Written while reading Jane Austen at election time
Mr. Gary Melman, of Lowry, in Denver, was a man, who for his own amusement, never took up anything but the Wall Street Journal, there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there is faculties were roused into admiration and respect for the resourceful and responsible; there any unwelcome sensations arising from the state of the economy, the terrorist threat, and the future of the state of Israel changed naturally into anger at and contempt for the man in the White House.
Mrs. Beverly Melman was a wife of very superior character, an excellent woman, sensible and amiable, whose had humored, or softened, or when necessary headed off her husband’s habit of collaring strangers on the street and telling them in no uncertain terms that, in his long career as a job-creating small businessman, he had never had the such displeasure with a president, a man who sought to raise taxes on the income brackets to which Melman had long aspired to accede.
When Gary Melman met the then Miss Beverly Freund at a dorm Halloween cider and keg party during their senior year at the University of Washington in St. Louis, he had been quite taken with her perky smile and the manner in which she had, when Gary inadvertently vomited on the carpet, politely looked away and engaged in an animated conversation about the weather with his roommate Norman the Geek and then, after he had washed up and Norman had dealt with the mess, had turned back to him and led him into a slow dance. A romance of some months ensued, during which, making inquiries through the usual channels, Gary learned that her father was a full partner in the distinguished firm of Tinkers, Evers & Chance of Chicago, Illinois. The night after her last spring midterm, Gary, having placed a tie on the door handle of his room to warn Norman to stay away, proposed to her in a rather unusual manner he had thought up the previous night while Beverly had been at the library, but without, unfortunately, inquiring into her political party affiliation.
Gary had always considered himself to be broad-minded and independent of mind; he himself did not belong to a political party and took pride in evaluating candidates for office on their merits. Ticket-splitting, for him, was as much a matter of pride as evidence of a lack of prejudice, and he considered those who voted the same, year in and year out, as below him in social station as well as cognitive ability, for this was a habit of the uneducated, uncouth, and unemployed.
Hence he was disturbed to discover, in the election following their marriage, that of 1980, that Beverly planned to vote Democrat from top to bottom, from the highest office in the land down to the Regional Transportation Board. He pointed out to her the importance of considering the position papers, characters, and records of each candidate and the particular value of a careful perusal of the objective commentary to be found on the editorial page of the WSJ, stressing that on each line she should choose the candidate who seemed best fit to fill the office in question with responsibility and honor. Beverly responded that she had indeed evaluated all major party candidates for each office and had found in each case that the Democrat was more likely to pursue a progressive social agenda, providing for the poor, supporting public education, promoting a progressive tax system, and pursuing a conscientious and well-considered foreign policy that included massive aid for and support of the Jewish state without surrendering to the agenda of the hyper-nationalist government that had recently assumed power there and which was pursuing policies which, she felt, were certain to make a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict nigh impossible.
In light of his love and respect for Beverly, and in the interest of avoiding arguments in front of the young and impressionable members of their growing family, Gary did not press his point. He accepted, in theory, the statistical possibility, that a fair-minded voter might in a given year find that all the best candidates lined up on one side of the ballot. In any case, Beverly, belonging to the more emotional and easily swayed of the sexes and was due a certain amount of indulgence when it came to matters of state.
However, when the same thing occurred again in the following midterm elections, and then again in 1984, and in fact also in the odd-year municipal elections that feel in between, Gary began to grow suspicious. This, he felt, was a sensibility with very little sense to it. He admired Beverly’s fierce commitment to the unfortunate but would have preferred that she pursue it by, for example, raising money through Sisterhood bake sales and handing out food baskets in indigent neighborhoods. While he in principle supported public programs for the unlucky, as he grew older and as the insurance agency he had established with seed money from Beverly’s father (later repaid, in full, with interest) grew from a one-man outfit to a thriving business with two dozen hard-working employees whom he admired and valued and for whom he provided the best health plan he could afford, he came to appreciate the value of hard work and gained a strong sense that anyone with gumption and determination and a willingness to work long hours could set up his own business, or at the very least find employment in such a firm, and that those who did not do either found it easier to collect their welfare checks and food stamps rather than to do what was necessary to support their families. While he recognized that, in theory, providing for the poor was a precept of his Jewish heritage, he had, since moving out West, imbibed much of the individualistic pioneer culture that had made America and felt that, really, personal responsibility must trump social responsibility.
