Thursday, January 24, 2008

Taxi Drivers Say the Darndest Things

Years ago I attended a Code Pink rally in front of the White House—yes, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have now gone on so long that those early protests took place “years ago.” As I was rushing to catch my plane home I took a taxi and had the following conversation with my Muslim taxi driver. We talked about the rally (alas, I wasn't wearing a pink boa as some of the other women were but if you like you can imagine me dressed in the pinks raided from my daughters' dress up box) and what it meant that “the mothers” and “the women” were out protesting a war. Somehow we got onto the question of religion and of how different people can be, and of right behavior, and morality. He said to me that he thought that every person had to be treated with love and respect as a person, regardless of their religion. This was true not despite the fact that Islam is a proselytizing, monotheistic religion but, in a sense, because of it. He said that it was a commandment to try to convert people but didn't that imply that people were inherently good and worthy of respect even before they converted? He said “Shall I frown on you one day [before you are Muslim] and smile on you the next [when you have converted?] No, I must smile on you now, because you are the same person before and after...aren't you?”

I've never forgotten that, and I think about it very often. But this isn't a post about my often astonishing conversations with Taxi drivers although I could certainly fill a times op ed column if only someone would give me a contract. Its actually a post about the iterated prisoner's dilemma that our current primary and future general election has become. Digby has, as usual, said what I thought before I even thought it but I think it bears some thinking about still. I'm a Gore supporter who went for Edwards, but who will happily work and support any Democratic candidate in the general election. I have a personal antipathy towards the “unity pony” political style of Obama, and I suppose an equally personal preference for the “nose to the grindstone nuts and bolts” style of HRC. I think of them as the Dionysian vs. the Apollonian style of politicking and to the extent that I think they correlate with different styles of ruling, I prefer the leader who appeals to my intelligence over the one who appeals to my emotions. But style doesn't determine content and you can go just as wrong with logic as you can with emotion. As Digby points out there really isn't a lot of concrete policy differences between the two candidates—their supporters may be the last to figure this out but voting for either of the two is a vote for centrist, middle of the road, squashed armadillo politics of accommodation with a ruthless and destructive right wing machine and its very wealthy backers. What's going on right now with Reid and Pelosi is just a hint about what is going to go on with either of the two major Democratic candidates as President. But that being said, anyone who really wants change for our country—change at the level of a conversion experience for the voters that would shift the Overton window back to the the progressive center, change at the level of getting out of Iraq or trying to get universal health care—simply has to be prepared to bury the hatchet after the primaries and move forward with the Democratic party as a whole. Because while there's only a slim chance for liberal and progressive policies under any Democratic leader there is zero chance under any Republican administration. This is something that seems to be very much lost on a lot of Obama supporters and the various third way voters who pop up to express their eternal conviction that pique is a winning political strategy.

To get back to my Taxi Driver story Daily Kos is in a perpetual uproar, and the Obama supporters in a perpetual fury at the hypothetical Clinton supporters whose motives are not as pure, or post racial, or post politics as Obama's are. I don't see the same hysteria on the Clinton and Edwards sides, for some reason. Can you frown at us before we are converted, and smile at us after? Aren't we the exact same people as we were before? Lets recognize, before things get too ugly, that we need every vote and every voter in the party if we are to get even a toe hold in the White House. Lets argue whose feet are better looking later.