William F. Buckley, Jr. spoke at my undergrad commencement ceremony. At the time, I didn’t really know who he was or why he was important and it didn’t help that I couldn’t understand a word he was saying through the crappy PA system. Fast forward more than twenty-five-years later, and there he is in black and white in my den, courtesy of a 2015 documentary called “The Best of Enemies.” It chronicles the 1968 debates between Mr. Buckley and another “great thinker” of our time, Gore Vidal. The tagline of the film reads like this:
Television would never be the same.
And it wasn’t. In fact, many believe this was the beginning of television punditry. For ABC, it was a boon to their falling ratings—a stunt to draw viewers during the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach and the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. This outstanding bit of film making gives insight into events that occurred before I was born. Events that are still relevant for what they meant back then…as well as what they represent today—nearly five decades later.
The conservative Buckley and liberal Vidal clash on screen again and again. Their arguments are agile and erudite…and brilliant in how they manage to land punches while making compelling arguments for and against the candidates. You simply cannot look away from these two as they go at it…both incredibly intelligent, passionate and well-spoken. Both determined to have the last word. And, in the end, each obsessed with delivering the deathblow to the other. Clearly they love to hate one another. So much so, that when Buckley dies some years later, Gore Vidal appears to be left somewhat bereft of his “frenemy.” It’s really a great doc and I highly recommend it… It’s available from Netflix.
When it comes to my own political views, I am Switzerland. At least publicly, anyway. I’m well aware that no one is listening to me on the radio or reading my books to hear my thoughts on the issues of the day. Quite the opposite, actually. My mission is to create a safe place for anyone who wants to stop and hear the music I play or read the words that I write. You are welcome here—no matter who you voted for or where you come down on whatever today’s hot topic happens to be.
That is not to say that I don’t have an opinion…
The truth is that I’m very much committed to my political views—though I’m happy to hear out anyone who wants to present an alternative stance. Those bits of back-and-forth usually come from a relative or friend of the family since I don’t engage in public political discourse. And believe me when I tell you that things can get heated! We debate, we roll our eyes at one another, we harrumph and guffaw and snort and sigh. I’ve been known to slam my hand on a table or two. But then we all calm down, agree to disagree and promise never to bring up politics or religion or (insert controversial topic here) again. Until we do.
Because we always do.
As my sister-in-law says, nothing is black and white. There are plenty of conservative liberals and liberal conservatives…it just seems to me that they’re often drowned out—sometimes thrown out—by their respective parties for collaborating with “the enemy”…punished for standing up for what they believe in if it doesn’t totally jibe with the party’s stance. What I want to know is, when did the American people become the enemy? When did taking political office require loyalty to one’s party above one’s constituents? I have so much respect for the senators and congressional leaders who have held out on key issues—refusing to follow party line—because a piece of legislature would not serve the community they serve. Now that’s true representation.
My point here is that we all have a duty—a responsibility—to stand up for what we feel is right and just and true. But, at the same time, we have to remember that not everyone who disagrees with us is the enemy. They’re our neighbors and colleagues and friends and family members. And, while loving to hate someone makes for compelling television, it makes for an exhausting reality. Why waste time trying to change one another’s minds? It only breeds contempt and drives wedges in relationships, families, communities.
There is plenty of middle ground between us—if we just stop long enough to look for it.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below:
Were you around for those 1968 debates? What do you remember about them and the response to them?
Are you politically at odds with people close to you? How do you handle that? Are you able to have intelligent discourse or do get-togethers have to be a “no politics” zone?
Do you believe there’s any middle ground to be had?