But none of this really disturbed the bliss that was the prevailing mood of the Melman household over the years in which they brought up Tom, Emma, and Edmund and sent them off to college and out in the world (he hoped very much that Tom and Ed would have enough sense not to put themselves in a position to vomit adjacent to girls they liked and that Emma would not do to some hormone-soused kid what Beverly had done to him that same night, but they told him nothing about such matters, about which he was thus compelled to live in a fantasy world entirely of his own devising). It was only when the recession of 2008 hit, at the same time that the Iranian ayatollahs were threatening to turn Israel into a nuclear wasteland, that it was no longer possible to paper over his differences with his wife.
With great reluctance, but determined to guarantee the solvency and future flourishing of his agency, Gary laid off eight employees, restructured, and hunkered down to get through the lean years. As much to set a good example for his children and employees as out of financial necessity, Gary and Beverly resolved to eliminate foreign vacations from their budget, to defer the home renovations that Beverly had planned, and to reduce the guest list to Emma’s wedding by a quarter, along with other sensible economies. Gary expected his government to do the same and was appalled when, after the election of 2008, the new president embarked on a major new initiative, to provide health insurance to untold millions of Americans, an expense for which he could see no room in the deficit-ridden national budget and which sent a message of profligacy rather than thrift to the American people. Furthermore, Israel was eager to kick the ass of the antisemitic Muslims in Teheran and it was clear that a president with this kind of name (and, he admitted to himself privately, but never in conversation with Beverly or with anyone else, of this color) was never going to stand up to the terrorists the way a Republican commander-in-chief would. Everyone knew that Republicans were tough and Democrats sissy, and he would not be swayed when Beverly noted that World War I, World War II, and the Korean War (and of course the Vietnam War, but that was a different story) had been pursued successfully and heroically by liberal Democrats.
This being the situation, it was clear to him that the elections of 2012 were critical to the future of the United States, Israel, and the free world, and he resolved that he would Have A Talk with Beverly and persuade her to cast her first Republican vote for, at the very least, the Republican candidate who had built a business up from ground level with a little help from Dad, a man of strong principles, firm demeanor, and all the relevant experience.
He carefully mapped out his arguments and planned to make his presentation at dinner Friday night, planned just for the two of them, because Ed, the only child still living in Denver, was hiking in the mountains with some buddies. But before he could even clear his throat and open with his planned preamble, Beverly herself broached the subject, asking him point blank how he could even think of voting for a man who had sold out to the most extremist, reactionary, and fundamentalist factions in his party and who voiced platitudes instead of programs and whose main innovation amounted to a form of budget mathematics that might perhaps add up in an alternative universe populated by creatures with the head of Ayn Rand and the body of Arthur Laffer, but which were in this world a violation of all that was good and decent about the American people and in total contradiction of the spirit of their Jewish heritage.
She then produced her Ipad and a calculator, and taking him through a series of websites, tallied up figures showing, she claimed, that the Republican’s economic program was dishonest, beholden to the super-rich, and would cause irreparable damage to the US economy. Gary sought to object, to counter-thrust, to invoke the WSJ editorial page, but for every point he made, Beverly had a website showing his instincts to be fallible and his logic unsupportable. He writhed, he shook his head, he doubled over in pain. Nearly defeated, he remembered the one point on which Beverly certainly would not be able to contradict him.
“But what about Israel?” Gary asked. “Are we going to sacrifice Israel on the altar of this president’s eagerness to make nice to the Arab world to which he owes his very name, this man who goes easy on terrorism?”
Beverly adduced the killing of Bin-Laden and noted that no American president of either party was going to accept the risk of a Middle East conflagration in which American boys would die unless every other option had been proven fruitless. Furthermore, she noted that the Israeli prime minister himself had suddenly changed his tune and pushed off the decision point for military action by many months. Again, she said, the Republican candidate was playing fast and easy with his rhetoric, seeking to give the impression of supporting Israel while giving so little in the way of solid policy statements that it was clear that he would act almost identically to the sitting president.
Yet Beverly said all this out of the warmth of her heart. She was tenderness itself and drew out the full worth of Gary’s affection. Her husband’s political proclivities had long been all that could make her friends wish that tenderness was less, and the dread of a future war was all that could dim her sunshine. She gloried in being the wife of a successful small businessman, but she must pay the tax of quick alarm when that profession led him into a political wilderness. It was time, she said, to redeem him.
Gary promised her that he would take all her points under advisement and, sitting there at the dinner table, alone with the wife who had, inexplicably stuck by him that party night, when she saw something in him beyond the mess he had regurgitated under the influence of too many consciousness-modifying substances, he carefully considered the merits, experience, and programs of the candidates for president and found that on all counts the incumbent should, after all get his vote. Beverly, overjoyed and contented, convinced that she had caused the true Gary to reemerge from the cocoon that he had so long closed over himself, proposed that they proceed to their marital chamber to reenact the night on which he had so ingeniously suggested that they might spend the rest of their lives together.
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