by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor, John Locke Foundation
In the heat of a presidential contest, the ambient air quality for invasive politics goes all the way up to maroon (readers who care to infer Bugs Bunny’s use of the word may include it). It stifles our relationships, our conversations, our social media, our TV viewing, our roadsides and neighborhoods, ad nauseam. So unexpected pockets of cheerfully unstagnated discourse are very welcome.
New York Times contributor Stanley Fish, known locally for his years of notoriety at Duke University, recently interviewed his friend Dinesh D’Souza, whose politics differ greatly from Fish’s and who is notorious himself for his film "2016: Obama’s America." Fish concluded his interview with the following hail to friendship over politics:
Finally a question more for me than you. I was chastised repeatedly for having you as a friend, for breaking bread with you (as I am about to do again), and for giving your "crackpot" arguments the time of day. One reader hoped that my criticism of the movie (which he thought too mild) might end a friendship that brought discredit to me. The idea is that you should choose your friends or spouses or partner by applying a political litmus test. Have the right (in this case, left) views and you can be my friend. It doesn’t work that way in the world — witness Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch, Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston, James Carville and Mary Matalin, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia — and, if I can borrow from one of my own titles, it’s a good thing, too. Let’s eat.
What a refreshing view! When there is a determined movement in this country to politicize every aspect of life, it is pleasing to find such an oasis of perspective. Especially when it is a rebuke to that very movement.
Good manners once cautioned against discussing politics in polite company. It touches on beliefs people hold very passionately and risks being instantly, gratuitously divisive. After all, it is selfish and rude to disrupt a convivial gathering. Imagine the gall of a person thinking he is providing a service to someone he hardly knows by telling him to end his friendship with someone simply over a different political philosophy.
As Fish perceives, there are more important things to life than politics. Breaking bread with friends is one of the greatest.
Politics is, of course, a part of life. So are the activities that take place in bathrooms, and they aren’t polite subjects either, as necessary as they are for the health of the body. Politics is messy, dirty, foul, and entirely necessary for the body politic, but that doesn’t mean we should revel in it or worse, exalt it.
As Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things." And there we find family, friends, food, music and the arts, sports, and so on, and yes, even politicians and political accomplishments, but none to the detriment of the rest.
As for our own artists, including Bruce Springsteen, I think the public generally takes the art that’s produced for its own merits, regardless of the artists’ political views. No doubt that’s largely due to the fact that we do not share the socialist’s worldview of everything is political. It is comforting to keep certain things removed from the political sphere, including one’s enjoyment of art.
It was therefore with some interest that I read of Bob Dylan’s resistance to being used by a Rolling Stone interviewer for cheap political points. Dylan’s interview is the current edition’s cover. The interviewer, Mikal Gilmore, tried several approaches, but his transparently leading questions were easily dismissed by the legendary artist, who kept asking him directly and with apparent exasperation, "What do you want me to say?" At some level it seemed to be the same kind of badgering Fish was receiving: thou shalt put serving the politics of the day first. To Gilmore and those who think like him, it’s apparently no longer enough to "be Bob Dylan"; one must continually perform the political act. It is a bleak worldview.
Meanwhile, the cover story for Esquire is an interview with Clint Eastwood, whose improvised speech with The Chair at the Republican National Convention will be long talked about. His interviewer, Tom Junod, wrote about his experience interviewing the legendary actor (the interview took place well before the speech). Eastwood didn’t spare criticism of the president then, either, but Junod’s decision about what to do with it seemed to reflect my approach to Springsteen:
I didn’t wind up using the Obama quotes in my profile, not because they offended my political sensibilities, but because they made him sound like a type of person — another cranky old guy, running down the president, and not always very clearly — when I wanted to write about what made Clint Eastwood singular, what made him unlike any other Hollywood star who has ever lived, as both an actor and an artist, back when he was in his prime, and, yes, even now.
Tawdry politics shouldn’t sully appreciation for Eastwood’s singularity, Dylan’s artistry, Fish and D’Souza’s unlikely friendship, and our own unique friendships, admirations, and enjoyments in life. Keeping what’s true, right, noble, praiseworthy, and lovely in the world separate from, not subservient to, the dismal dominion of politics is a good thing. Let’s eat.
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