In 2004, the day after George Bush was re-elected, New York was a sullen place.  At lunch, I sat next to one of my favorite New York liberals in brooding silence for a while, and then her sadness and rage suddenly erupted.

"I just didn't realize," she said, "that America hated me."

What do you say to that?  America didn't hate her; America didn't know her.  America mostly wasn't thinking about her.  Yes, I've no doubt that the more tribal political partisans were cackling at the thought of grieving New York liberals (and in 2006, their liberal counterparts were prowling the internet for pleasurable nuggets of schadenfreude--no, don't deny it, I physically watched them do it.)  But most people hadn't been thinking about my companion when they voted.  They'd been thinking about themselves.  They'd been trying to do, in their own hamfisted and probably ignorant way, the best thing for themselves and their country.

I've got a fine sense of deja vu after reading this on Andrew's page:

I simply cannot grasp what motivates these people, what compels them to thwart even the smallest attempts to clean up the enormous destruction they wrought under Bush and Cheney. Irresponsible, hateful, mendacious, sleazy, destructive - these words do not even begin to describe them.

I am unemployed and have not found a new job after almost a year of searching. I have a mortgage. I also have a preexisting medical condition, thanks to emergency surgery I had to undergo nearly 18 months ago. My unemployment benefits expire in five months, my COBRA not long after. Like untold millions of Americans, I am preparing for the worst as the economy slogs through its agonizing turnaround.

I voted for Obama with proud but open eyes, knowing full well not just the magnitude of the tasks he faced, but the pure, unrestrained malevolence of his opposition. Health care reform will unquestionably help people like me. And now some low-rent hairdo, whose sole claim to fame is posing naked for some ladies' magazine way back when, may happily destroy whatever chance this country has at moving in a more just, humane, and morally and fiscally responsible direction.

As you stated, the Republican Party of this new century is shot through with nihilists. Unabashed nihilists. But what leaves me shaking with anger damn near every day since President Obama's inauguration is the pure smugness and nonchalance of their nihilism

The past year has been a very difficult one for me, personally and professionally. I've been up a lot more than I've been down, and I've been angry and frustrated with life, as we all are at times. But I can't remember the last time I felt such overwhelming rage toward a group of people as I have felt toward the Republican Party and the conservative movement since President Obama's election.

I simply cannot grasp what motivates these people, what compels them to thwart even the smallest attempts to clean up the enormous destruction they wrought under Bush and Cheney. Irresponsible, hateful, mendacious, sleazy, destructive - these words do not even begin to describe them.

I am unemployed and have not found a new job after almost a year of searching. I have a mortgage. I also have a preexisting medical condition, thanks to emergency surgery I had to undergo nearly 18 months ago. My unemployment benefits expire in five months, my COBRA not long after. Like untold millions of Americans, I am preparing for the worst as the economy slogs through its agonizing turnaround.

I voted for Obama with proud but open eyes, knowing full well not just the magnitude of the tasks he faced, but the pure, unrestrained malevolence of his opposition. Health care reform will unquestionably help people like me. And now some low-rent hairdo, whose sole claim to fame is posing naked for some ladies' magazine way back when, may happily destroy whatever chance this country has at moving in a more just, humane, and morally and fiscally responsible direction.

As you stated, the Republican Party of this new century is shot through with nihilists. Unabashed nihilists. But what leaves me shaking with anger damn near every day since President Obama's inauguration is the pure smugness and nonchalance of their nihilism

Saying that you "cannot grasp" what motivates others is supposed to indicate their utter moral turpitude, I suppose.  And in the case of say, people who rape children, yes, it's true:  I cannot grasp it.  Can't imagine.  Don't want to.

But when you're using it as a dodge to avoid grappling with the opinion of well over half your fellow countrymen, this won't do.  Being unable to imagine what the majority of Americans might be thinking doesn't indicate a problem with them.  It suggests you kind of need to get out more.  Ask around.  If there's one thing any American is always happy to share, it's his opinion.

But for the shut-ins, and those who are too busy with their needlepoint, I have a useful little shortcut that you can use to try and understand why this vast, pulsating blob of undifferentiated evildoers might be opposing the Democrats' health care agenda:  they think it's a bad idea.

That's not so hard to imagine, is it?  You have had ideas, and you have opposed the bad ideas of others.  You have experience in the domain, so to speak.  Think of it as sort of a visualization device. 

The next time you are trying to imagine why the people who disagree with you are actively promoting the destruction of all that is good in the universe, grab a soothing cup of mint tea, put your feet up on a comfy pillow, and then close your eyes and imagine what those people would look like campaigning against something that is a very bad idea.  99 times out of a hundred, you'll find that they look . . . well, exactly like they look when they're campaigning against your idea.  And suddenly the whole thing is no longer so inexplicable, isn't it?

I mean, we all know that that's ridiculous, because you have never in your life been wrong about any major question, or had a bad idea of your own, which is why you are so fabulously wealthy and married to the first person you ever dated, who is even now smiling at you in blissful perfection from the arms of your four flawless children.  But they don't know that, you see.  As I think I've mentioned, they haven't met you.  They won't know anything about you until you finally accept that Nobel Peace Prize.  So you'll have to content yourself with understanding that while you, personally, may never be in error, other well meaning people sometimes are.  And then still other well-meaning people have to get up off the sofa and point this out, lest they lead the entire nation astray.

This does not require arguing that the people who oppose you are right.  Obviously, if you thought that, they wouldn't be opposing you.  It just requires a little more empathy, a little less tribalism.

When I realized that health care was probably going to pass, I was, as you can imagine, sort of unhappy.  I thought that this was, over the long run, very likely to result in the untimely deaths of lots of people, maybe including me.  I may have been in error about this belief--but it was sincerely held.

Had I gone off into a despairing and rage-filled rant about how I just could not understand how all those people could be so determined to kill millions and millions of innocent people with their stupid central planning schemes that never work, haven't they seen what happened to the Soviet Union, ferchrissakes . . . should my views get a respectful hearing?  I think not.  Had I said anything like that, I would have sounded like an idiot.  As, indeed, some of the more benighted conservative commentators kind of did.

Because it's not that hard to understand why the people on the other side want what they want.  They look at people without insurance, and they want to help them.  I'd like to help them too.  They believe, as I do not, that the government will be able to muster the political will to control costs.  They believe, as I do not, centralized government planning will improve the health care system rather than being hijacked by special interests within it.  They believe, as I do not, that there is so much fat and waste in the pharma and medical technology industries that they can considerably reduce reimbursements without reducing useful innovation and thereby condemning those who might have been saved to an early death.  These are not unreasonable beliefs.  Neither are mine.

In a situation like that, it is natural to despair that those who oppose you have made a tragic error.  But if you want to rage, rage against the universe that provides us too little information, and too limited brains, to make perfect choices every time.  If Coakley wins (or Brown does and the Democrats manage, against my expectation, to pass something anyway), I won't be happy about it.  But I don't need to go inventing evils where none exist, for the sheer joy of venting my unhappiness on a person.  Life is too short for me to spend any time manufacturing hatred for strangers.


Update:  A friend emails Mad Men put it this way in season 1: "I hate to break it to you but there is no big lie. There is no system. The universe is indifferent." --Don Draper

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