This was about the same time that I learned, as a kid in school, the meaning of the phrase “backhanded compliment,” and it sure came in handy as I heard our neighbors discuss one another.
Example: “I tell you one thing,” my grandfather would say, of a gentleman who lived just across the holler from us. “Old Mister [Blank] is cranky, a tightwad, mean-natured, cusses every breath, and is so stubborn he’d stand in the road to argue with a signpost. But the good part is, he’s exactly the same feller every time you see him.”
In Shanghi, this was the equivalent of a letter of recommendation. Growing up, there were two pieces of advice I heard repeated above all others: “Don’t put on airs,” and “Don’t be two-faced.”
The latter of these is the reason I’ve been so irritated and frustrated over the past few years, because there’s more two-facedness displayed in political discussions right now than in the previous years of my life all put together.
This two-faced revolution started suddenly: on Jan. 20, 2009, which just happened to be the inauguration day of America’s first black president. But this is sheer coincidence, and the color of President Obama’s skin has nothing to do with anything, I’m assured by my friends who consistently vote GOP. They’re certainly not racist themselves, and anyway, racism ended years ago when the Supreme Court struck down segregation, everybody knows that.
My friends send me impassioned e-mails about ways in which President Obama is “dismantling and subverting” the Constitution in order to “build an Imperial Presidency.” And what could be more important, my friends ask, than for a president to obey the Constitution? I remind them of what happened in 2001, when President George W. Bush was trying to push through the “Patriot Act,” which gave the government unprecedented power to snoop on us — down to tapping our phones and knowing what books we checked out from the library. Several of Bush’s top legal staff told him that such measures to destroy our privacy couldn’t be used, because they were clearly un-Constitutional. To which the president angrily responded, “The Constitution is nothing but a [expletive-deleted] piece of paper!” Opposition to this historic move from GOP voters? None, to my knowledge. But in 2013, these good folks want to defend the Constitution at all costs. What changed? When I ask that, my friends’ impassioned e-mails change the subject. The REAL problem, they say, is government spending. The deficit is our greatest danger, and if we don’t cut back drastically on spending (subtext: on poor people) it’s going to destroy the country.
Why, I ask them, did they not have any complaints against deficit spending when it reached historic heights between 2000 and 2008? The Bush administration actually considered deficit spending to be GOOD for the economy. As Vice-President Cheney often commented, “Reagan proved, once and for all, that deficits don’t matter.”
At this point, my GOP friends get frustrated with me and turn to a different argument: “It does no good to dwell on the past.”
To which I reply, “Sometimes it does.” Such as, if your car ends up in the ditch, it’s a great idea to look back and analyze what happened just beforehand so that you can prevent said car from ending up in said ditch again.
Another term for “dwelling on the past” is “studying history.” And while I can understand why the history of 2000-2008 is not a topic that GOP voters want to discuss right now, to ignore those years would be, for our children and grandchildren, a disservice so vast it would amount to a sin. Politics aside, the policies our leaders enacted and the choices they made between 2000 and 2008 put our country into an economic ditch we’re still not out of yet, and may not be, in my lifetime. And if we don’t do enough things differently, and quickly, enough, future generations will see in us a cautionary tale that will give “two-faced” an entirely new level of shame.
Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His columns, photos and radio features are available on his website, carrolldaleshort.com. His weekly radio program “Music from Home” airs each Sunday at 6 pm on Oldies 101.5 FM, streams live online at www.oldies1015fm.com and is archived afterward on his website.