My favorite movie is Harvey, the Jimmy Stewart comedy classic about a man named Elwood P Dowd with an over-fondness for drink. Dowd not only claims to see a six-foot, three-and-a-half-inch tall invisible rabbit, but he believes he has befriended the rabbit, and he believes the rabbit provides him sage counsel. His sister, embarrassed by the scandal this has caused among polite society, attempts to have him committed to a psychiatric facility against his will, and hilarity ensues. Dowd, through the whole rigmarole, maintains an air of joy and kindness for all around him.
Toward the end of the film, when Veta, the sister, is finally about to succeed in having her brother committed, there is a wonderful exchange with the psychiatrist, who cannot understand how Dowd is not completely outraged at all that has been done against him. It’s then that he delivers my favorite lines of the film:
“Years ago, my mother used to say to me – ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh, so smart or oh, so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. And you may quote me.”
In the midst of all our current political turmoil, there are plenty of voices claiming to be smart, to have some insight no one else has, and mostly to have the unique knowledge to understand why we should be so outraged. I know, because I am sometimes the leader of that pack. And please do not think I’m attempting to minimize the very real and existential threats being posed by our current government.
But do we have to be unpleasant? Here’s what I fear – that in attempting to win a battle, we could forget why we are waging the war. Nowhere was this better demonstrated than the Democrat’s response after the vote to enact Trumpcare in the House. Rather than turn toward those whose lives will be devastated if this legislation actually passes, they turned toward their Republican colleagues and frequent foes in derision over the perceived possibility of a huge GOP loss similar to that which the Democrats experienced in 2010 after the passage of the ACA.
There are at least two problems with the Democrats’ actions. First, as smart as the Ds might be, a 2018 change in power is a long, long way away, especially if their first reaction has more to do with who’s right than with who’s harmed by this horrible bill. But second, and far more importantly, most Americans don’t give a fig about which party is in power. Despite the volume of voices on the left and right, most people aren’t particularly political – they care about which party and its members will represent their needs and interests. And turning decisions that affect people’s lives into Red and Blue decisions doesn’t increase folks’ confidence that the Democrats understand the deep crisis we face as a nation.
I am a former Republican and a reluctant Democrat. These days I pick a party the same way I buy seafood in Kentucky – it’s not the most fresh, but it’s the closest thing to what I’m looking for that I can find. But, like so many others who are outraged at the terrible actions of this current administration, I want to know there are people willing to step up to the plate of public office with the needs of this country placed well above the needs of their ego. Until we can find a way to disagree with each other politically while still caring for each other humanly, the terrible unpleasantness is what will be stuck with.