Had a long, long, and at times uncomfortable conversation with co-workers at lunch yesterday. A colleague was moving on to a different position at LNA so our unit treated her to a farewell lunch at a restaurant where the service was, to put it mildly, a tad slow. But it was a chance to be out of the office for awhile, the unit chief was there and as long as he wasn't moving neither was anyone else. Naturally the election results were a major theme at the table.
The two people I happened to be sitting closest to (both of whom are really nice guys with whom I enjoy working but had studiously avoided mentioning anything political to since starting this detail in August) are disappointed McCain supporters, one more so than the other. That wasn't a surprise to me: both fellows are retired military, former Army officers, and one is a graduate of the Citadel. Which is why I never, ever talked politics with them. What would have surprised me would have been to learn that either one of them was a Democrat. One fellow said he was disappointed, but not surprised. He agreed picking Palin was a major blunder on McCain's part. The other guy was still a tad shell shocked. He had truly believed McCain's disaster of a campaign would manage to pull off a miracle.
He did ask me several times why I had supported Obama. I rattled off my usual talking points: the emphasis on community, the "we're all in this together" instead of pandering to individual greed, that great line Obama used ("When did selfishness become a virtue?") in multiple speeches, but then realized it comes down to something even more fundamental, at least for me.
It's okay be smart again. We've had almost 40 years of Republicans glorifying stupidity, starting with Spiro Agnew under Nixon and the beginning of the attacks on the "liberal elite" right through St. Ronnie and into the current (soon to be past) administration. Republicans have mocked intelligence, learning, higher education. Work hard in school, get good grades, and go to Harvard on merit instead of as a legacy student? Well, for the Repugs this wasn't something to praise -- it was something to make fun of, to sneer at. Clinton was enough of a good old boy that they never got any traction with being able to mock him as a policy wonk or the possessor of too much "book larning," but maybe if he hadn't given them so much ammunition to work with due to his weakness for womanizing they would have tried harder. Gore and Kerry, of course, were different stories.
Even worse, of course, was the contempt the Republicans showed for expertise in any field. If the scientists were telling you stuff you didn't want to hear (you know, those awkward things called "facts") instead of looking for solutions the Republican answer was to mock the science, to claim people who had spent 20, 30, or more years researching an issue were just stating opinions, only giving one side of a (usually nonexistent) controversy. Bible bangers uncomfortable with the results of a couple hundred years of research and scholarship in the natural sciences? Well, then, the obvious thing to do was to pander the loud-mouth know-nothing minority with their bizarre fantasy creationist view of the world. Oil and coal industries unhappy about being asked to clean up pollution or do something to slow down global warming? Ignore the geologists, meteorologists, and oceanographers who actually know what they're talking about and trot out a paid shill or two to claim the facts aren't all in yet. People getting sick from toxic exposures? Force public health agencies to edit reports or cover up public health problems (FEMA, CDC, and formaldehyde in trailers is a good example of that). It's a really long and depressing list.
I have been reminded many times that whoever is president doesn't make that much difference, all politicians end up disappointing you, and that all politicians lie. I'll agree with the latter two points, but not the first. The person in the Oval Office sets the tone, who he picks as advisers and cabinet officials do wield a tremendous amount of power, and the President himself can do an awful lot with the stroke of a pen. Both Executive Orders and Presidential Directives can be amazing forces for good, or they can do incredible damage. We've had 8 years of a President noted for his lack of curiosity, his willingness to believe whatever he's told by those close to him, and who has, unfortunately, used a pen to advance a destructive ideological agenda by presidential directive rather than through legislation far more often than most people realize. We're about to get a President who is the opposite: a man who is openly, happily an intellectual, who respects science, who won't mangle the English language and embarrass us all every time he opens his mouth, and who, while still far too cozy with corporate America for my liking, is going to be a whole heckuva lot more transparent in governing than his predecessor.
And, best of all, it's okay be smart again.