The week that I was born in 1963, an American detective show called “Burke’s Law” premiered on the ABC network. It was about the millionaire captain of the Los Angeles police homicide division. He would solve crimes while being chauffeured around in his Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. Captain Amos Burke was known for dispensing bits of quotable wisdom to his underlings, and then stating, “Burke’s Law”, ergo, the name of the show.
Despite it’s improbable premise, the series lasted several years, and a remake was even attempted in the 90s. The only reason I know about it is because I was trying to determine the origin of the following quote: “never ask a question unless you already know the answer”. A few sources attribute this to the dashing Burke, while others claim it’s common trial lawyer advice. I think the latter is probably more accurate. The brilliant Harper Lee had a variation of this quote in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and I’m guessing Burke (and probably a few lawyers) pilfered it from her.
Per the book’s narrator and protagonist, Scout: “never, never, never, on cross-examination ask a witness a question you don’t already know the answer to, was a tenet I absorbed with my baby-food. Do it, and you’ll often get an answer you don’t want, an answer that might wreck your case”. It’s good advice, even for us non-lawyers.
It was a fall day of yesteryear, the morning after watching election returns. The results of which were thought to be almost as improbable as the premise of a show like Burke’s Law. Sleep deprived and shell shocked, I texted a good friend. I posed a question that I didn’t know the answer to and then, got an answer that I didn’t want. And it wrecked me.
We all have them. That person who’s been in our lives forever – before we knew (or cared) who our friends voted for. I don’t mean that acquaintance from high school who you re-connected with on Facebook, who has never stepped foot outside of your hometown and thinks that the National Enquirer is real news. I mean your person. The one who was a part of your life when you were becoming you. Before we all grew up, and made a life, and started paying attention, and formed opinions.
On that November day, I asked my person whom she voted for and, to this day, I still view her answer as a serious lapse in judgment. I acknowledge her prerogative to feel the same about me though, and she will always be my person. I know who she is and this cannot be summed up simply by her vote.
Still, relationships that straddle the political spectrum are taking a battering. How can they not? The 24-hour news cycle ensures we’re informed of a continuing barrage of assaults: on the environment and healthcare and reproductive rights and women’s rights and civil rights and voting rights and freedom of speech and the free press and gun safety and the separation of church & state and public education . . . and, and, and. It. Never. Ends. My need to stay informed is in constant conflict with my desire to be optimistic. The latter is losing.
I’ve finally found a way to channel some of my unrelenting rage into something a little productive for the upcoming midterm elections. I’ve been lending my time and texting ability to the senatorial campaign of the democratic challenger in a very red state. My volunteer effort entails texting some 400-800 people at a time, and providing answers to any resulting questions they may have. My responses are all prepared by the campaign, depending on the topic. We are permitted to veer off script a bit, if customizing our response will be helpful. We are supposed to immediately opt out recipients upon their request or, if they curse. It’s been a very interesting experience and, barring a few exceptions, people are surprisingly civil.
I appreciated the sincerity of the Jehovah’s Witness lady – who said that while she was certain that both candidates were lovely people, only God could be our king. I’m an agnostic, so I wouldn’t know about that. I enjoyed the passion of the guy who insisted that the incumbent was the Zodiac Killer. While I really dislike this politician, I don’t think he’s the Zodiac Killer. He does have an uncanny resemblance to the Grandpa character from “The Munsters” though. Naturally, I received my fair share of “your candidate is a baby murderer” comments. There is just no pleasing these folks, so I didn’t engage (but gosh I wanted to). And, I have special affection for the guy who said, “I’d like to get to know YOU better sweetheart.”
But, my favorite was an exchange I had with “Earl”. At first, Earl accused me of being Spam and was rightfully annoyed. So, I ditched the canned verbiage, responded like a human, pointed him towards the candidate’s website, and wished him a good day.
About a half hour later, Earl responded with the following: “Thank you. I respect your right to work for the candidate of your choice. I don’t know you but I hope you are equally willing to respect other people without denigrating them. Both parties seem to care more about winning and being in control than doing what is right for America.” I don’t think he’s wrong. I added another plug for my guy, but I told Earl he had a valid point and wished us both luck. At worst, Earl will be voting for the other guy. At best, he’s undecided, and my not being an asshole and engaging with him lends some credibility to my side of the aisle. Maybe.
Back to my person. I won’t text her the morning after the next election asking who she voted for. I learned my lesson. Besides, no matter how things go this November, there will still be much to do. The havoc being wrecked during this Trumpian Dystopia we’re living in won’t end any time soon. Also, I have kids. I think that obligates me to dig deep and be optimistic. Which means that Earl and I aren’t finished chatting.