My parents’ mixed marriage

Not many people know this, but I am the product of a mixed marriage. I was blissfully unaware of it growing up, which I think speaks well of my Mom and Dad, who apparently wanted to protect their six children from the raw emotion and even hatred that was out there then — but seems to me to be out of control today.

My parents met when he was in his mid 20s and already out in the world, and she was barely out of her teens. Her parents were strongly opposed to any sort of relationship and did their best to nip it in the bud. They took her away to Europe for the summer, hoping that the spark would die. It didn’t work. Pop met the boat when they returned to New York. Her parents reluctantly accepted what they could not change, and Mom and Pop were married in late 1938 and remained happily married for 63 years.

Is that sort of mixed marriage even possible today? I seriously doubt it. After all, Pop was a Connecticut Yankee and a hardcore Republican, while Mom was a classic liberal Democrat from New Jersey (she was an early supporter of Jesse Jackson in the New Hampshire primary). She ran for office in our hometown several times, winning handily each time and proudly fighting for a Democratic agenda to preserve green space, limit McMansions and otherwise ‘interfere’ in individual’s rights to do whatever they wanted to. She did all this in the solidly Republican town of Darien, Connecticut.

My parents respectfully disagreed, but they also discussed and debated issues between themselves and with us — everything from Vietnam to gay rights, and lots of issues in between. Their views weren’t set in stone, even though their leanings were clear.

A couple of key words in there: ‘respectfully,’ ‘discussed’ and ‘debated.’ And things did not fall apart; the center held, contradicting Yeats’ grim vision.

What is going on with both parties these days?

So what on earth has happened to Republicans and Democrats? The latter seem to me to cave in at every twist and turn, particularly on the issues I care about most. Democrats should be fighting (speeches don’t count as ‘fighting’) for increases in spending on early childhood programs and Pell grants; they should be fighting to eliminate the Bush tax cuts for the rich; and they should be challenging tax loopholes that allow GE and others to actually make money on their tax returns. What do Democrats believe in these days, besides avoiding conflict and trying to make each defeat look like a victory?

In the wonderful movie Win Win, an inept high school wrestler spends an entire match trying to avoid being pinned. He’s OK with losing a decision (3 points) but not giving up the 5 points for a pin.

Or an older reference, from the Eagles’ song, “After the Thrill is Gone:”

Same dances in the same old shoes
You get too careful with the steps you choose
You don’t care about winning but you don’t want to lose
After the thrill is gone.

Both describe today’s Democrats, from where I sit.

Republicans strike me, for the most part, as hysterical panderers to a narrow harshly partisan agenda that is often contradictory. Many seem to be living in a ‘thought-free zone’ when it comes to children’s issues. They can’t be bothered by evidence (about the value of early education, for example) because that sort of stuff conflicts with their ideologies.

How do they contradict themselves? They are against taxes and for smaller government, even though their hero, Ronald Reagan, raised taxes and grew government wildly. They are against government interference, even though George W. Bush took over public education.

Here’s a specific example of their mindlessness that’s not in the headlines: Language. Many Republican politicians defend English, even to the point of pushing a Constitutional amendment to make it our national language. Guys, it already is! Many immigrants get what you apparently don’t — that English is our lingua franca, and they are busy learning it.

(So, by the way, are the Chinese, the Norwegians, the Germans, the French, the Koreans, and every other country that wants to eat us for lunch.)

Republicans are supposed to be the defenders of the free enterprise system of capitalism, but when they fly the “English only” flag they are subverting our system. Speak English, and you can go anywhere in the world and buy to your heart’s content. But if you want to sell, you have to master other languages.

So if Republican politicians honestly wanted to strengthen America, they would be urging dual language public schools. They would be making it possible for our children to emerge from school speaking at least two languages fluently.

Instead, they want to stamp out Spanish.

If Democratic politicians wanted to strengthen America, they would be on the offensive, taking charge of the debate about our future. It’s all well and good to talk about teachers as ‘Nation Builders,’ as President Obama has been doing lately, but it’s empty rhetoric without a serious national conversation about the sort of nation we want our army of 3.2 million public school teachers to build.

That means answering three ‘yes or no’ questions.
Do we want our children to be resilient, empathetic, honest and self-confident?

Do we want them to value collaboration and diversity?

Do we want teachers who ask of each child “How are you intelligent?” instead of “How intelligent are you?”

If the Democrats weren’t spending all their energy on disguising their multiple surrenders, we would be answering those questions. Soon a blueprint for public education would emerge, and thoughtful citizens (probably people who have rejected both parties) would have something to organize around.

However, “A plague on both their houses” is not a policy option or a healthy choice, and this rant is not a solution.

Ideas, anyone?

