Dear Mr. President,
My friend and coworker wrote a short piece on the reliable pleasure of reading Kurt Vonnegut for our bookstore's blog. Comfort reading, returning to a familiar author for the needed reminder of why I read, is something I often find myself in need of. His post recalled my own affection for Vonnegut, and my sadness at his passing. Vonnegut's writing shaped the way that many of my generation approached the world; his humanism and his compassion are certainly things that I strive to emulate in my own life. As Jon Stewart told him once, he made adolescence bearable. Thinking about him today I couldn't help but wonder how he would feel about our country as it is now. How disappointed he might be with us, and how much easier and more absurd the horrible things would all seem if he were still here to comment on them.
If comfort reading is how I escape temporary frustrations with the written word, than I certainly spent my morning occupied with its political equivalent. Sometimes, when the political world gets too frustrating, too disgusting or too bleak, I turn to the familiar comfort and reliable entertainment of baiting Glenn Beck fans. It isn't a nice thing to do, I suppose, and probably not enough of an intellectual exercise to even make it good practice for real debate, but I feel like I'm allowed a certain amount of pleasure on what is definitely one of the toughest days I've had in a while. And so, when confronted with the question "how is Glenn Beck a racist?" by one of his groupies, I felt compelled to answer.
I think what comforts me about arguing with Beck's ilk is that it offers a clear opportunity to articulate my opinions and positions to a clear opponent. Beck's divisive, bigoted and ignorant rants are exactly the sort of thing I stand in opposition to. They are an affront to my values, a poison to our political discourse and one of the last havens for the idea that Real America is the birthright of the white, english-speaking, Judeo-Christian middle class. And, despite all of this, I still believe Beck has every right to say the hateful and stupid things that he says (even, unfortunately, in the historical shadow of much better men.) This feeling is a comforting reminder that I have not lost all perspective for the sake of my partisan beliefs. That I still see the struggle between Right and Left in ideological and not apocalyptic terms. In short, as petty as it may seem, I am merely reassuring myself that for all the comfort of a clearly identified opponent, I have not yet sunk to his level. That Mr. Vonnegut taught me well, and his lessons have not been drown out by my impassioned, emotional reactions.
So much of my time discussing politics feels like war. Two (or more) sides stubbornly entrenched and unwilling to even consider their opposition to be human. Willfully entering a fight like this, just to remind myself that it can be fun, keeps me from sinking into the combative mentality too deeply. Maybe that's unforgivably smug and self-satisfied. I think, so long as Mr. Beck enjoys the right to keep spewing his nonsense, I will enjoy my right to challenge those who are buying into it.
I hope that tomorrow doesn't devolve into something really awful, that Mr. Beck and his supporters remember the great men who stood in that place before them and act accordingly. If not, well, as Mr. Vonnegut said, so it goes.