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‘All politics is personal’


Another Speaker, Tip O’Neill once said: ‘All politics is local.’  And I say to you tonight that when it comes to health care for all Americans, ‘All politics is personal.

So said Speaker Nancy Pelosi Sunday night.  And I agree.  It is, and it should be personal.

But it should not be personal in the way we saw with the kinds of attacks and slurs that were part of the actions of Tea Party members and their supporters among Republicans in Congress.

I take these slurs and attacks personally.  So should you.

While I may be a generous and understanding person on differences of personal belief, my generosity does not extend to when you demean and attack those about whom I care.

So let me tell you why this is personal to me, the health care and the slurs.

It is personal to me when you call someone a Nigger – my sister’s son is married to an African-American woman, and they have two wonderful daughters, my great-nieces, who like the President are half Black and half White.  To call someone a Nigger or other racial epithet is to demean my family.  And to demean my friends, who include fellow teachers.  And to demean my students, many of whom are Black or mixed.  And to demean me –  next you will call me a Nigger Lover.  Guess what –  I love people of all races and mixtures, I will consider your attack a badge of honor for me, but I will be damned before I will allow you to demean my family, my friends, my students, or anyone else.

It is personal when you call a distinguished Congressman of Hispanic heritage a Wetback, then call his house and tell his family to go back to Mexico.  My wife’s sister is married to a man of Hispanic heritage whose family has been in Northern New Mexico for several hundred years.  His roots in this country go back further than most of European background can trace their family in the New World.  That includes me, since the earliest of my relatives in the New World arrived in 1862.  That brother-in-law could with more right tell you to get out of his country.  But he, and his five children are too generous to do that.  I will not stand by quietly while you slur them, or the many other fine Hispanic Americans, whether they serve in Congress as do Ciro Rodriquez, or my good friend Raul Grijalva, or perhaps arrived in this country in the past few years, as is the case of many of my students.  

It is personal when you demean someone’s sexuality.  Just as it is offensive to me if you call a female, any female, a bitch or a cunt, it is offensive to me that you attack Barnie Frank because of his sexual orientation.  I have gay and bi members of my extended family.  I have students who wrestle with that kind of hostility to their explorations of their own same-sex orientation.  I do not want them emotionally devastated.  

It is personal when you attack someone because they believe in a common responsibility for their fellow humans.  You think that to label them Communist or Socialist is a criticism. You label and slur and demean those who work together for the common good.  That includes those of us in unions. Both my spouse and I are in unions.  I have served as a union official, and my spouse is now on a bargaining unit negotiating team.  We give of ourselves on behalf of things greater than ourselves.  How dare you demean that.  And some of you dare call yourselves Christians.  What might you then say of those described in Acts 4:34-35,  Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.  I have spent time among monks in the Episcopal and Orthodox Churches.  By attempting to use communist as a pejorative in the way you do you attack these men of God.  Would that you had 1% of their Christian spirituality and charity.

It is personal when you say health care is not a right, that you would rather protect the market system of profits for corporations that give bonuses to employees who deny claims.  I have benefited from health insurance, which has covered multiple occasions of emergency room visits as well as routine physicals able to identify medical conditions and allow them to be addressed before they became critical.  I am alive and reasonably healthy because I have had good health insurance.  What I have had should be the right of all, and if you are willing to deny it to anyone, then when will you seek to deny it to me?

It is personal when you say that no one is denied, because they can always get treatment in an emergency room.  Except some of you would deny that to the undocumented among us.  And emergency room treatment may stabilize, but does not mean the underlying condition will be addressed.  And besides, I have volunteered enough at free health and dental clinics to know that people are being denied because they cannot afford basic medical and dental care, and that by the time of the emergency room, or the free clinic, the damage is often permanent, the limitation on future life severe.  I would not want my family or friends denied because they lost a job through no fault of their own and have insufficient funds for COBRA.  I would not want the homeless person to be denied.  Hell, if you lose your job I would not want you denied.

It is personal because I am a living, breathing, feeling, caring human being who understands that I have in common with every other human being hopes and dreams and fears.  The hopes and dreams disappear if the fear takes over all.  

My politics are personal.  I am nothing special.  I am an American born into an upper middle class family in 1946, whose father grew up in a family that was at best lower middle class, and whose mother’s mother fled Eastern Europe during persecution against her kind because of their Jewishness.  Who at age 10 first experienced what segregation meant.  Who sat riveted to the television watching the events of Little Rock and later in the Civil Rights Movement.  Who came to understand that if rights could be denied to anyone because of his race or her gender or their sexual orientation or their religion or their political beliefs or because they were not wealthy, then I was not safe either.  I am selfish.  My political actions are on my own behalf.