22 thoughts on “My parents’ mixed marriage

  1. There is no hope that Republicans and Democrats will begin to address the significant problems always facing our country. Nor will such dialogue occur in the general public – insuring the widely fluctuating and very inefficient ($$$) programs of today.

    The one hope would be for President Obama to return to his campaign message seeking bipartisan efforts by Congress. He needs to announce that he will sign NO LEGISLATION that does not have bipartisan (30% ???) support, period.

    If he won’t do that (and many people voted for him for that including me – remember the facilitated discussions he organized even before being inaugurated ???), then we need a constitutional amendment requiring the same. The forefathers had widely different views but did dialogue to get consensus; we should expect nothing less.

    Beyond that, I would also like to see “None of the Above” as an option for ALL election positions. If NOTA wins, we do without representation for the next cycle. IT CAN’T BE ANY WORSE …


    • John
      I probably could not disagree more with you on this. We are not living in an era of collaboration or cooperation, and in fact his willingness to ‘work together’ is taken as a sign of weakness. Is it? I don’t know, but I know what I see happening. Republicans aren’t interested in working together. It’s as simple as that.

      I’d like to see both political parties actually stand for–and fight for–something of significance for our domestic future


      • I agree with your characterization. BUT NOTHING IS GETTING ACCOMPLISHED: only entropy generation that is adding to our financial woes. It is tragic that it’s seen as week but it is it I believe unless we begin to cooperate. Otherwise the pendulum swings faster and higher with no real progress. Truly a tragedy …


  2. the headline was catchy… it go my attention.
    Then I read the post and saw that the ‘mixture’ in your parents marriage was political, not the usual assumption: racial.

    That reminds me: assume nothing

    I live in Wisconsin, an nowhere in the nation, except maybe Capitol Hill in D.C. have the lines between Republicans and Democrats been more clearly drawn in the last few months.

    The Republican- controlled Assembly and Governor have pushed through their bill that would, among other surprising things, eliminate collective bargaining for teachers on any issue except salaries. A firestorm was started by that bill and the state is now clearly divided between those who support Governor Scott Walker’s agenda, those who are against it (mostly middle- class workers) and those who wish both sides would just get in a closed room and fight it out, then let us know what comprise they came up with.

    But, no compromise is in sight, the bill passed, the governor signed it, now all we have to do is wait until the court challenges are over for it to take effect.

    This firestorm has spread to several other states and our Republican governor in is Washington today, telling all the Beltway people about the “Battle over the Budget” in Wisconsin


  3. I was of course hoping to catch your eye and provoke a serious conversation, and your post is a good start. thanks


  4. Dear John, I’m impressed by your background. No wonder you are such a happy, kind person married to an equally happy, kind person. Too little energy is given to respect in the heat of defending our beliefs.
    I think what’s missing in our Democratic/Republican War Of Their Worlds is that there is too little feminine energy. Women create agreement, peace, bonding, co-creation. They are not embued with the testosterone that instructs their genetics to win at any cost and take no opponents alive.
    To Your Best Future, Faith Popcorn


  5. The key having a serious political discussion, it seems to me, is captured succinctly in your response to the first post: both parties need to stand for–and fight for–something of significance.

    The President talks a good game. This week’s speech outlining his fiscal agenda was excellent. But so were his campaign speeches in 2010. Now, instead of capitulating to the Republican agenda, he needs to convince both his supporters and his opponents that he is serious about the philosophical foundation that supports his position.

    If his actions don’t achieve anything of significance, the well written speeches are little more than hollow rhetoric, and all he will stand for is a commitment to getting re-elected — at any cost.


  6. Oh, we have plenty of collaboration. The republicans and democrats are two sides of the same dirty coin. It’s still an us vs. them society, but it’s no longer red vs. blue. It’s us (the taxpayers) vs. them (the ruling political class and their rent seekers). The politicians love it when they fool people like you into thinking one side is bad and one side is good. The country is full of the sort of petty partisan parasite whose very self worth hinges on which party is in power.

    So yes, thoughtful citizens (there are very few of us) have indeed rejected both parties and all of your vitriol. The rest of you can be good little soldiers in the economic jihad against America waged by Al Qongress, but to be honest it has grown quite tiresome.


  7. It occurs to me only now that the real villains, THE LOBBIESTS, have not been mentioned. I just saw a quote from Walter Liepmann I believe: paraphrased, “when people think alike (Democrats & Republicans), very little thinking takes place.”


  8. I am also in a mixed marriage on several levels. I am a descendant of Eastern European Jews, the earliest of whom to arrive was in 1862, the last in 1906. My mother and father each had one parent born abroad, one born here.

    My spouse is on her father’s side descended from the Mayflower, with a revolutionary war general in the family tree. On her mother’s side it is a mix of people traceable back to Goochland County Virginia in the 18th century, and another part that was loyalist and went to Canada at the time of the Revolution.

