Saturday, April 3, 2010

Politics, Religion, and Sex

Etiquette authority Emily Post used to advise that neither politics nor religion were safe topics for polite dinner conversation. When the US Navy was strictly male, the unwritten policy decreed that no one could discuss politics, religion, or women in the wardroom. (It never occurred to Mrs. Post that polite dinner conversation would include sex.)

Most publishers have nothing against sex—indeed, the more explicit, the better—and religion is okay as long as the writer is for it or makes it crystal clear that an anti-religious character is not expressing the author’s true views. But politics? In this age when disagreements have escalated into calls for violence just short of anarchy?

Long ago, when I was searching for my voice, I chose mysteries because I loved them and because I thought I had nothing to say. Over the years, I learned that there was nothing I couldn’t say in this elastic genre, but that every option carried its special drawbacks: harm a cat and you lose a handful of cat-loving readers. Become too gory and you lose the cozy readers. Describe a lesbian relationship in a positive way and you lose the homophobes. Write about the “white” doctor or the “white” attorney and you’ll get objections from certain white readers who can’t quite explain why those tags offend them. But for sheer hate mail, nothing equals the passions and vindictiveness aroused when Deborah makes a mildly negative comment about any Republican official or policy, past or present.

As a judge who must run for office every four years, Deborah Knott is a political character. Until recently, judges ran on a party ticket and she grew up a Democrat, so of course she has opinions and biases. Although she occasionally slams Democrats, I have yet to get a single letter from that side of the political spectrum saying that they’re going to burn my books, that they have warned all their friends not to read me, and that they are going to pressure their libraries to quit carrying my *#^%#@%# books.

So while I’m not here to inflame passions, I am going to take this opportunity to give a public shout-out to my congressman Bob Etheridge for voting for the Health Reform bill even though he represents a fairly conservative district. Bob and I were in high school together, he a couple of years behind me, but both of us from the poor working class. He came to one of our little towns this week to face the voters and answer our questions. Oddly enough, there wasn’t a single protest sign and he got a standing O when he walked in.

We all know it’s not a perfect bill. There are lots of legitimate pros and cons and much room for disagreement. But for me, one of the best things about this bill is that insurance coverage is no longer tied to your current employer. If you quit or get fired, you’re still covered and your insurance company cannot drop you.

Why do I consider this right up there with “no pre-condition denials” and coverage of children? Over the years, I have seen too many of the working-class friends Bob and I grew up with who were compelled to stay in dead-end jobs they hated because it was the only way they could keep their medical coverage for a spouse or child with a serious medical condition. Now they will be free to follow their dreams into new careers without sacrificing their families’ welfare. And isn’t freedom of choice what America’s all about?

So even if saying this loses me more readers, thanks, Bob!

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