I arrived at the residence of the US ambassador to Sweden ready for a rigorous debate. I was prepared and ready to share my ideas. My husband and my dog had walked with me over to their house and as he kissed me good-bye, he said, "Be nice." Huh. Wonder why he'd feel compelled to say that!
Since I'd missed the September book club meeting I was very excited to see my friends as well. It was great seeing everyone and Judy, our gracious hostess, had the house looking amazing. She had just returned from D.C. where they reside when they are not being the US ambassador and wife, and had brought with her loads of bi-partisan election paraphernalia...only in America would you find cut out paper dolls of John McCain and bobble head Barack Obamas. The table was beautifully set complete with lovely orchid center pieces that were set in buckets that had been painted with either Democrat or Republican! It was adorable. She had made up a ballot box and asked us all to vote upon arrival. The house looked great and it was such a great experience to arrive there and know that we were going to be talking about American politics all night long!
Judy was well prepared and led an amazing discussion. We didn't actually talk much about the books but instead talked politics. She asked a series of questions to which we tried to answer yes or no and the discussions ensued from there. Hot topics included the media, taxation, religion, the choosing of Supreme Court judges, and the Vice Presidential candidates. (funny side note...I just wrote presidenTAIL instead of presidential...there's got to be a Sarah Palin joke in there somewhere!) Where to begin?
12 women, seated around a beautifully set table, being fed gorgeous food, drinking even more gorgeous wine, talking about subjects that we all care about very much. I knew of two conservatives sitting around the table for sure. One is a dear friend of mine and she sat right next to me. Two democrats sat across from me and it was fun exchanging facial expressions throughout the night. I was directly to the right of Judy, our hostess/moderator for the evening.
The debate was indeed rigorous, but civil. we disagreed on many points and agreed on others. For sure, Obama love dominated the atmosphere, but not in an overwhelming sort of way. Several of the women were still pretty disappointed that Hillary didn't make it and they were reluctant Obama supporters.
The media discussion fascinated me. Most thought the media are horrible liberal and one even made the case for Fox's "balanced" reporting. I scoffed. Fox is not balanced. Perhaps it has its role in our society but to claim it at least tried to present the other side and therefore is more fair is ridiculous. I and one other were about the only 2 who felt that CNN is not that liberal. We agreed it was good to watch multiple news outlets, not just the ones you love.
The request was, "Raise your hand if religion shapes your political beliefs." Guess who raised her hand? me. I was shocked that no one else raised their hand. I made the comment that my religious beliefs have absolutely shaped everything that I am about politically. One friend, who knows me pretty well, responded by saying, "Well, then you'd be voting for John McCain." I went ballistic. Why is it that if you are a religious person, then politically, you must be conservative? Where is the religious voice for compassion, concern for the poor, and a fight for life that includes stopping all forms of violence including gun use, war, and capital punishment? I was livid. So I asked, "Who here would say that the religious conversation in America impacts you in a negative way?" Everyone else raised their hand. (Mainly because most are pro legal abortion and favor civil rights for gay marriages.) I felt utterly depressed and simply said, "I do need to write a book." Here's a note to conservative Evangelicals...your message isn't playing well. In fact, it turns off the people who don't reside inside your circle of power. You might want to re-think your strategy.
No one came right out and said they were a fan of Palin, and in fact, most were dubious at best that she was on the political scene. Her nomination had sealed some people's votes...that is, it ensured that they voted for Obama. In our house vote, someone had voted for McCain not Palin. Pretty funny.
On Supreme Court appointees, we all had to admit that the Court hasn't done anything to really screw things up even with the two conservatives that Bush has appointed during this last term. I did however raise the issue that in 2000 the Supreme Court blew it by getting involved in the outcome of the Florida voting procedure when Bush and Gore were going at it. I didn't say that the Supreme Court stole the election for Bush but I did say that their role in preventing a bonafide recount was wrong.
The discussion around taxation and the economy was probably the most heated. Quite frankly, I really like what Obama has set forth as his plan, and I really don't like what McCain has set forth in his. My finest moment came when I was saying, "I'd be happy if someone would explain to me why the Republican taxation plan is a good one because honestly, it makes no sense to me." when at that very moment, the ambassador walked in. I don't know Michael and I really don't even know if we've ever been fully introduced. But suddenly he knew where I stood on one of the most hallowed topics to Republicans! When the discussion turned to the amount of money that rich people pay in taxes, Judy looked me square in the eye and asked, "Do you think rich people should have to pay more tax than poor people?" And I said, "Yes, I do. Because no matter how much tax rich people have to pay, the amount of money that they have left over is still tons. So paying tax doesn't really affect their lifestyle much at all. Whereas, for lower income people, any amount of tax paid, really affects their disposable income level and therefore hurts them more." If we looked at after tax incomes, I think we'd get a clear picture that the rich are not being asked to sacrifice much. What I was really thinking was that I think in the core of my heart I am a bit of a socialist but I couldn't bring myself to uttering that out loud so instead I said, "Look, I just think that those who can do more should do more to help those who have it a lot worse." Judy's response was gracious. She said something to the effect that my politics match my preaching and that makes her happy.
As Michael left the room, I shook his hand, thanked him for having us and expressed my deepest gratitude for the fact that we can have this great debate and disagree so vigorously. That's part of what makes it great to be an American. He agreed.
We did finally get around to the books. Most felt there were difficult to read and not that inspiring. Some thought Obama's was too focused on race, which made me crazy since that was the central theme he was writing about in Dreams. Most didn't enjoy McCain's "bragging" spirit around how poorly he had done at the Naval Academy, but all were moved by his experience in a Viet Nam prison. We had some strong disagreement regarding America's use of torture. Some didn't think it was all that bad. Others of us felt that it was completely and utterly out of line. I was moved again when I spoke of what touched me most in McCain's book: The need to connect with other humans no matter what obstacles were in the way, the moving account of celebrating Christmas in prison, and the grief they experienced when released. I spoke of the hope that Obama gives me for understanding the complexity of race and class in America. I just believe he "gets" how unjust our society can be from a systemic perspective and I have hopes that he will help correct some of the ways in which we disadvantage the folks who live on the fringe of our society. I could've talked about the books a bit more, but I also enjoyed the politically charged discussion.
To conclude, we ended up voting 8 for Obama, 4 for McCain. 'd be thrilled with a similar National outcome! During the time that Michael was with us, he admitted that he thought that Obama would win and that something unexpected would happen that would affect the way in which he would govern. As he put it, the world will intervene. He's probably right. But when the surprises come, I'll be very happy if Obama is in charge and I'll be very nervous if the opposite occurs next Tuesday. Judy and Michael have invited all of us to a breakfast in the wee hours of the morning next Wednesday to watch the election returns and to discuss what lies ahead for the next US president. I have to miss it. I'll be in Italy. I feel a bit sad about missing the breakfast, but feel pretty excited about hooking up with one of my best friends from college in Rome.
The next book we read is Pillars of the Earth. The church doesn't come out looking good in that novel so I'll have much to defend. But where there is no defense, I continue to hope that in my small way perhaps I can help to redeem old attitudes about the church and Christianity that are so negative.