I was walking to Ralph’s, a supermarket in downtown San Diego. The sun fell on the opposite side of the street, while my side was in the shade. It was a chilly February day and being in the sun was appealing. Traffic was light and I had two choices. Reach the next corner, wait for the light to change and cross the street, or cross it right then, haphazardly, to immediately feel that sun on my shoulders — for the sake of expediency.
I jaywalked and in doing so I thought, without any clear reason, about a moment from the recent democratic presidential debate when Pete Buttigieg criticized Amy Klobuchar for having forgotten during an interview the name of the Mexican president. That indicated, the young former mayor said, that she wasn’t ready to be president. Of course, it didn’t mean that at all and he knew that, and everybody on that stage, in the audience and watching TV knew that, yet Amy Klobuchar felt compelled to defend herself and invoke the game of Jeopardy as a comparison. The whole exchange became awkward and embarrassing for both of them, and totally unnecessary as one considers how smart, articulate, likeable and qualified these two contenders really were and how both were more or less on the same side of the issues. But one of them had wanted to stand out and emphasize an opponent’s weakness. Pete had mentioned this for the sake of political expediency.
I have seen this done many times in the political contests. A fact from the past is resurrected — usually a complex, multifaceted fact that can be subject to interpretation — and a part of it is taken out of context and presented under a new light as reason for criticism. The person who does this knows very well that he or she treads on thin ice, and the candidate who is attacked knows it as well, but there is no time for a real debate on the issue. We live in the age of sound bites. The cameras move fast, and the audience absorbs the moment like blotting paper, understanding that something might be afoot, although what precisely is not very clear. Cut to commercial break. What stays with the audience is the impression of a fight, a winner, a loser.
We will never know if Biden had been on the wrong side of the school bussing issue decades ago, as so efficiently accused by Kamala Harris, or if there existed a reasonable justification for that position at that time. We will never know the exact content or context of the joke Blumberg told, that, according to Warren, offends women everywhere and disqualifies him from seeking the presidency.
Even the comments regarding Trump’s slow reaction to the coronavirus strike me as political expediency. I generally don’t agree with Trump and dislike his personality, his politics and his policies, but this time, while I understand the criticism that he is peddling untruths on TV and tries to make the pandemic look less grave than it really is, I assume that, had he reacted more responsibly and taken stronger measures against the disease, there would be those who would accuse him of overreacting and just throwing scarce resources at the problem.
I read an article in Time Magazine (the February 20, 2020 issue) about the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, and her reaction to the mass shooting in Christchurch. The article stated that, “She made a plausible case that kindness was strength, compassion was actionable, and inclusion was possible.” Further, the article quoted her Finance Minister, Grant Robertson: “I think this whole model of leadership that says you’ve got to be tough, and tough means you can’t be kind, is just wrong.”
This principle of leadership is possible in New Zeeland, far away, on the other side of the world, but not here, in the U.S. of A. Is it because we are divided, even within the same party? Are we devoid of kindness and respect for one another, and trained to expect and rebuff the incoming, no matter what? Or is it because, as Americans, we simply adore to kick butt?
That day, after I crossed the street into the sun, I reached the supermarket. Carefully, I selected the items on my shopping list prepared in advance by my wife (I read all the labels to make sure I don’t make a mistake) and placed myself in the checkout line. When my turn came, after I scanned my bonus card and my groceries were scanned and securely placed inside my reusable bag, I realized I had left my wallet at home. I apologized. The people behind me were glowering at me. The cashier gave me a magnanimous smile that came from experience, voided the transaction and promised to keep my filled bag nearby until I returned. On my way home, on the sunny side of the street, I called my wife. I told her what had happened. She laughed. It didn’t seem a laughing matter to me. “I’ll be in the condo lobby in the next five minutes. Would you be so kind, meet me there and bring me my wallet?” I asked her utterly focused of expediency. “Absolutely not. You come upstairs,” she said.
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