and interprets it as a green light to continue badgering, belittling and demeaning the person whom he believes has challenged him, or is just a man with ten children, a version of family apparently unfamiliar to this president.
Obama’s behavior bears some resemblance to locker room towel-snapping where young men compete to put one another down. In those circumstances, though, it’s a group free-for-all on a level playing field. When Obama deploys his ridicule and arrogance, however, the playing field is far from level: citizens normally feel the need to express respect at least for the office of the president, and invariably for the incumbent in office. In return, this president often behaves like an ill-mannered Ivy League frat boy making fun of a townie. It’s an odious thing to behold, and may be one of the reasons you find yourself irritated by his behavior.
Cumulatively, the continuous repetition of condescending remarks such as these becomes annoying to some, and downright infuriating to others. The “public” — of whom Obama is so dismissive — pays attention to his superciliousness, and remembers what they’ve seen and heard from him.
To quote from Lincoln, the current president would be well-advised to find a way to speak more respectfully to “the better angels of our nature” than to betray his contempt for the millions of citizens who aren’t like him and his friends.
At least half of our politically-divided country will continue to disagree with President Obama’s policies. But is it necessary, or politically wise, for him to aggravate policy differences with his repeated demonstrations of disdain for those whom he is in office to serve?
What irritates you, I believe, irritates many people. Even without the credentials of which the president is so proud, everyone can recognize a snob, and resent the obnoxious disdain that is never far from the surface. My advice? When you see the Seal of the President of the United States on your TV screen,
reach for your remote and switch to a channel that doesn’t broadcast presidential addresses or press conferences. If they all do, then turn off the TV altogether. Life is stressful enough without being irritated by this condescending man.
I live in deep blue America and am a conservative. When I see old friends after a long absence, or meet new people, they assume I’m a liberal Democrat, in part because they are, and also because I live in a blue city in a blue state. I don’t like to argue in social settings, so normally I don’t reveal my political views. I can deal with differences of opinion, but what I find increasingly unpleasant is how smug and nasty liberal Democrats are when referring to conservatives, Republicans, or even independents. I’d like to remain close to old friends and form new friendships, too. How do you suggest I deal with the demeaning attitudes and intense anger that so many liberals express toward conservatives these days?
— Adrift in San Francisco
(1) It is unpleasant to be treated as a moron, or criminally insane, a traitor to all that’s good and true, and, of course, a pariah, just because of your politics. It’s even more than unpleasant to incur wrath because you don’t want to dive head first into the blue seas of the liberal Democrats around you. In regions like yours it’s easy to be blindsided — stunned, really — by the unanimity of idolatry toward the current president. It’s galling to be presented with this uncongenial Venti, topped off as it invariably is by the latte of condescension. Disdainful liberals are unable to hide their contempt for those who differ with them. You begin what seems like an enjoyable conversation, but as soon you declare your political perspective, you go from being an attractive object of interest to the objectionable equivalent of a social leper.
(2) As soon as you realize that you’ve been presumed to be a liberal, nip it in the bud. Say that you’re a conservative. And say it as calmly as you can, not as if it’s a challenge to a duel. You may have to practice while you’re doing the dishes, but get to a point where you can say it with the same nonchalance as if you’re saying, “I’m from Nebraska.” No big deal. If you don’t reveal your politics as soon as you realize that the other person presumes you’re a liberal, you’ll become increasingly restless in the political closet as you mutely endure the slings and arrows of outrageous insults heaped on you and your fellow conservatives. You’ll also find yourself annoyed, not least at yourself, as you suffer through the predictable barrage of liberal arrogance. However conflict-averse you may be, not revealing your true colors is like trying to pass as something you’re not. Silence implies assent, and your silence won’t serve you well.
If you don’t disclose where you stand early on, you’ll become ever more irritated by how your liberal friends — having assumed you were one of them — refer to conservatives, and by the time you do tell them the truth, you’ll be far more exasperated than if you’d spoken up immediately. By the same token, your liberal friends will be equally irritated at you. They’ll feel that you deceived them which, by your silence, is exactly what you did.
(3) Your tone matters. Don’t be defensive, condescending, or aggressive with others, even when, or especially when, they address you in these ways. Be clear and friendly — and give them a chance to continue the conversation or let it drop.
(4) Your implied fear that expressing your political perspective may drive a wedge between you and your new and old friends is justified. It will put some distance between you and them, but in this case good fences make good neighbors by clearly demarcating the potentially toxic territory between you and them.
Think of it this way: if relationships are structures, revealing your political views will ensure that yours are built on firm ground and not on the quicksand of implicit deceit.
Even without a heated argument, a calm discussion is difficult to have with many liberals because they limit themselves to so few sources of information. An interesting exchange is foreclosed by their willful ignorance. It can be like talking with a cult member whose involvement forbids contact with anything that isn’t cult-approved.
