Monday, February 17, 2014

The Other Side

This old 1932 book, Pen Pictures of the Presidents, ends with President Herbert Hoover, our 31st President. I bought the book years ago at a library book sale in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. I couldn't resist the embossed cover and engravings inside.

As I have become somewhat apolitical in my advanced age, I wonder if I would have voted for these men who were elected to the highest office in our country, or for their opponent. President Washington was unopposed so there would have been no question about him--if we women had been allowed the vote then.

When Abraham Lincoln was running for President, I wonder if I would have belonged to his Republican Party, or to the Democratic Party whose candidate Steven A. Douglas is reported to have been a much more eloquent orator than President Lincoln. Since President Lincoln is known to be just a tad rememberable at speechifying himself, I might have been swayed either way when listening to them. But then there were several other men also running so I might have supported moderate John Bell of Tennessee. Who knows?

Why am I no longer a staunch Party person? Why do I not align myself with any Party with my Facebook Friends? Why do I steer clear of political arguments with my husband now? 

Simply because I am no longer an either/or believer, and I shy away from labels and from issues that divide us as Americans. I believe there are good things and bad things about all Presidents and always have been. 

I remember a news video that has stuck with me for decades. The Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neil, Democrat from Massachusetts, was being interviewed and was asked about his relationship with former President Richard Nixon. Even with the debacle of Watergate still fresh in our nations's memory, the Speaker seemed almost sad about his political foe and pointed out things he admired about the fallen Nixon. 

The interviewer seemed puzzled at this, and Speaker O'Neil laughed and talked about how surprised the American people would be if they realized how members of Congress from both sides of the aisle were often good friends after hours, having dinner together, wives socializing with each other, caring about their children and grandchildren. 

I never forgot this. I realized I could disagree with someone but I could still consider their point of view and most of the time find things we both agreed on. And I could still be friends.

If they were willing to.

            Lament for a Wavering Viewpoint

           by Phyllis McGinley

I want to be a Tory
                         And with the Tories stand,
         Elect and bound for glory
                              With a proud, congenial band.
        Or in the Leftist hallways
              I gladly would abide,
           But from my youth I always
                  Could see the Other Side.

            How comfortable to rest with
                    The safe and armored folk
      Congenitally blessed with
           Opinions stout as oak.
        Assured that every question
              One single answer hath,
       They keep a good digestion
               And whistle in their bath.

        But all my views are plastic,
                    With neither form nor pride.
         They stretch like new elastic
            Around the Other Side;
         And I grow lean and haggard
                   With searching out the taint
    Of hero in the Blackguard
         Of villain in the Saint.

            Ah, snug lie those that slumber
               Beneath Conviction's roof.
           Their floors are sturdy lumber,
                 Their windows weatherproof.
        But I could sleep cold forever
            And cold sleep all my kind, 
Born nakedly to shiver  
                    In the draft from an open mind. 

Happy Presidents' Day!

[I don't know why the last two lines of McGinley's poem appear larger in published print here. I tried to fix it but could not.]

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