18 July 2010


We had a glorious dinner last night at Central Michel Richard, celebrating (among other things) 10 years together, great successes at work for both of us, and a general sense of actually getting things done, and done reasonably well. The food and service were perfect -- Alsatian comfort food filtered through haute cuisine preparation and care, and with a wine list that was both comprehensive and not usurious in its markup. Bacon and onion tart, yellow tomato gazpacho with lump crab meat, steak tartare, grilled sea bass: everything was perfect, and some of it was sublime. Central is a lovely room, and looks and feels like a Parisian or Brussels brasserie, full of blond wood and relatively large, handsome tables and banquettes with an huge open kitchen at the back.

And yet, I was uncomfortable the entire time I was in the restaurant.

Partly it was the sound level, created by the cackle of unhousebroken adults who insist on using their "outdoor voices" at every opportunity, and which the acoustics and materials of the room (long, high open ceilings, lots of aforementioned blond wood) exacerbates. The other part was the absolute entitlement to which damn near every diner in the restaurant felt was owed to them.

I'll be the first to admit that I can be imperious when I don't get what I expect. But I also try to acknowledge and understand both why I can't get what I want, and why I'm out of line when that imperiousness shows up.

The sense of privilege and entitlement that I perceived on the faces of many of the diners at Central was appalling to me: for them, this wasn't a treat or a special occasion, this was part of everyday life. Given that with wine, dinner for two with tip ran close to $200, if that's everyday life in Washington, DC, then there's a lot more money floating around in the hands of a relatively few people than I thought possible.

Now, here's the hypocrisy: the same people who are completely enjoying their entitlement to fine dining are outraged at the idea that the Government might take more of their hard-earned money and use it for helping poor people. Because those people don't deserve to ... what - eat? have a home? have access to minimal health care?

This was the argument Martin Luther King put forward before he was murdered: that to complete the extension of civil rights, we must understand that economic circumstance is just as much a source of prejudice and discrimination as race. We've demonized poor people in the United States for the last 40 years, starting with the race and class baiting of the "welfare queens" that the Republican Party began in the 1970s and has lead to poor people being despised and defamed regularly by the news media, commentators, pundits, and politicians. We've watched -- in some cases, helplessly -- as the Bush-Cheney administration "engineered" a huge redistribution of income and assets from the middle classes to the wealthy. We've seen education dragged down to such a point that very few young people seem to have the skills or inclination to become educated to the point where they can identify logical errors, discern an argument, or recognize outright propaganda.

I've said it before: The Republic has failed. The hypocrisy -- which may very well be at the core of this country, from the moment of its founding -- has poisoned everything. Watching it die will be a most unpleasant experience.

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