This anecdote is being published without the knowledge of the person to whom I interacted with. As such, her name, and any attributing information will be withheld.
So I’m sitting down in a New England hotel bar, excited that I finally found some time to take advantage of the restaurant’s Happy Hour. I order an appetizer and a cold stout confident that my bank account will be both happy with the fact that the drink hadn’t cost more than a whole case’s worth at Costco, and that I am collecting precious points, damn it. The appetizer, as a side, happens to be grilled artichoke hearts, which, it turns out, are ridiculously hard to eat but nonetheless delicious. More on this later.
A woman asks if the seat two away to my right is taken and I respond by saying I didn’t think so (I was the only one at the restaurant.) She is thin, close to being middle aged, casually dressed, with reading glasses. I continue reading RSS feeds on my phone, and catching up with the day’s happenings. She orders a glass of white wine, the kind she had the day previous as the bartender recalled and a small plate to eat.
I honestly can’t remember at what point conversation started, but I do remember that it was over something ludacris being shown at the time on CNN (I know, I’m totally surprised too) over the telly atop the bar. Small talk ensued. Where are you from, oh cool, where are you from? oh, interesting! This, that, and the other.
She told me that she was originally from California, and that her family used to spend summer months on Vancouver Island, and this was of course a point of convergence, as I too enjoyed many peaceful hours along Canada’s west coast. We talked about the leisured nature of life on the Island, and being able to completely switch off and forget about the world. We talked about the beautiful drive that one would take between California and British Columbia. Along the coast from San Diego, to LA, San Francisco, into Portland, Seattle, and up; hours along the shoreline reminds one why this part of the world is the envy of many who choose the western American continent as a place to live.
Then the conversation changes:
California is not what it used to be…
She told me. uh oh, I thought to myself; this could go on in many directions. Continuing, in paraphrase:
The state is now hugely in debt, and immigration is a real issue. This country was founded upon…
What proceeded was something right out of Fox & Friends.It was incredible. I’d never experienced something like this before. The divisive right-wing rhetoric was being used as talking points by a person who be her own account, was not politically active, nor particularly politically involved. Though she did not tell me that she wasn’t part of a lobbying group, or a PAC, or working for any certain politician. It seemed that she found herself wandering the streets of New England on vacation, and also searching archives to find the origins of a friend’s parents (or grandparents), where they were from, and how they got there.
We went on talking abstractly, and at least on my part, inarticulately, about health care, immigration, debt, perceived debt, deficits, and all the other things that keep the Right up at night. I offered a moral necessity in taking care of each other as a society, the social contract as so aptly put by Rousseau, that money, profits, and the “markets” should not be involved in determining who gets to live or die. I got back the, in this country we pick each other up by our own bootstraps… FREEDOM! jargon.
It is during this point that I realize that I have been chewing on this second piece of grilled artichoke for about five minutes, and nothing seems to be happening. No disintegration of any sort. Questions, doubt, and fears of amatuer dining behaviour (yes, that is a real thing), cloud my mind. Am I supposed to be eating this part whole? Am I supposed to take a bite out of a certain portion and leave the rest? IS THIS HURTING MY ARGUMENTS ON HEALTH CARE!?!
I had to research. Stealthily (not really), I open my phone, pop open a browser and type “how to eat grilled artichokes”. Oh good lord, there is a WIKI on this subject matter. I’ve ordered a plate, the consumption of which has been deemed complicated enough to have had a page dedicated to its instruction. Not instructions on recipes, preparation, storage, or serving, but that last portion in which the edible article is to exit its edifice into some sort of gastro-centric entry point. In other words, eating. I feel as though I have to use those many words in order to justify just how ridiculous what I was doing was.
This president has taken more vacation than any…
You can see where that sentence was going. This was sort of random. This Congress has been made famous for being less productive – far less productive – than the so-called do nothing Congress of the early 20th century. A simple google search on the statistics of vacation days taken by presidents shows that President G.W. Bush spent about 31% of his time in office… on vacation. These figures are corroborated by many different institutions. When this was pointed out, I received in reply, probably the weirdest thing I’ve heard from this otherwise reasonable sounding lady:
Do you know how many vacation days Michelle Obama has taken? If you add those with Obama’s, this president has taken more vacation than any other president.
Okay, alright, I’m going to try to transform the caps and bold rage into proper arguments. Here are a few points just off the top of my head:
- Since when have we ever included a First Lady’s so-called vacation time with that of the President’s? Truthfully, it cannot be called vacation, since Michelle Obama IS NOT THE PRESIDENT. Okay, I promised no caps. This would be similar going to work and asking for a week’s worth of vacation, time that has not been accounted for this fiscal year and being told “oh I’m sorry, your spouse took a week a month ago, it came off of your tab.”
- Even if we were counting First Spouse’s vacation times, should we not have proper correlation by comparing spouse-to-spouse, and president-to-president? No, of course not, we have an adel minded point to make and we can’t let facts, or you know, logic, get in the way.
- This is a simple one: so what?!
What I responded with was, of course, none of those things:
You know what? We currently have a Conservative Federal government in Canada. I did not vote for my Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. There are many, many things in which I disagree with my government with. However if it broke in the news that the PM has taken an extra week, hell an extra three weeks of vacation, it would not bother me. And I’m hopeful that it wouldn’t bother most Canadians.
Which brings me to my last point. These petty arguments against the President are part in parcel of an American culture obsessed with dichotomising every argument and, in this case, a rather large sprinkle of a particular dislike for this President. The allegation of racism is too broad and too overarching to be used in this case, or probably in most cases. However, we all (yes, all) carry with us racial stereotypes ingrained in our minds from our past. The south-central of LA is filled with poor communities, low standards of living, and high crime and these areas are mostly filled with people of colour. Is it really surprising that a family, who was rich enough to have a summer home in Western Canada, may see a larger portion of these communities as people who have been given opportunity and are, simply, lazy? Is it really surprising that these feelings might pop-up like a mole when in context of the highest office of the land, currently occupied by a person of colour?
This is of course pure speculation. I might be (and hopefully) completely wrong. But the depressing part is that this dichotomization is fuelled – intensely – by American right wing media. So much so that their talking points have become the average-everyday-otherwise-quite-nice-and-reasonable-person’s talking points.
They have replaced truth. And that, does not go without consequence.