    We are now different religions – she is Orthodox Christian, I am now a Quaker. She is night owl, I am a morning person, she is a neatnik, I am a slob. And she is a cat person (but who came to cherish our beloved sheltie during her years with us) and I am a dog person (who loves our 5 rescued cats).

    We have some disagreements on politics, although in fact we overlap far more than some might expect.

    Back in the day – when in my late teens and early twenties I was involved with Civil Rights – we had an expression of learning how to disagree without being disagreeable. I try to teach my students that, to model it for them, and to have them learn how to attack ideas without attacking a person. Unfortunately, there are too many models in our political world who think that every part of politics and governance has to be total war, crushing the other – which too often means the real needs of the people, including those who elected them, gets ignore in the lust for total victory.

    I sometimes wonder if our politics are now beyond repair. I am also coming to the conclusion that the way we do policy – especially that for education – is more destructive than doing nothing.

    Then I shrug my shoulders, have a cup of coffee, and return to school for another day, attempting to make a difference for the students in my care.



  9. My wife leans right and I think of myself as standing well to the left of the line, yet we still love and respect each other. So I think it is still possible for people to respectfully disagree. We just don’t see it on tv or hear it on the radio.

    At the core of the issue is that politicians try to save face in a culture that likes things to be placed in a nice, neat packages. We like our heroes to be heroic and good, and our villains to be deceitful and evil etc… We like labels so we know what to expect. Instead of getting to know people, we want to read their labels: republican or democrat, Christian or Muslim, banker or farmer, educated or uneducated. All so we can make snap decisions about the people we meet instead of taking the time to learn what truly makes our fellow humans who they are. Because of this, and the fast paced media that drives it, we feel the need to other; are you like me or not, are you wearing the same jersey as me or not? It makes life easy to comprehend, and in our society, we like things to be as simple and easy as possible.

    People view politics as a sport, because it is marketed as such, and it isn’t about the issues at hand but about winning so you can call yourself the victor. You are right, politicians are very hypocritical, conservatives want less interference from government but they don’t have a problem passing a law that makes a woman see and hear a heartbeat before she can get an abortion. Liberals are just as guilty. To survive to the next round of elections our elected officials have to make it seem that they are playing for the right team.

    So what can we do about it…?

    Well, I try to demonstrate to my students all the time that you can have a measured, respectful argument about these topics and it is perfectly alright to concede a point while doing so. I cite examples of myself having arguments with other teachers they know who strongly disagree with my opinions and yet I’m very good friends with them. I create a classroom environment where students can express their opinion openly without fear of attack from those who may disagree. Yes, there are many bad examples out there of nationalism (see Orwell’s Notes on Nationalism) at it’s worst; we just have to try to set an example of how to work through issues in a calm, coherent, productive manner.


  10. As divided as it seems, all politics really are local – as my former Congressman and Speaker once said. That said, chaos in Washington is … in Washington. What is remarkable is what we can do when we really ignore them. We’ve got kids bragging about how smart they are so well, so clearly, and so engagingly that they’re getting colleges to compete for their interest. And it’s a 60% poor, 70% bilingual school with 54 languages, where almost everybody knows almost everybody else.

    As miserable as Washington gets, there is no conceivable way for them to diminish the pleasure and pride any adult feels when they see things like this, or this What’s lovely is a young person’s glory in achievement – which is really what it’s all about – and that glory sharpens the contrast between a positive future and the grim reapers of the District.

    In education, the real meaning of “Return on Investment” is the optimism of youth, undiminished by the jaded nastiness of an increasingly irrelevant world of public policy. Let Duncan and the other Bushwacking left overs waste a half a billion dollars on tests, forums, meetings, and other manipulations. Race to the Top can’t hold a candle much less enlighten the insights of youth. Students like these will do quite well regardless of scores, as long as we give them the space to show off what they really can do rather than buy in to what the meretricious psychometricians pander.

    It’s Spring, John, after a really cold winter, and, though the cherry blossoms barely hide the frozen tundra of ideological glaciers, look at the kids for what works best. Obama’s lost touch. He may regain it, or he may merely survive against remarkably sniping birthers or other know nothings. But the next generation sure knows a lot more than the one now in charge.


  11. Last night I listened to the new president of the newly resurrected Antioch College, Dr. Mark Roosevelt who is also of mixed heritage (yes he is the great-grandson of Republican Teddy and great grand-nephew of Democrats Franklyn and Eleanor). In his speech to Antioch alumni interested in how the reborn college would look, he made several points of interest to this discussion.