When your interlocutor reads the New York Times and The New Yorker, listens to National Public Radio, and watches The Rachel Maddow Show — all uncritically and in the mistaken belief that these are objective sources of accurate information, what you’re dealing with is a person with an extremely restricted understanding of the country and the world. These parochial news sources reinforce one another. And even worse, the liberal will usually refuse to expose him-or-herself to a wider variety of sources. I, myself, had the experience of emailing a liberal acquaintance a link to an insightful op-ed piece that appeared in a newspaper that is, apparently, on the liberal “do not read” list. In reply, he wrote, “The Wall Street Journal? Please take me off your distribution list, Belladonna.” Wouldn’t even read it. He saw the source, knew it wasn’t approved, and that was that.
(5) What not to do: Don’t think you can convert a liberal to your views. Political affiliation has become a matter of tribal and personal identification with a group. Although it may appear to be rational, it isn’t, entirely. It’s emotional. The desire to remain a liberal, even in the face of all the evidence of its failures, is born of humanity’s — and all living creatures’ — deepest instincts to affiliate with others and to retain that affiliation regardless of logic or facts. Not everyone has either the desire or the need to think analytically about political realities. Many base their politics on a yearning to be part of a movement larger than themselves.
By revealing that you’re a conservative, what the liberal will hear is this: “I could have chosen to be a member of your tribe, but I’ve decided your tribe doesn’t represent my understanding of the world.” What this, in turn, conveys to the liberal is, “I’ve rejected the premises that undergird your entire world view. The foundations of your understanding of the world are not mine.”
While people can and do change, they don’t turn around on a dime because of a single powerful conversation over drinks or dinner. Change occurs, if at all, over years or decades, through the slow accretion of new or newly-understood information and newly-formed impressions, as well as through the gradual accumulation of experiences and observations.
(6) Adult friends cannot and do not agree on everything. You can try in an amicable way to agree to disagree on politics. You can look for other areas of commonality. You may or may not succeed in your search.
It’s also possible that your differing political views are too powerful to sustain a close friendship, even if you succeed in finding other areas of mutual interest. The enormity of your political differences may always be the rogue elephant looming in the corner, ready to trample on discussions of a wide variety of other topics.
(7) When revealing that they’re not liberals, some conservatives will add, “I’m a fiscal conservative and a foreign policy hawk, but on domestic social issues such as abortion, gun control and gay marriage, I think you and I would agree.” Of course, if that’s not true of you, that option isn’t available.
(8) Many conservative women, in particular, encounter liberal men in social settings who become uncontrollably loud and abusive when a conservative woman fails to nod pleasantly and express respectful agreement with his political views. When this happens, remain as cool as you can. Hold your ground. Let the liberal become apoplectic while you calmly say, “I disagree with your characterization” or “I don’t share your contempt,” “I don’t accept your premises,” or “I see things differently.”
You be the rational one, while the liberal is driven around the bend not only by your views and your knowledgeable statement of facts, but also by your composure and your refusal to be bullied.
Don’t be surprised or stunned into silence or submission when this happens. And it will happen. Expect it. Trust me.
(9) Try to be patient with your liberal friends. Their unexamined premises and their overwhelming desire for affiliation with their tribe are understandable, and not everyone has the temperament or inclination to think for him-or-herself. They’re like prisoners trapped in a dungeon, unable to escape.
(10) You could approach the challenge this way: try to show the liberals in your life what a thoughtful conservative is really like — as distinct from the demented fiend on the lunatic fringe conjured by their fevered imaginations.
You betcha I’m worked up over this. But according to the knowledgeable, not to mention illuminating Coral Davenport, the energy and environment correspondent of National Journal, the possibility of changing the Light Bulb law is DOA. The ill-considered 2007 law that will end reading by electrical light as we know it will go into effect as ill-planned, in 2012.
As Ms. Davenport writes, to my sorrow, “Despite all the political crossfire over lightbulbs, it’s unlikely that Republicans will succeed: The House vote will take place under a procedural rule requiring a two-thirds majority, which makes it uncertain whether it will pass—while it is certain to die in the Democratic-controlled Senate. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R. Va., had scheduled a vote for Monday evening, but it’s being pushed back until Tuesday, his office said Monday morning.
“The provision requires that by 2012, lightbulb manufacturers produce bulbs that generate the same amount of light but use less electricity to do it. It would not outlaw incandescent bulbs, nor mandate production of the curlicue-shaped compact fluorescent bulbs…
“At the time it was introduced, the legislation was championed by Democratic and Republican leaders alike. The original 2007 lightbulb efficiency language was cosponsored by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Ill. It passed easily through the House Energy and Commerce Committee and was added as an amendment to a bill that passed the Senate by a vote of 86-8, passed the House by a vote of 314-100, and was signed into law by President George W. Bush.”
I could go on, but I have to rush out to Home Depot to scoop up what’s left of the greatness of the 20th century. I feel toward our country now as did the British Foreign Secretary toward Europe on the eve of the First World War. It was reportedly Sir Edward Grey, who, standing at dusk at his window in the Foreign Office, looking out as the gas street lamps were being ignited, memorably said, “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time.”