Tuesday, January 25, 2005

More Notes From Skid Row

Being a Republican in the Downriver Area of Detroit can be a dangerous business. Downriver is undeniably Democratic, and the inhabitants of the communities bordering the Detroit River laud the DNC with unbridled enthusiasm. Downriver is among the bluest areas of blue state with a working class population, a strong union affiliation, an inherent distrust of corporate management and a healthy respect for the man who manages to buck the system. It is an area where someone can, in one breath, admire a crafty employee’s ability to regularly be at home on his couch watching Jerry Springer reruns two hours before someone punches him out of work while in the next breath express genuine shock over the pace with which American manufacturing jobs are being re-located to less expensive overseas locales.

Democratic politics a la Downriver however, are of a much different flavor than those expressed by the East Coast liberal wing of the party. I notice far more pro-life bumper stickers on cars than pro-choice. While sitting in local watering holes I have overheard many people that, though initially against the war in Iraq, now advocate military tactics that Attila the Hun would find morally reprehensible. The Downriver attitude towards racial equality is also very contrarian to traditional Democratic dogma. This area is among one of the most racially segregated lands in the United States and a large segment of the citizenry’s ideals of racial harmony are akin to those one would expect to find among some of the more notorious backwoods locales of Mississippi’s Klan Kuntry. Downriver’s zealous dedication to the Democratic Party originates from its dogged support of organized labor and pretty much ends there as far as I can tell.

Still, Downriver-ites possess a passion for punditry. Civil debate on the West Side of Detroit is a rare animal and virtually every bar room conversation I have ever heard regarding politics was waged with clenched teeth, clenched fists, a copious collection of colorful colloquialisms and an underlying implication of violence that never seems to materialize. After all, the area is so heavily Democratic that the conversational combatants usually share the same opinion. The best they can usually do is work themselves into a sort of hysterical frenzy fueled by gratuitous amounts of Jim Beam and Stroh’s and then, after arming themselves with pitchforks and torches, spill out into the streets in search of someone who looks like they belong to the Rotary Club.

Under normal circumstances, I would be an enthusiastic participant in any activity that involved a combination of bourbon, beer, menacing agricultural tools, fire and an alleged Rotarian other than myself, but I make it a personal policy to refrain from taking part in political discussions in area drinking establishments. There are two reasons for this. The first is that my political pendulum does not swing left of center and I am not risking having the bartender cut me off for initiating “a disturbance” by injecting verifiable facts into a heated argument. Second, the whole premise behind The JEP Report is to try my hand at writing humor and when you depend upon events escalating out of control for comedic material, it is best to avoid logic and socially responsible conversation.

Still, I recently slipped. I stopped into a local bar for a quick beer and sat myself down two stools away from two burley mechanics heatedly discussing the Iraq war. They were both talking in a volume that in other places would presage fisticuffs though, true to my aforementioned stereotype, from what I could tell they actually seemed to be agreeing with one another. Following my personal policy, I kept to myself but left my ears open to what was going on. At some point, halfway through my beer, one of them made the point that the war was nothing more than a fascist takeover of an oil-rich state for the personal enrichment of “that faggot Bush” and his administration cronies. After making this point, he turned towards me and asked, “Am I right, brother?”

After dispelling a disquieting visual image that emerged from the depths of my subconscious of our nation’s president walking down some San Franciscan avenue wearing vinyl lederhosen and holding up a sign professing his undying affection for Richard Simmons, I turned to him and said something along the lines of, “No. The war is about showing rogue states that there are consequences to encouraging malicious acts of violence against American citizens.” I then wondered to myself whether or not I had actually said that out loud and then cursed my own stupidity once I realized that I had.

The mechanics, both of whom were significantly larger than myself, turned and leered at me while the barmaid seemed to reposition herself from out of the line of fire. I had to start weighing my options. I had an open path to the door so flight was still on the table if they lunged. That would be a straight foot race that I could very easily lose though and I decided that one of them would have to be taken out first if things deteriorated to that point. Taking one out could have proven to be a challenge however. They looked like bruisers and appeared far better versed in the art of bar room combat than I so I guessed that they could probably take a punch fairly well. The bottle, normally a trusty weapon, would draw me in too close and could be taken away and used against me if I my first shot was off. Luckily the seats were not bolted down so in the end I settled upon one of those as my preferred option if things suddenly took a turn for the worse. When cornered within a confined space I can swing one mean bar stool, a fact that can be independently verified by anyone that has ever seen me accidentally cross paths with a hairy arachnid in the hallway powder room.

The bruiser closest to me leaned ominously forward and asked, “So you think this war is right then? Do you honestly think that we are going to end up better off for having invaded Iraq?”

At that point, I was really wishing that I had not been drawn into the conversation but I knew that backing down would be wrongly interpreted as cowardice and was likely produce the same effect that a bucket of blood produces once dumped into shark infested sea water. “In the long run, yes. Outlaw regimes now know that they can not harbor terrorist groups sworn to our destruction with impunity. If they attack us, they’ll feel the full wrath of the US and our allies.”

“Our allies?” he hissed in reply. “Do you honestly think that we still have any credibility with our allies after having conned them into following us with fairy tales about hidden weapons of mass destruction?”

He had a good point and articulated it with much more civility than he had displayed towards the man at his side who had actually been agreeing with him. This threw me off balance. I responded that our credibility had indeed suffered a hit but that was likely the result of the systematic dismantling of our intelligence apparatus during the Clinton administration. He disagreed with me. I disagreed back. In fact, we disagreed back and forth over two more rounds of drinks, one of which was purchased by him and one of which was purchased by me. By the time I finished my third beer and had to leave we were still disagreeing, both of us stubbornly adhering to our positions, but the conversation had taken on almost jovial qualities and we parted with shaken hands and a gentleman’s agreement to agree to disagree.

So, what was gained from this experience? Almost nothing from an argumentative standpoint. He said nothing that would cause me to change position on any issue and I am sure that I said nothing that would cause him to waver on his. The only thing we managed to accomplish was proving that, in a country that is supposedly incredibly polarized after the 2004 presidential election, two strangers could still sit down at a bar and freely express completely opposing points of view in a civil, intelligent manner. After walking out of the bar, I had to question whether we really were as polarized as the media says we are. Somehow, I doubted it.

So, what did I learn from this encounter? I learned that civil political discussions about national affairs, though great for philosophical reflections about cultural unity in the face of political division, are comedic death. Next time I venture into a bar specializing in shots and shells, I am sticking to my proven tactic of getting the natives drunk, letting them get all riled up and then accusing some hapless sap of being the fascist Rotarian they’ve all been waiting for whilst I sit back and document the ensuing mayhem that I’ve just created. (Don’t look at me like that. You want objective journalism? Go to Reuters. You want narratives of mundane events grossly exaggerated to the point of fiction that an aspiring alcoholic is trying to pass off as entertainment? Come to The JEP Report).


Blogger Unkie Crump said...

You, sir, are either a very brave man, or one of the craziests summa-bishes I've ever heard of. I'm a conservative holed up in Redford, and I don't express my opinions in the watering hole I frequent (although they all know my opinions and my blog... maybe they never ask cause they know how long-winded I can be. Hmm).

8:01 PM  
Blogger JEP said...

POWER, Brother! It's a tough business, this working class conservatism, and I have little doubt that out in Redford you have about as much opportunity for civil political debate as I do. I usually wait until my drinking companions are good and sloshed before I hit 'em with logic. That way, when they're PO'ed to the point of violence, they're about as threatening as Valium-addled midgets in Hello Kitty Underoos. Keep the faith, Crump!

7:20 AM  

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