Friday, March 04, 2005


I was raised in a neighborhood in San Francisco populated mostly by the families of immigrants. We were all Democrats. That was taken for granted. The only votes a Republican could get there were ethnic votes. That is, if they ran an Irishman they could get the Irish vote, and so on.

So I was a confirmed liberal well into adulthood, never even considering an alternative, but never getting active in a political campaign.

When the Kennedy-Nixon campaign came along I stood on the sidelines, sure that Kennedy would win in a landslide. Looking at both candidates, through the eyes of a liberal, I couldn’t see the possibility of any other outcome. The closeness of that election was a shock to me.

Skip ahead four years. I had just returned from 18 months in Viet Nam and it was Johnson against Goldwater. It looked like a cinch to me but so did the last one. I volunteered at the Johnson headquarters and they put me in charge of the speakers bureau for Northern California.

This was my first contact with the real liberals, the hard-core liberals, the political liberals, and it was a revelation to me. They treated me decently but it was clear that we were not equals. They were professionals and I was an unknown entity that might need indoctrination. They were hard to talk to. It was like walking on egg shells. I like to kid around (see post below) and a lot of my humor is self deprecating. That kind of stuff was greeted with a fish eye stare. Especially if it included our candidate or our campaign. Worse than that, they would totally reject facts which I knew to be true. Here are some examples:

1. Captain Alfred Dreyfus was a Jewish officer in the French army who spent years on Devil’s Island after being falsely convicted of a crime. It was a cause celebre (I hope that’s right) for liberals around the world. After he was released with a full pardon there was a case in which someone was suspected of a similar crime. When told about it he was heard to say, “Well, you know, where there’s smoke there’s fire.”

When I related this story to a liberal coworker all I got was that stare. “No,” he said, “that never happened.”

All I could do was stare back and wonder how he could know that. I didn’t know if it was true, but I knew I read it and I couldn‘t say it wasn‘t.

2. In asking me about my travels, I mentioned the most difficult thing was the lack of trained technicians in Northwest Iran. We had to train our own. That was difficult because we would get them to a certain level then, the next day, they would seem to have forgotten.

I got ‘That Stare’ again. “No,” I was told. “That never happened.”

That shocked me. I was there. I saw it happen. And yet they told me it didn’t happen. I started to see that what I said went against their fundamental beliefs so they had to reject it.

3. I overheard a conversation in which they were talking about blacks being brought to America as slaves. Someone was saying there were 50 or 100 million black brought here. (I later found that it was some popular folk fiction going around in those days that was being generally quoted as gospel.)

My B. S. detector kicked in. Numbers were my life and those didn’t make sense. I butted into their conversation and showed them that one or two thousand would have to be landed every day to achieve that figure. It did not compute.

This time they were shocked and they had to concede it didn’t make sense.

4. There was a group of us eating lunch when I was asked what the Vietnamese people thought of us.

I told them there were no problems. They seemed to like us just fine.

They pressed me to recall any incident.

“There was one. It happened in a restaurant in a small town (Soc Trang) down on the Mekong Delta. This old lady came up to my table and hollered at me about something. I asked my interpreter what she wanted and he told me to forget it. She was just a crazy lady.”

My liberal friends looked at each other and I realized, intuitively, that this was what they were looking for. This was all the evidence they needed. The Vietnamese hated us. If they had been newsmen they would have rushed out to file that story.

These things made me realize I could never be a real liberal.


Post a Comment

<< Home