Well, it’s election time again—in our house, that special season when we get to toy with Democratic campaign callers.
See, my wife and I are what you might call DINOs—Dems In Name Only. Or maybe DFTHOI—Dems For the Hell Of It. Not that we started out that way. When we first registered to vote in the halcyon days of the early 1970s, Richard Nixon was in the White House and Saturday nights meant Mary Tyler Moore. Who could imagine being anything else? Still, as the years passed and, as they say, the party left us, we remained Democrats on the books. Why? I’d like to say that it was so that we could work to nudge the party back toward its JFK and Trumanesque roots. But closer to the truth is that, when arguing with someone shrugging off the latest Dem outrage—say, the savaging of Robert Bork, or Clarence Thomas, or Brett Kavanaugh—we got to say, “Look, I’ve been a Democrat my whole life, but. . . .”
Plus, as New Yorkers, we could vote in the only election that really counts—the Democratic primary—and do our part to help our once-great party fully transform into exactly what it seemed hell-bent on becoming. In 2004, I said, “Okay, guys, if this is really what you want”—and cast my presidential primary ballot for Al Sharpton. Rotten choice? Tell that to the 57,455 other Democrats who did the same, enabling the “civil rights leader,” famed of Tawana Brawley and Freddy’s Fashion Mart, to run a strong third in a nine-man field. Arguably, Sharpton was not the greatest moral reprobate in the bunch. John Edwards finished second.
So, my course was set. If I couldn’t alter the drift of the party, I could at least have fun at its expense.
I don’t mean to be cynical. I know as well as every other Democrat that our democracy is under siege, and it dies in darkness, and . . . what is it that Biden’s deposed disinformation czarina trilled on TikTok? “It’s when a huckster takes some lies and makes them sound precocious.” I’m not sure what that means, but I think it pertains.
Not that election season is the only time I enjoy myself at the expense of random callers. Whenever our landline rings, it’s a good bet that it will be someone concerned about our car’s lapsed warranty, or a South Asian named “Tom Johnson” who has detected a problem with our Internet service. As a service to humanity, I’ll sometimes keep him on the line for 20 minutes or so, convinced that he’s about to get my credit-card info.
But all that’s practice for my favorite callers: the local Dem stalwarts. They’re always upbeat at first because, hey, we’re on the same team. “Hi, Harry, just calling to remind you to be sure to vote Tuesday for [insert Nancy Pelosi– or Charles Schumer–lite local pol].”
“Uh, sorry, but I don’t think I can.”
Instantly, there’s confusion on the other end, and with deep regret I explain myself: the candidate they’re pushing is simply not up to my hyper-progressive standards. It might be that he/she/they has not expressed him/her/themself with sufficient zeal in support of teaching critical race theory to kindergarteners. Or in support of trans athletes. Or of the green agenda. Or maybe I’m disturbed to have learned that the candidate eats meat. Or maybe I’ve heard that the candidate’s former spouse was in the military. Or—the one I’ve used most—the candidate is a man or straight and refused to step aside for a woman or gay in the primary.
Here’s the thing: the Democratic activist never objects. Because the vital element of the whole business is that my attack comes from the left, and I hold the moral high ground. The caller may halfheartedly go through the motions, but we both understand that no obligatory reading of talking points about guns, voter suppression, or even abortion can change the fact that I am the better person. If anything, it is the caller whose faith in the Democratic candidate has been shaken.
Who says that you can no longer have a productive conversation with anyone on the other side?