Driving and Politics

By Lee Strauss (Copyright @ 2011)


For most of my life as a highway driver, my method has been consistent and automatic. Get on the road and head for the left lane. Sure, you have to go somewhat faster over there, but the extra speed is usually exhilarating and, best of all, once there, you have only to worry about one lane of other cars misbehaving—the one to your immediate right. Sure, there’s always the unknown factor of what might be coming up viz the guardrail or road conditions on your left, but nothing in traffic is more potentially unpredictable and dangerous than the odd behavior of other human beings traveling at high speed in big chunks of metal, particularly if they are going faster than you are. So, all else being equal, while traveling on the left, I usually have no other worry beyond having to occasionally step on the gas to keep apace with the errant speed demon. This, combined with the resolution to simply stonewall the truly egregious—if they want to go 80 or 90 they can just figure out on their own how to pass me on the right—reduces most variations on the road to just a few pleasant and reliable bursts of adrenaline as I either speed up a bit or deal judiciously with extremists.

The one exception to this rule occurred for me during my 30s, while pursuing an intense course of therapy that required long highway drives every other week. In those days I drove a trusty if stodgy Dodge Dart, and for this reason, along with others having to do with the therapeutic issues I was dealing with,  I sometimes took to driving home to Boston from Hartford hugging the right lane most of the way. I did this mainly out of the urge to maintain an average speed between 40 and 45, and in one way it was the most pleasant driving experience I’ve ever had—at least during those moments when my fellow drivers were good enough to leave me in peace to my slow chugging. Hugging the right lane, I became aware, on a purely physical level, how much more content my body and mind were as I putted along at this speed. Again, all else being equal—which in this case means having nothing else to contend with but yourself, your car and the road, the slower you go the safer you feel, and my body hummed with satisfaction and even bliss at the combined miracle of feeling so much darn safer while still going places far faster than I ever could have just by walking.

Highways and people being what they are, of course, these happy reveries were often broken up by the discourteous impatience of other drivers (who were essentially acting the same way I would have toward one such as myself at most other times in my life as a driver) honking at me and otherwise treating me like some stubborn and outdated mule impeding the standard run of greyhounds. And of course, driving in the right-hand lane in Massachusetts, in particular, where only those born into their state’s esoteric mental patterns can ever have a clue predicting what other drivers will do, particularly in heavy traffic and most particularly when entering or exiting a highway, can be an unparalleled lesson in anxiety and discomfort--if not downright life-threatening danger. (Could this be one reason so many tend to the left and so few to the right in Massachusetts?)

By process of elimination, though, it has always been clear to me that the place on the road I usually least want to be is at the center. Sure, it possesses some measure of accessibility not available to the right or left lanes, but only to other lanes, not to the clear, status-quo benefits of either side. And while it lacks the degree of physical danger attendant to the speedy left and the social and physical unpredictabilities of the right, it shares in some significant measure the problems of both, while receiving the advantages of neither.

Yet in politics, if not in driving, the center is probably exactly where we most need, if not always want, to be, even though, just like on the road, it’s the most difficult position, both physically and psychologically, to consistently maintain. Why is this? For the simple reason that—while theoretically you more often ought to be everybody’s friend because you’re not particularly getting in their way or honking at them to get out of yours—you never really bond with anyone in particular, since you are neither regularly hooked on adrenaline nor are you set in some brotherly or sisterly snail-like pattern. Rather, diverging from the rest via your very lack of distinction, you fluctuate chaotically from virtual invisibility to just being in everyone else’s way. Thus yours easily becomes a steady diet of default ostracism mixed with thoughtless attacks by all sides.

Still, while most of us may, for point of reference if nothing else, still require our Voltaires and Rousseaus—or more modernly, Ayn Rands and Aldous Huxleys (Sean Hannadys and Bill Mahers), lets try to remember that to the folks still earnestly trying to hold to the center (automotively or ideologically), in the end Hitler isn’t really any more appealing than Stalin, or vice-versa, and that the key to good politics, as well as good driving, always lies in our all contributing toward making that center more desirable and safe, and remembering to protect each other's hearts as well as our bodies and minds.