Two many Americas

By MIKE MILIARD  |  November 14, 2008

Met halfway
On October 23, Joe Biden sat down for a satellite interview with Orlando's ABC affiliate WFTV. His reaction, in so many words: WTF?

The station's health reporter, Barbara West, grilled Biden with questions that seemed culled directly from right-wing talking points. "You may recognize this famous quote," she intoned. " 'From each according to his abilities to each according to his needs.' That's from Karl Marx. How is Senator Obama not being a Marxist if he intends to 'spread the wealth around'?"

Biden's nonplussed reply: "Are you joking? Is this a joke?"

The patent absurdity of the charge is overshadowed by West's myopia. (After all: red was Marx's favorite color!) She might not be aware that Marxist thought can be manifested in the darnedest of places — like, say, a deep-South military base.

"A military base is like the most successful flowering of socialism in the world," says Kathy Roth-Douquet, co-author, with Frank Schaeffer, of, How Free People Move Mountains: A Male Christian Conservative and a Female Jewish Liberal on a Quest for Common Purpose and Meaning (Collins). "It's where the incomes are the most even. Day care is 'from each, to each,' and could cost as little as $5. Housing is free. Health care is free. It's actually kind of nice."

Roth-Douquet was an Obama campaign advisor, held a job in the Clinton White House, and has been a long-time Democratic foot soldier. Schaeffer campaigned for McCain in 2000, and his father, Francis Schaeffer, was an evangelical theologian, credited by many with influencing the political rise of the religious right.

All very neat, but each of the co-authors also confounds the left/right stereotypes. Roth-Douquet is married to a Marine, and lives on a military base in Parris Island, South Carolina. Schaeffer, whose formative years were spent at L'Abri, his parents' mission in Switzerland, lives in Salisbury, on Boston's North Shore, by the blue waters of the bluest state. And he voted for Obama.

The two first collaborated on the 2006 book AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service — and How It Hurts Our Country (Collins), and since then, says Schaeffer, "our relationship as friends has changed the way we see people we disagree with."

How People Move Mountains is written in a quasi-epistolary style — as an exchange of alternating liberal and conservative views as the authors evolve their diverging (and, often, converging) opinions on big subjects such as patriotism, religious belief, and consumerism. "We wanted to sort of make the process the product," says Roth-Douquet. "Because the book really is a lot about process." A valuable one, too, in a country where too many of us "think our opinions are ourselves."

Survival skill
Eight years ago, Schaeffer went on radio shows such as Oliver North's to stump for John McCain. Two years ago, McCain penned a fulsome blurb for AWOL. But this year, Schaeffer found his mind changing about the man he once supported.

And on October 10, Schaeffer wrote an open letter to McCain in the Baltimore Sun, which began: "If your campaign does not stop equating Senator Barack Obama with terrorism, questioning his patriotism, and portraying Mr. Obama as 'not one of us,' I accuse you of deliberately feeding the most unhinged elements of our society the red meat of hate, and therefore of potentially instigating violence."

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