Filler Can We Talk?

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner.
By Jeff Smith

BEING THE VOICE of reason and moderation has its downside. Like for instance extremists at both ends of the spectrum or from every distant rock in the galaxy--if you prefer your conceptualizing in three dimensions instead of two--are on your ass like white on rice, every time you try to point out that things might not be as bad as the lady on your right asserts, nor as rosy as the gentleman on your left retorts.

Smith At times like these I would be wise to leave the table and the discussion and let these people spit food particles at one another, but wise never has been in my repertoire. I never fail to rise to the bait, and battle is joined. I'm beginning to believe in fact that absent a voice of moderation, a Great Compromiser seeking to bring disparate viewpoints toward common understanding, most dinner parties would dissolve quietly into polite thank-you's and timely departures, followed at a decent interval--at home and among presumably sympathetic souls--by post-mortems in which each side pronounces the other to be unconscionable morons.

Thus is bloodshed avoided and the appearance of civility maintained.

This is not to say that outrageous comments are not heard at dinner parties; it is rather to observe that the most provocative pronouncements generally pass unchallenged.

Not while I'm around.

I bring this up because I was at a dinner party at a ranch south of here last night, and got a regular dust-up going, by offering the possibility of a slightly different interpretation of a scenario presented by our hostess. She proved herself both wiser and more politic than I, by hearing a call from the kitchen, summoning her to assist in preparing our dessert. The smart money leapt to its feet offering to clear, serve, and every damn thing but sit through the gathering storm of political debate.

Me, I don't know when I'm well-off and before you could say J. Fife Symington the Third--or Jack Shit, for that matter--I was into a fairly serious difference of opinion with my date, for whom I have the highest personal regard and with whom I share many deep and abiding values and convictions.

And so it ultimately proved last night. But it took better than two hours, the hard half of which took place at our hostess's dinner table, while the table, then the room, and even the kitchen gradually emptied of other, more mannerly, guests.

I'd have wound up an utter pariah--a condition not unfamiliar to me--had not I been yanked from the limelight of ignominy by a deus ex machina. A friend who had been an early spectator at the beginnings of this ill-fated colloquy tried to make a discreet retreat for home, but ran over a water pipe out in the yard. Suddenly the hosts were filling pots and pans for an emergency supply, the cowhand was summoned from his couch in front of the telly to cap the geyser in the dark, the whole ranch was out of water and the debating team was faced with the stark reality of having either to go home or pee outdoors on a night as black as the inside of a cow.

So we said thanks and left. But not before I found myself having to defend America's current crop of politicians against the assertion that all pols are corrupt, and there is little point drawing distinctions between them.

Me. Sticking up for the Doles, the Clintons, even the Symingtons of this world. I'd a damn sight rather be defending Harry Truman or Abe Lincoln, but when Bob and Bill and Fife are being lumped in with Radovan and Muammar and Ed, I'll jump right in there and get a food fight going, in the name of working within the system and keeping a chipper outlook and the sun'll come out tomorrow.

The devil makes me do it.

And tell the truth now: Don't you find it encouraging that Fife Symington is finally coming clean and essentially admitting that he is going to veto any piece of legislation that stands in the way of his getting all the free lawyering and book-cooking he can beg, borrow or steal? This is the sort of candid cupidity, forthright corruption I find refreshing, in the prevailing atmosphere of hypocrisy...a silver lining to the black cloud that has been the Symington administration.

Don't you agree? And what do you think? And how about the lady on your left?

Can we talk? TW

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