On my own behalf.  Because what happens to others concerns me.  It concerns those who pass through my care in my classroom.  It is why I teach, which is, as I wrote in 2008, Teaching is  my essential political action.

It is personal when you stand silently by and let others be smeared or demeaned or belittled, when you acquiesce or even encourage violence of word and actions against those who may be your political opponents, or because you think it gains you personal or political advantage.

If you say you honor the troops, then recognize that among those who have died on behalf of this country have been Blacks and Hispanics and Native Americans and Jews and Socialists and Communists and Women and Gays and people of every possible group you might find occasion to attack, to demean, to spit upon.

Spit upon a Black Congressman and you spit upon me, because he is in the People’s House, he represents me even if I do not live in his district.

Violate the decorum of the House by yelling “you lie” at the President or “baby killer” at the most pro-life Democratic Member of the House and you violate MY House, you insult me, even if I am pro-Choice, because if Bart Stupak is a baby-killer, then what will you call me?  Will you then justify violence of words and more against me merely because I disagree with you on an issue however great you think its moral importance might be?  Are you prepared to justify killing – perhaps of body as well as spirit – in the name of being pro-life?

“He’s a dead man” when spoken by a major political leader about another politician seems to justify violence.  If you are prepared to acquiesce in the use of violence against those who disagree with you, Mr. Boehner, then I take that very personally, because I disagree with you on most issues.  

It is personal when you are willing to destroy our political system if you cannot persuade the people to give you the reins of power.  Remember, you and your party had those reins, and were rejected by the American people in two successive elections, by fairly substantial margins.

It is personal when you lie and distort in the hopes of misleading the American people against their best interests.  I am part of We the People of the United States.  You insult me when you speak and act as if I were a blithering idiot.  Sorry, but I also take that personally.

You might consider this a screed.  This is statement written at the end of a long day, in which I taught almost 180 students, where I served as the leader of a group of teachers, where I met with fellow alumni of a program in which we seek to overcome our partisan differences to work in common on behalf of the people of Virginia.  In my classes we discussed the spitting, the epithets, and more.  I want my students to be willing to participate. politically  I take it personally when politicians of any party speak and act in a way that discourages participation, perhaps because of fear that they will be attacked, or perhaps merely in disgust at what they observe.  Yes, DISGUST.  If you discourage them, it undercuts my life work, and of course I will take that personally.  Because teaching is my essential political action, my vocation, the main purpose to my life.

I am selfish.  I want my life to have meaning.  I want to feel safe.  I want those I care about to feel safe.  I want those I have never met to feel safe, because if they cannot, how can I trust that I and those I care about will be safe?

Another Speaker, Tip O’Neill once said: ‘All politics is local.’  And I say to you tonight that when it comes to health care for all Americans, ‘All politics is personal.

 Not just when it comes to health care.  When it comes to those who will abuse our good will, who will demean or attack others, or acquiesce in the act of that demeaning and attack, who will cheer when people in the gallery disrupt the proceedings of the House, who will dangerously egg on people who are out of control, fueled at least by fear and too often by prejudice and hate.

I love this country.  I am a loudmouthed person of minority views on religion and on many political issues, who has been blessed with the opportunity to speak and write my mind.  It is personal to me when in any way you seek to diminish the greatness of this country, for when you trade in fear and deception and hate, that is what you do – by your smallness of mind and heart you attempt to lower this nation and the people in it to your smallness.  

I will not stand by idly while you do so.  Be on notice.  You do not own this country, rather We the People of the United States do.  And We the People includes Jews and Atheists and Muslims and Pastafarians and Hindus and belief systems I have yet to encounter.  We the People includes straights and gays and transgendered and bisexuals.  We the People includes not only Republicans but Democrats and Greens and Socialists and Independents and Communists and members of so many fringe parties and people who don’t give a damn about politics.  We the People are rich and we are poor, we are healthy and we are sick, we are sober and we are addicted and we are drying out.  

By myself I am not We the People.  I know that.  Neither are you, and it is about time that you learn that lesson.

All politics is personal.  It is especially personal on health care, and that includes a woman’s reproductive health.  

It is also personal about education, about college loans, about workers’ rights to organize, about the environmental health of our nation and our planet, about economic equity, about social justice.

All politics is personal.

And for a lot of us, we WILL take it personally when you try to hijack our political system.

Remember that. Only then might my final word have any meaning for you.


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