Last Friday we had an appointment with a stoma nurse at the hospital downtown where Mary will undergo surgery in a couple of weeks. Katie was very helpful, hopeful and encouragingly competent and confident. We felt in good hands, and were ready to leave what had been an upbeat session concerning a less than upbeat subject.
Then, as we got up to go, Katie noticed my book. Whenever I’m visiting a medical institution, I make it a point of bringing a book with me. The longer the better is my motto, as a way of forestalling the potential of hours spent exposed to the intellectual wasteland which is daytime TV. The book in question was “Decision Points,” by George W. Bush.
“Any good?” Katie asked.
“Actually it is, quite good.”
“He must have a good ghostwriter.”
I replied that I didn’t know if he did have a ghostwriter. “If he does, he’s very good,” I explained. “Because it really sounds like Bush’s voice.”
“Then he must have a stupid ghostwriter.”
I guess I had a shocked look on my face because Katie then acknowledged that “Oops, I think I showed my politics.”
I said something along the lines of “Maybe just a bit,” and we exited, laughing. By the time we reached the ground floor, though, my amusement had long since faded. It had been replaced with disbelief and disappointment.
How dare this nurse so casually and gratuitously inject such a slur into a professional consultation? Mary is engaged in a fight for her life, and Katie is on the front lines of this battle. How does her flippancy help promote unit cohesion? How does her reflexive contempt for others’ views enhance morale?
It would have been one thing if she had stated her opinion that Bush’s response to the terrorist acts of 9/11 were too extreme, or that she had issues with his tax policy, or that the 2008 financial crisis represented a failure of Presidential leadership. Such comments would perhaps have been more appropriate to a history seminar than a professional medical consultation, but they would not have been inherently insulting. They would have reflected intelligent thought, which is the opposite of what Katie’s actual comments displayed.
But the really disturbing part of this exchange was that Katie didn’t even mean it to be insulting. In the political milieu in which she no doubt wanders, the idea that Bush is an idiot is received wisdom. It is the truth, sacred and inviolable, no more open to question than the certainty the Barack H. Obama is “The One.” Had she realized how offensive her comments would be, I have no doubt that Katie would not have made them. They were entirely reflexive, in the same way that a Moslem will say “Insh’Allah” after announcing plans for the future. It was a simple expression of faith.
This blithe certitude hamstrings the retreat from vitriol to which so much of the commentariat has given lip service following the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords last weekend. It is hard to achieve a state of comity when one party’s comments are perceived as the direct cause of such violence, while the other party’s slurs are forgiven because, well, as every really smart person knows, they’re true.