Spirited Political Discourse
Listen to/Watch entire show:
Spirited Political Discourse<br> By Marc Porter Zasada<p> LIKE MANY IN THE METROPOLIS, the Urban Man likes to argue politics. <p> I belong to a large nonprofit in L.A. which surprisingly cuts across party lines, and my favorite place to argue is at the noisy gatherings which follow our meetings. Here, friends cluster in small knots to eat cold hors d'ouevres and soggy salads and I like to move through the overheated room, seeking out what you might call "spirited discourse" on national politics. <p> I gesture with my plastic fork. I spill things from my paper plate. <p> It's become easy to separate folks by political party. On one side, backs are straighter and conversation louder. The men often wear ties, and the women dress crisply. On the other side, sure enough, one finds a sprinkling of ethnic jewelry or open shirts beneath sport jackets. <p> One side often mentions "courage." The other speaks of "logic." <p> Angelenos have never been famous for political conversation, but the new century forced politics into our social discourse. For better or worse, the gravity and horror of the daily news freed us from the obsessive need to discuss real estate and digital rights. Ex-New Yorkers no longer complained about the chatter at our L.A. gatherings. <p> But in the last couple of months, as the images from abroad have grown ever darker and the election grows perilously near, the Urban Man finds that political argument has again faltered in the overheated room. People have suddenly stopped engaging in "spirited discourse" because they often find no common ground, even over plastic cups of flat soda. And while I was always proud to have close friends on both sides of the fence, most have recently clammed up. <p> Unless we completely agree about courage or logic, they change the subject. They smile thinly, and say that because they live in California, their vote doesn't count anyway. <p> But I know they're afraid that like religion, politics has become too important to discuss with anyone who might disagree. Jokes can no longer be told. Editorial cartoons have ceased to make people laugh. And although the networks broadcast the same cheerleaders before and after each presidential debate, no one actually sees them as sporting events anymore. <p> Too much history seems to hang on each scowl and each candid remark. <p> Sitting in our distant bleachers, Angelenos watch the debates with tense frustration --- we find ourselves strangely far from the center of politics, but like all large and vulnerable cities, strangely close to the center of the war. <p> Today, the Urban Man again finds himself in the overheated room, standing in a knot of people and balancing a plate of cole slaw. I forget myself for a moment and say loudly, "How could anyone be taken in by such nonsense?" I use a four-letter word to describe the nonsense. <p> My argument is aimed at a friend of mine who hasn't talked politics with me for some time. But I figure he can't resist a provocation like this, and sure enough he walks over and leans close. He explains that he's recently switched his views on courage and logic, and now agrees with me. <p> I smile. I give him a handshake. But I notice how low he keeps his voice, and how carefully he phrases his words. "This is not the time or place for a ---spirited political discourse,'" says his tone. "Not when we're likely to lose half our friends." <p> Unhappily, I follow his lead. I lower my own voice, I end my local debate, and I walk outside into the tense and expectant city. <p> Copyright -- 2004 by Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved. <p>
Click the Full Details link to view the complete transcript. Tapes are not available.
Engage & Discuss
BROUGHT TO YOU BY