"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Liberal And A Conservative Walk Into A Bar….

A liberal and a conservative walked into a bar; but the liberal realized he had made a mistake and left.  There were far more important issues to attend to than to waste an hour and twenty dollars on barfly conversation.  The liberal in this case, Peter Bower,  had always been tempted by The Four Aces, a neighborhood bar which had been around for decades.  He had gone there with his father many years before, sat in the corner while the old man played pool and drank beer.  The Four Aces was an old-fashioned bar with regulars, dollars and change, Luckies and Camels on the counter, cheap beer, cheap talk and dollar nine ball.

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While the Four Aces may have seemed like a hundred other Washington bars, it was not. While the conversations at the Four Aces began with sports and ended in politics, they were never angry.  There was no sign of the  infamous American divisiveness.  Why, in such a politically-charged city, in a hyper-inflated political environment could this be so?  Because the Four Aces had been self-sorted – over the years the entire bank of televisions on four walls and talk at the bar had become consistent in tone, content, and coverage.  Baseball, bass fishing, work, and conservatism.  
The bar in Peter’s father’s day and even today was the watering hole of Maryland plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and mechanics – an inexpensive, informal, and unassuming bit of turf in an otherwise upscale, trendy, and progressive area.  These men, on their way down to DC from Rockville and Gaithersburg had a convenient, welcoming rest stop between work and home.  For years the Four Aces never changed nor had its clientele; but increasingly men from the neighborhood started to stop in for a beer – first on their way home after a long trip on the Metro, then in the evenings after dinner, and finally for football games on Saturday and Sunday.  The Four Aces was not really their kind of place; but the well-heeled oyster-and-brunch places were too much like work; and the Four Aces was real – a bit of rural Maryland, hammers, pipes, saws, and chewing tobacco – that they would never see in their ordinary rounds of familiar, like-minded places, ever find.  Surprisingly they found the atmosphere congenial and the politics welcoming.  They stayed.

Not surprisingly, the Four Aces was, in the opinion of the neighborhood’s majority progressive residents, retrograde.  Stepping up to the bar was like stepping back in time.  Cigarette smoking had been grandfathered and  only recently discontinued.  Cheap beer was drunk by the barrel, and the talk was all about pussy and working for a living.  It was as though the liberal race-gender-ethnicity juggernaut had passed many miles to the south.  For all intents and purposes, the Four Aces belonged in rural Texas a generation ago rather than here.

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The neighborhood liberals who had never set foot in the Four Aces – or like Peter, set foot and then quickly left – would never have understood the place.  The Four Aces wasn’t some Southern backwater with good ol’ boys bellying up to the bar spewing racist invective, but an early 21st century counterculture venue just as revolutionary as Woodstock. 

The classic liberal movements of the Sixties both in the United States and Europe were partnerships between educated students and the working class, a solidarity of progressive interests which set aside class and cultural differences for the sake of idealism and political purpose.  The Four Aces was no different.  Its patrons were both those well-educated professionals who had come to conservatism logically and deliberately; and the Marylanders whose families always had and never lost their fundamental American beliefs.  They didn’t have to adjudicate political differences or debate political and social philosophy.  Their foundational democratic beliefs, their fundamentalist Protestant and Catholic tenets, and their difficult socio-economic struggle to join the mainstream made them ‘instinctive’ conservatives. 

The two streams of American conservatism – one which had always been defined by human nature, and one which was derived from intellectual analysis – met the Four Aces. 

The bar was no home to rational discourse, no exchange of ideas on sexuality, maternity, women’s destiny, or reproduction.  The patrons of the Four Aces might have used ‘inappropriate’ language, but their issues and the concerns were no different than those discussed in downtown wine bars.  The difference, if any, was one of conclusion.  The wine bar conservatives listened to progressive theology with objectivity  – there might be such a thing as a gender spectrum, biology never determines destiny, civil rights always trump morality, government always holds the keys to social and economic promise, climate change is settled science, etc. – but then dismissed it because it could not stand up to historical evidence to the contrary. 

The habitués of the Four Aces were originalists – theirs were convictions of received wisdom, lived history, and common sense.  Their beliefs were derived from religious history and American tradition and human nature.  Whether on matters of sex and sexuality, nationalism, economic enterprise, or the role of government, their conclusions were fundamental, not ascribed or interpreted, but no less right. 

Once the K Street conservatives got over the beards, the mullets, the tattoos, and the gun racks, they knew that they were among their own.  There was no difference between those who came to conclusions rationally – a study of Biblical exegesis, genetics, Early Church writings, and European and American history and those who had lived reproduction, faith, territorialism, and self-interest.

Tolstoy wrote in A Confession that he had spent his entire life trying to sort out meaning and faith; but studies of history, philosophy, science, mathematics, and religion offered no answers.  He backed into faith.  If millions of people believed in God and his divinity; and if billions more before him had had a similar faith, then there must be something to it.  These primitive originalists who came to their conclusions by ‘logical intuition’ had more sense than he ever had.

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Human life – and the human nature which lies at its center – is not complicated.  We are aggressive, territorial, self-protective and self-interested.  We know without thinking that we are alone, and that life is perpetual but without purpose.  It did not take Thomas Hobbes for us to understand that at best life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” and that faith can offer solace if not salvation.  It did not take Adam Smith to explicate capitalist enterprise since human societies have competed, traded, negotiated, and developed according to predictable patterns.

The only difference between the habitués of the Four Aces and the downtown crowd who joined them was that the lawyers came to conclusions while the Marylanders never had to.

The lawyers had to admit a guilty pleasure in talking about poontang, gay boys, and guns; but were quick to point out that the asides were never the angry, bullheaded, and spiteful hate that their progressive colleagues had assumed. Theirs was not a primitive, backward maleness, but an originalist one; and a welcome change from assumptions which denied maleness and femaleness.  Theirs was not an NRA-inflamed belief in the right of gun ownership; but an originalist one – human beings had protected themselves with violence since the first human settlements.  Theirs was not an easily packaged, easily dismissed box of simplistic conservative opinions.  Those came from the derivative progressives downtown whose political cabal was far tighter and more impermeable than the Four Aces would ever be.

The Northwest Woodstock never grew into a revolution.  The Four Aces conservatives were just as committed as anyone, but had a familiar fatalism – a belief in the permanence of human nature and the consequent predictability of history.  Activism is vain, irrelevant, and disappointing.  Moreover, the men at the Four Aces worked for a living.  They had no time for speculation.  Received originalist wisdom has a distinct advantage – conviction without righteousness.  Conclusions need not be acted upon.  Men in their families had worked for a living long before they came over on the boat, and their sons and daughters would do the same.  They would marry, have children, hope to improve their lot but nevertheless accept it, join the American mainstream or not, and never flinch. 

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