It’s not that it’d be a likely scenario, but I’ve often speculated about what I would do if I were in a position to be shaking hands with King George. Would I just quietly show him a steely stare, my hands staying at my side? Would I take the more aggressive approach and risk arrest by spitting on his hand? Would I give him the finger instead of my hand? That might be satisfying, and I’d probably retain my freedom. Or... would I accede to the protocol, shake his hand, wash well afterward, and regret it ever after?
I’m thinking I’d most likely go with the stare. But, you know, I’m not sure, and it would have to depend upon the situation. Being at a political rally would be different from being given an award.
And, as I say, it’s not likely to come up for me.
It did come up for musician Leon Fleisher, who recently was given a Kennedy Center Honor. Mr Fleisher had to choose whether to quietly attend a White House reception, “required” as a part of the festivities.
The event, a deeply moving and gratifying tribute to the performing arts and artists in America, was broadcast to our nation. But what you couldn’t see in that broadcast was how conflicted I felt about being there.
Let me be frank: I was flattered to be included in so distinguished a group and to be recognized for whatever contributions I may have made to American life. I was pleased to be part of an event that raises money for an institution as vital as the Kennedy Center and to be with my family and to see their joy at the ceremony.
What made me unhappy and continues to trouble me was that I was required to attend a White House reception on the afternoon of the gala. I cannot speak for the other honorees, but while I profoundly respect the presidency, I am horrified by many of President Bush’s policies.
In the past seven years, Bush administration policies have amounted to a systematic shredding of our nation’s Constitution — the illegal war it initiated and perpetuates; the torturing of prisoners; the espousing of “values” that include a careful defense of the “rights” of embryos but show a profligate disregard for the lives of flesh-and-blood human beings; and the flagrant dismantling of environmental protections. These, among many other depressing policies, have left us weak and shamed at home and in the world.
In the end, Mr Fleisher did attend, wearing symbols of protest. I’m not sure I’d have made the same choice. I think I’d have stayed away, and made a public statement of why. There is the issue of the effect that such action has on the award itself and on the other recipients. Still, I think that those will survive it, that such action won’t diminish the honour given to the others, and that it’d be the only choice consistent with my principles.
That isn’t meant to be critical of Mr Fleisher — his choice is valid, and I respect it. And it is a difficult and public decision. I’m glad he wrote about it afterward.
What would you do?
[Thanks to Lisa Simeone for the pointer.]