    He said he was not interested in drawing lines in the sand. He acknowledged that there are some historical moments where that becomes necessary, but was clear that it can not be the modus operandi. He pointed out a fascinating study that proved the oft-stated: in general people only hear what they want to hear. In this case the researchers noted that when reading, people tend to underline the portions of a text that agree with their pre-reading point of view. Roosevelt asked: why read anything new if your intent is just to find validation for your existing views? He challenged the audience to encourage students at Antioch–often characterized as a left leaning institution, to study in a more neutral way views that run counter to those leanings.

    Antioch’s new leader spoke to the intellectual snobbery that has emptied Democratic ranks of those who feel as disenfranchised by left wing conversation as many Republicans fleeing in disgust the extreme right of their party.

    So my response to John’s question is that we need to do as Antioch is doing on a national scale. We need to re-invent our relation to “politics”. That can mean creating new forums where substantive debate is encouraged, or being actively involved in honest reflection within the old ones. What I refuse to see as an answer is to walk away. There is no “away” in a world confronting the level of possible disasters that ours faces.


  12. I am a bit one tracked these days, but this does lead me right back to the crux of our film. AUGUST TO JUNE, Bringing Life To School If we support the inquisitive nature of childhood, keep students loving school all the way through because it is a place that respects them as learners and as people, we can rebuild a democracy where ideas are debated on their merits, not on political sloganeering.


  13. This is the legacy of Bill Clinton and the DLC. Politics is defined as halfway between what Democrats want and whatever the GOP, which actually has an ideology, demands. Over time that means moving steadily to the right of where the country was in the Nixon or even the Reagan period in domestic programs. There hasn’t been any significant new urban program, for example, in almost four decades, Democrats talk about the middle class but not the poor, important parts of the safety net are simply shredded, there are no serious efforts to reverse the massive incarceration of young minority males, higher education becomes more a private benefit not a public good as funds are slashed, economic policy is in the hands of bankers and economists looking out for their interests, there is nothing like the 1930s efforts to directly deal with mass joblessness and foreclosures, and most of the irresponsible Bush tax cuts are going to be preserved regardless of how much of the federal government (now devoted mostly to the elderly and defense) has to be eliminated. We pretend that schools by themselves can produce equal results in an increasingly unequal society and attack teachers and teachers organizations when they do not. There is no serious education of the public about who caused the economic collapse and the African American and Latino core of the Democratic party is simply taken for granted. And everyone flies around collecting checks from corporations and the rich. Ironically, we have the least discussion of racial inequality of any Democratic administration since the 1930s and not even a really serious fight to confirm very well qualified moderate and progressive lawyers to partially balance the extreme conservatives appointed by the GOP, who have been very busily reducing civil rights and expanding the power of corporations to even more clearly dominate politics.


  14. I clearly recall an interview I did with Jonathan Kozol many years ago in which he excoriated the media for its approach: present ‘both sides’ of the story with the assumption that the truth is in the middle. His point, which I hope I have taken to heart, is that stories often have several sides and that on occasion one side is right and all the others are just plain wrong.

    The debates about climate change are a good example of bad journalism, because my tribe seems to feel obligated to have a ‘denier’ on every time, even though 95+ per cent of scientists agree that the climate has changed and is changing.

    Because I’m still a member of the journalism tribe in good standing (I hope), it’s not my place to be on the barricades, but I have to say that I am disappointed that the people who talk the talk are not walking the walk when it comes to children’s issues.


  15. Appearances may be deceiving, but there seems to me to be a disquieting resemblance between intransigent nature of the Israeli and Palestinian “peace talks” and that between our two main political parties. All parties are ossified into their intractable ideological postures, totally lacking in any will to break out and compromise. Where does this end? How does this end? Why does this end? Here is my point. A very few extremists in each party in each separation has seized control from vast majority of witless, clueless moderates. They continue to act as bystanders our collective peril.


  16. “A couple of key words in there: ‘respectfully,’ ‘discussed’ and ‘debated.’”

    “Republicans strike me, for the most part, as hysterical panderers to a narrow harshly partisan agenda that is often contradictory. Many seem to be living in a ‘thought-free zone’ when it comes to children’s issues.”

    Apparently, your parents’ civility did not rub off.


    • Touché
      But please give me credit for being even-handed in my lack of civility….
      (and some of my best friends are Republicans and Democrats)


  17. Californians are having a hard time coming to agreement on how much money to spend on public education. And Californians are famously fickle when it comes to political parties. So I’m inclined to think that the lack of agreement has more to do with fundamental values than an unthinking dedication to political parties.


  18. The way I see it with the ever changing news its hard to keep up to date on current facts. Most of these commenters arent taking into effect the change of the global economy and how much of a different it has on news technologies / medical growth / economic / political issues. But anyways nice read, defiantly enjoyed your post. Found your blog on google search engines btw… most people always wonder how people are finding them.


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