Dinner-Table Democracy

dinner table

Posted on February 5, 2013 by Ruth O’Brien

Freedom of speech, education, and voting are the three issues my husband I have no dispute about in our radically divided household.  Contrary to what our friends think, we don’t have great political pillow talk.  Nor do we have heated political discussions (or brawls) at the dinner table with our two sons.  But we do have hand-waving discussions and contests, replete with time-outs over logic, root ideas, assumptions, and definitions.  Etymologies, epistemologies, and encyclopedias are fair game.  We each have our favorite edition or translation.  We dispute dictionaries or definitions, in other words.  (Fred and I prefer the OED, my sons prefer anything with a .com after.)

And indeed, if we had written a prenup, we would have included three things: 1. No writing about each other in public (published words, or leaked emails that wind up in other people’s publications); 2. no taking advantage of legacy in higher education, since my conservative college doesn’t have such a policy, and his liberal college does (grr) (he went to an all-male school and so did I, though only in name, as the M was replaced by McKenna before I graduated, while his college simply usurped control over the nearby women’s college — in New York, that is); and 3. no curbing the other person’s political participation.

Then we all take comfort in remembering what I heard recently — as to why members of Congress address each other as “honor”able.  We do live in a democracy, where everyone gets to participate; the question is HOW.  So the biggest argument around our dinner table is what on earth could be wrong with laws (unenforceable ones) that require you to vote; and why felons who have served their time should be denied the right to vote.

Before I interrupt myself again, the point is that neither the GOP nor big-D Democrats (liberals, progressives, Obamacrats, or members of the new cosmopolitan rainbow coalition [CRC]) can argue about the inherent value of political participation.  We can only whine or complain that the other side is corrupt in their implementation of this participation (denial of due process).

So, now that Obama got reelected and has hit a 60 percent approval rating, he gets to decide (okay, his administration does) who is and who is not “corrupt” by virtue of his ability to determine – yes, you got it – process around his national and international dinner table.  The executive branch, not the legislative branch, determines or dictates administrative process.

At our own dinner table, I struggle to maintain Ruth’s rules; Fred recites his definitions (including long historical etymologies); our youngest son, Theo, has accused me of practicing Theoism (discrimination against him, and he only smirks when you point out the egotism underlying this term); and my older son, Max, is the philosophical police person (his mom apparently doesn’t follow her own published definitions).  I just smile at this one too, because this is how I got him to read my books; and he can challenge me, but only in publication, since there is no prenup for kids.  Survivors of the Buckleys and Susan Sontag recently learned this principle.

This entry was posted in American-politics by Ruth O'Brien. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ruth O'Brien

Professor Ruth O'Brien, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York (CUNY) & Honorary Unaffiliated Academic Book Series Editor for The Public Square, Princeton University Press & Heretical Thought, Oxford University Press, USA Last book: Out of Many, One: Obama & the Third American Political Tradition (U of Chicago 2013). Nickname: "Professorette" by Rush Limbaugh (see http://www.gc.cuny.edu/Faculty/Core-Bios/Ruth-O-Brien)

Leave a Reply