Politics and Poetry

 Today is Election Day. In a vast departure from my usual blog fare, I am writing today about my political leanings. Prepare to be offended. You may stop reading here if you believe this post will make you angry.

As a group, poets have always been pretty politically active. Usually, that activism has been of the Berkeley-inspired sort, with Allen Ginsberg appearing naked or George Saunders writing tongue-in-cheek about being Ayn Rand’s lover (see the latest New Yorker).

Artists and poets have historically professed to being open-minded and accepting of all. And yet, watch what happens in writing groups or seminars when a conservative voice enters the picture. Suddenly that open-mindedness is nowhere to be found, and ugliness quickly enters the scene. All the anti-bullying rhetoric that these same “compassionate” people spout daily somehow gets forgotten in the barrage of name-calling and slur-shouting. Hypocrisy at its finest. It’s as though people who vote Republican or even conservatively Independent aren’t welcome in the “literary clubhouse.” The children already inside have posted a poorly lettered sign that reads, “No Patriots Allowed.” After all, patriotism is a notion that shows some kind of loyalty or devotion; strictly verboten ideas to the hedonists, nihilists, atheists, and radicals who nailed together the clubhouse in the first place.

This statement takes me back to a few years ago when a friend of mine was banned from a coffeehouse for reading a poem that the business owner considered “too right-wing.” What happened to freedom of speech there? Does it only apply to my liberal friends? Why is burning a flag okay, but expressing legitimate concern over our national debt suddenly taboo? The questions could go on and on.

Certainly conservatives are not exempt from the hand of this accusation, either. “The Ol’ Boy Club” has been around for generations, and there is good reason why the artists and creatives of our society felt the need to become a clique of outsiders in the first place. Now the outsiders, however, are those within the arts who cherish ideas like religious liberty, traditional family values, a strong military, the right to life, the freedom to defend one’s home and family, or giving just and swift punishment to those who commit heinous acts against innocent others. These are the very tenets that our ancestors fought and died for, writer and reader friends.

For a moment, however, let’s leave behind any issue that is not directly related to writing and the arts. Let’s assume that today when you go to the polls, you want to vote for the candidate who has done the most to support these two ideas. One candidate leveraged the arts into prominence, supporting music and creativity-based programs in schools while supporting business and individual liberties. The other candidate slashed 13 percent of funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities AND from the National Endowment for the Arts. You do the math.

The polls will open in about half an hour here. I plan to make my vote count. I hope that you plan to do the same, friend. And I hope that my assertive utilization of the First Amendment has not in any way negatively impacted your view of me as a writer. At the end of the day, what really counts is my performance, not my politics.

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