Opinion » Bill Cope

Old Dems Don't Die

They get into discussions and wish they were dead


"How in hell can a man your age still be a Democrat?"

That extraordinarily stupid question was put to me a couple of weeks ago by someone I didn't know. He was butting in on a political discussion I was engaged in with my considerably conservative pal, Steve. We were in a bar, which is never a good place to engage in political discussion unless all interested parties are in about a trillion percent agreement with one another. I had stopped for a quick "how's it hangin'?" with Steve before calling it a night. It's a weekly ritual. I'm there for one reason, Steve's there for another. When I'm done, I never leave until I shoot some you-know-what with him for a bit. We like one another, Steve and I. Don't ask me why. We enjoy one another's company, that's all I know. In matters political, he thinks I'm misguided and I'm totally convinced he is, but evidently, neither of us is so disturbed by our mutual misguidedness that we aren't able to be friends. He thinks it's because we respect one another enough to not treat the other like he's stupid. Maybe. But not calling the other stupid doesn't necessarily translate into friendship. I think we're friends because either one of us, at any time, can say, "brother, I'm in no mood to talk about that tonight," and we don't. Steve was lobbing darts. The buttinski is on his dart team. I can't remember the exact matter Steve and I were discussing, but I was in a good enough mood, so I imagine it had to do with something Steve and I are nowheres-near agreeing on, let alone a trillion percent agreeing on. He and I don't agree on much of anything except that something is totally, totally, totally screwed up. Something. We both know it, neither of us like it, but we have entirely different opinions on how it got that way. That may well be what we were discussing--how things got so screwed up--when Mr. Buttinski butted in.

"How in hell can a man your age still be a Democrat?"

Even as stupid as it is, it's an old question. I've heard it, or variations on it, all my life. There is this certitude among conservatives that being liberal is a phase children go through. Something like bed-wetting or being a Goth or going to college. They have convinced themselves that the process of maturing is supposed to take the liberalness out of a man, if he's any kind of man. They think as a man gets older, liberalness should go the way of baby teeth and love of cute animals. There used to be a bumper sticker--"A Liberal Is Just Someone Who Hasn't Been Mugged Yet"--that reflected the same certitude. The idea is, life bangs you around so much that it knocks all the commitment and passion and openness out of you, if you have any sense at all. If you have any sense, you're supposed to grow increasingly less concerned about anyone beyond your own experience and increasingly more concerned about your own experience. Your own safety. Your own comfort. Your own money. Your own certitude. As you grow older, you're supposed to forget all that liberal crud about how different kinds of people have more in common than not in common, and you're supposed to just remember they are different. Instead of becoming more enlightened as you learn, conservatives believe you should learn to forget all that phony enlightenment silliness and "it takes a village" bull and "we are the world" nonsense, and if you don't have something conservative to say, you should just shut the hell up.

"How in hell can a man your age still be a Democrat?"

"Same reason all the smart people my age are Democrats," I answered. I admit it wasn't a great comeback. What I should have said was, "And as a self-admitted Republican, why are they letting you play with sharp objects?" And I would have pointed to his darts. That would have got him good, I bet. But that didn't occur to me until later, as I thought of all the great comebacks I should have thought of. At the time, I was frankly stunned that a person I didn't know and who didn't know me would demonstrate such a complete lack of class as to butt into someone else's discussion. I shouldn't have been so stunned. I know better. I learned years ago not to expect a whole lot of class from conservatives. I guess they think such qualities as behaving with some class and being polite and keeping your nose out of other peoples' discussions are liberal qualities and should be cast aside like old bell-bottom jeans and tolerance and curiosity. Anyway, the discussion between Steve and I was over, and the discussion between myself and Mr. Rude Buttinski was on. It didn't amount to much, that discussion. It became immediately apparent he didn't know what he was talking about, and he seemed to think the same thing about me. I was stuttering mad and he was too, and all either of us was really able to say was what a complete and utter waste of time it would be to try to make any sense to the other one, because according to him, I'm a moron, and according to me, he's a moron, and the iron-clad fact that I had proof of his moronness didn't impact the discussion at all because, according to him, nothing I was certain of--including his stupidity--could possibly be anything but stupid.

The next morning, I called Steve to apologize for flying off the handle like that. He said, "Hey I was just about to call you." I said, "What for?" And he said, "To apologize for my friend (rude Mr. Buttinski) flying off the handle like that."

Considerably classy, that's Steve. And funny thing: At my age, I have more respect for that than all the stupid opinions in the world.