When I lived in France, there were certain scary and unexpected political moments involving the rise of the Front National, Le Pen’s party. I protested in the streets of Paris against Haider’s reign in Austria. And now I am back in the US and have to confront the Tea Party. I do not have much to say about it yet. There is a lot to learn, if I can even stand to do it.
In this context, though, there is something very appealing about the television series 30 Rock. The show makes you long for the existence of more relationships like the one between Tina Fey’s character (Liz Lemon) and Alec Baldwin’s (Jack Donaghy). Between Democrats and Republicans. I have mentioned in previous posts that in my now-ex-hometown of Clermont-Ferrand (France), many Americans I knew were Republicans from the South. At first – no, frankly for years – we circled each other warily, not sure what to say. All the while, politics stood there like a huge elephant in the room. Or donkey.
And then my friend Julie’s husband, Vic, became my Jack Donaghy. At first, Julie herself orchestrated this. She would do things like stand between us at a magazine counter in a Relais, feign neutrality, and say sweetly, “Vic, what do you want here, the New Yorker?” Vic’s gallant way of refusing this or a similar suggestion would send me into fits of giggling. And then I was charmed. (I never bought the New Yorker in front of him because, as he rightly suspected, I had an international subscription). The reason I was charmed was that, although we do not agree on some things, we agree that one should reason through an argument, and have evidence – real evidence – for it. Vic simply takes the time to read much more than I do and, here is the kicker, he thinks about the other side and, in so doing, he (at least) pretends to respect me.
I find this compelling because I am from a family that is divided. One time at the dinner table in Russell, Kansas, my great Aunt Lucille stopped a conversation by stating, “If there is anything I hate more than politics, it’s Democrats.” That political category included people at the table such as my mother and myself. So we shut up and rearranged napkins and cutlery for a while. At that moment Bob Dole, a child of Russell himself, was running for office, so maybe this tension wasn’t unexpected, but I still felt antsy. I have had a lot of run-ins with Dole. His family ran the wheat elevator in Russell, and my granddad and great uncle were wheat farmers. In fact, my dad sold a load of wheat at that elevator in order to buy my mother’s wedding ring. So we exchanged pointed letters when he was Minority Leader and we exchanged barbed emails during the Obama campaign. Dole doesn’t feign openness to my opinions, but it is hard in light of my ability to go for the jugular and use his family and mine to make my point.
In contrast, Vic and I moved into the 30 Rock phase. After a few fits and starts I took to interviewing him about his political position, or at least his knowledge of that position, every time I saw him. Tell me about this, Vic, I would say: High. Speed. Trains. Why not? And then Julie and whoever else was around would roll their eyes, or open more wine bottles, and hope desperately that we would stop.
Of course we didn’t because for me at least it was far too much fun. And this fact allowed me to have another similar relationship, with Preston. At a dinner not too long ago, Preston looked at me and said, “Paula, I’ll tell you something. I read George Bush’s book, and I think you should too.” I looked right back at him without skipping a beat and said, “Preston, I’ll think about it.” My friend Clarrette, Preston’s wife, almost fell off her chair laughing. “Girl, I am so proud of you,” she said, wiping her eyes. “To think that you would sit there and just think about it. I am proud.”
I recently read an article pining away for Bob Dole. Opinions are so much more divided now than when Dole was in politics. A Dole Republican is nothing next to the Tea Party. While that may be true, I don’t want Dole. Still, my Aunt Lucille spoke for the whole country when she said that she hated Democrats because, right in “mixed” company, she frankly voiced the way everyone was feeling about the other party then. It is even more the case now. So if a Vic or a Preston keeps someone like me open to listening, that is a very valuable thing. I probably will not watch Fox News. But at least I’ll call Vic or Preston when I need them.