Bout: Left vs. Right
My Topic: Left
My Opponent: Jessica Anne, Right
Charity competing on behalf of: Pediatric AIDS Chicago Prevention Initiative (PACPI)
I have a group of such gods in my panoply: the entire cast of The West Wing, who not only pull off the flawless appearance of legislative acumen, but patter off an inhuman amount of facts and figures, all while walking at an unsustainable clip around a fake White House, doing really cool fake White House things. But no matter what, they always seem to know who they are.
I've made lots of mistakes on the way to forming my political identity---including the very first step: When I was a senior in high school, everyone old enough to register was herded into our cavernous school auditorium, and given a speech about how important it is to vote, civic duty, yadda yadda. I wasn't listening, I was up in the booth with the techies and my fellow drama club buddies. So when they passed out the forms to register, I just I picked my parents' political party, because I didn't care, I didn't think it mattered. When I paid a little more attention, I realized I’d made a horrible mistake.
When I moved here after college and got to register as an Illinois voter, I amended my party alignment, which solved everything, in my head. No further action needed! Political identity achieved! I was somehow able to slide by for the next several years, successfully avoiding anything that would irrevocably expose me for the civicly irresponsible moron I am. But gleaning peripheral knowledge here and there, or what I thought was knowledge made me a little cocksure. I started throwing around terms like Libertarianism and Ecocentrism, I started debating things with people--I'd lose immediately but I liked the taste of argument on my tongue. And even in non-debates, I found I liked chiming in on what (to me) was the lofty heretofore unreachable ground that is political commentary.
When I was cast in my first political drama I was immediately in over my head, constantly playing catch-up to the ensemble’s musings over current events when not onstage. I leaned heavily on my "observe and nod" skills, trying to speak only when I was confident that what I was about to say was definitely NOT going to be completely ignorant.
One night as we were all in the space, chatting and warming up for the show, a member of the cast started talking about Bill Brady. I don't recall the context of the conversation, I just remember hearing him say "Bill Brady" and the little guy in my brain who sits patiently at a desk, waiting for recognizable references, reached into a drawer and pulled out a file, exclaiming "OOOH!!! OOOH!!! WE KNOW THAT NAME, WE CAN PARTICIPATE IN THIS CONVERSATION!!"
So I waited for an appropriate "in" and asked my castmate "Have you read his book?" He said no and seemed a little perplexed that I had read anything by Bill Brady. I said "It's really quite good! Its called A Sense of Where You Are, but its mostly about his time with the NY Knicks."
And I got ALL of that sentence out...before the little guy at the desk in my head realized that the folder in his hand was definitely mislabeled. And when he realized the, not one, but two mistakes I'd made he utterly failed to throw his tiny neuron-sized body onto the shiny red ABORT button that would have shut my mouth.
See, Bill Brady is a Republican member of the Illinois Senate, representing the 44th legislative district since May 2002, thank you Wikipedia.
Bill Bradley is an American Hall of Fame basketball player, who later went on to become a Democratic senator for New Jersey.
Bill Brady has, to my knowledge, written exactly zero books.
Bill Bradley has written 7 books, NONE OF WHICH ARE TITLED A SENSE OF WHERE YOU ARE. That book was written by John McPhee...about Bill Bradley.
Wrong senator...wrong author...TOTAL FAILURE.
My castmate looked me in the eyes for a moment, nodded at me thoughtfully, and went right back to the former topic of conversation. He could have crucified me in front of the rest of the cast. But instead he gave me the mulligan, he just passed over it like it hadn't happened, allowing me to maintain my dignity on the outside, while melting into a puddle of embarrassment on the inside as the little guy behind the desk made the slow walk out from behind it, knelt down wordlessly, and performed ritual seppuku. That momentary social embarrassment was a painful, yet needful grand awakening in my head.
I've lived in Chicago almost ten years, and in that time I've been finally, gradually discovering my *actual* political identity. I've thankfully come a long way from thinking that it has mainly to do with what party you're registered with. I have a better idea of why it can form unbreakable friendships, permanently erode families, and topple entire governments. The hardest thing for me to remember, is that just because I long ago discovered that I’m pretty far LEFT on the spectrum, it doesn't negate anyone who isn't. The wide expanses of our political identities, the multitudes of morals and exceptions and instances and contradictions that ricochet within us like atoms in a collider, should all be counterbalanced with the capacity to listen to each other, to individualize, and to react on a personal level.
In that spirit, I can’t really say that LEFT is better than RIGHT. But if you vote for LEFT, me and the charity I picked will be really happy you did.