Let’s Get Rude

When did it become impolite in 21st century America to point out when someone is just plain, factually wrong?

I grew up in a family that — ideologically and stylistically — skipped the Sixties. In true Fifties-style, one limited conversation to the weather, baseball and the inappropriate behavior of someone who was not in attendance. In my family, at least, this has not changed. Any attempt at political conversation is met with a whiplash-inducing change of topic that is so absurd it never fails to render me speechless, mouth agape.

A recent conversation with my mother:

Me: “You know that the next president may very well appoint up to four Supreme Court justices.”

Her: “What are they saying about Mariano Rivera’s rehab?”

I’m not exaggerating, people.

My father was, in many ways, a kind and gentle man. He would stop the car on the side of the road to pick up litter, as if he were the boots on the ground representative of the crying Indian in the iconic “Keep America Beautiful” commercial. He was also a staunch Republican, although it cannot be denied that the GOP was a completely different animal back then. I hope that, as a thinking man, my late father would be able to now connect the dots between the heartbroken Native American and the melting polar ice caps. That he would be capable of thinking beyond his tax bracket. That, as a survivor of the Holocaust, an immigrant who came to this country with nothing but the advantage of a white face, he would be broadminded enough to connect the dots between his experience and that of today’s refugees and immigrants, with the knowledge that anti-immigration forces are not really asking illegal Irishmen and women to self-deport. That coming to the U.S. from Germany with a medical degree is not equivalent to coming from Mexico with a fifth grade education, but the American Dream is still the same.

I want to believe that, as a doctor who was beloved by his patients and their families, my father would support universal health care. He did not, in fact, believe in this; rather, my father felt that, since he pulled himself up by his own bootstraps (in his mind), the same is possible for everyone, and the inability to afford health insurance is a failure of character. I know this, because, when I was seven years old, I interrupted a dinner table conversation between my doctor father and nurse mother to ask why it was that everyone couldn’t go to the doctor when they were sick. I got a smack in the face and a lecture on how the victory of my socialist views would mean my parents would not be able to afford to give me a good education, and I should never speak of such things again. I called bullshit on that in my second grade mind. Unfortunately, thirty years down the road, the members of my family who belong to the medical profession still say exactly the same thing; the difference is that now I call “bullshit” right out loud.

I am almost the only Democrat in my family. I am the only one who finds it more impolite to allow my loved ones to babble on with their facts all wrong than to “allow them to hold their beliefs.” You don’t get to choose whether or not to believe FACTS. They simply are. It is not rude to say, “Actually, that is incorrect,” as long as you can back up what you say with facts. It’s rude not to. And it’s more than a little bit crazy. It is willful ignorance, and that is wrong and dangerous for all of us.

The one place where the fallacious trickle down principal actually works is as a weapon in the absurd battle between truth and willful ignorance. Our leaders and our journalists need to speak up, ask questions and call bullshit. That is not rude. It is their job. The rest of us need to check facts.  A vote is not a reflex, it is a choice, a privilege, and a responsibility. Live up to it. After all, this is not the Sixties; we have something called the Internet; the truth is out there for everyone to find with a minimum of effort.

The very least we can expect of our leaders is a legitimate attempt to tell the truth. (And by the way, the truth is consistent.) The least we can expect of a voter is that they be informed, which may indeed require a modicum of critical thinking. Or Google. Everything is on record. So, Mitt Romney, when President Obama points out that you have just done a 180 on your platform, all I have to do is click to your own website for proof. And you have the retro-50s era nerve to complain that you are being criticized and that is not appropriate? In a debate? I don’t know about you, GOP, but I don’t want a weak-willed simp who can’t take criticism within 500 miles of the Big Red Button.

As for women, well, frankly, if you say you support Mitt Romney, it’s all I can do not to punch your lights out. I admit that is not a measured response, but I’ve tried reason, and it just doesn’t work. There is no reason for any woman to vote Republican in this election. Former governor Romney does not believe in equal pay for equal work, and he doesn’t believe that women should have control over their own bodies. His choice of running mate is either evidence of a deep cynicism inappropriate in a leader or a deeply held belief that women, not to mention everyone else who is not a wealthy straight white dude, are inferior. In supporting the Romney-Ryan ticket, and the rest of what has become this latest wing-nut incarnation of the Republican party, you, ladies, are fulfilling that prophecy.

How’s that for impolite?


About Author

Leslie an Emmy Award and two-time Writers Guild Award winning scriptwriter and she is a Muay Thai kickboxing student. Her essay collection, How to Kiss Like a Movie Star, will be published by Greenpoint Press next year. She is an actress who turned her experience playing Erica Kane's prison guard on All My Children into the one-woman show, Guarding Erica, which is anthologized in Talk to Me: Monologue Plays (Vintage Press). Her work has been published in the New York Times, O Magazine, and Salon.com.