The French is the most honest place in America.
Looking at the bar’s burnt-out neon sign from the main road running through the heart of Carson City, Nevada, might not conjure images of truth telling.
And even once you enter and stroll up to a stool at the horseshoe-shaped bar and order a local Flat Tire ale, you still might not be able to smell the honesty over the stale smoke.
But sit there a while, sip your beer and listen, and you’ll find yourself hearing what people like to pretend doesn’t exist — an honest, critical political discussion in the heart of America.
Perched on every slumping stool is a man or woman that many of us would dismiss as “rednecks.”
They hate Hillary Clinton, which is quickly replacing gun ownership as the number one requirement for membership in the American right.
They all hunt, fish, smoke and drink, or would if their doctor would let them.
They believe that American foreign policy should be, first and foremost, a military policy.
But that’s where stereotypes and expectations bump up against the reality of being “right wing” in America.
There isn’t one person sitting at the bar that would vote for Bush again, if they were given a more palatable Republican option.
And at this point, any Republican would be more palatable.
Going around the table, there wouldn’t be two views that are the same on any of the big issues — Iraq, Afghanistan, terrorism, environmental issues (and yes, they all talk about the environment and they do want their government to do something).
They are inherently concerned about the state of their country and what they are leaving as a legacy for their grandchildren.
In America, many of these issues are discussed in terms of family legacies.
What will the sons and daughters inherit, and what can be done now to make it better?
The discussions don’t sound like “big idea” discussions, because they are framed as localized, familial concerns.
But that’s just the context. The substance is really the same thing.
I haven’t been back to the US in a long time, so I’m lucky to have reached so far into a tightknit community.
In any other circumstance, I likely wouldn’t have entered the bar, and if I did, would have been looked at askance and mostly ignored.
But I was there with my grandpa, who is both a regular and the epitome of what French patrons respect and adore — a veteran who survived two years in a Nazi prison camp but who never mentions anything about those years.
He wears a belt with a ceramic buckle that has the presidential seal of America emblazoned on it.
He is quiet and intelligent and heroic.
And if I didn’t know him, I would just as likely make the mistake of dismissing his political views as “right wing” and go on to add layers to that stereotype.
But I do know him, so I know how complex his views of the world are and how much he wants his country to be a political, military and moral leader in the world.
And because I spent time in the French, I now remember what I knew when I lived in the US, but which I now often forget.
Despite the ease with which they are dismissed, most of the people that get marginalized as a particular kind of right-wing American are in fact very thoughtful, politically engaged people.
They’re just quiet about those inner thoughts. They share them in places they feel are appropriate.
Places like the French, where ideas are lofted out, tested against the criticisms of others and then stored away to be voiced in a different debate at a different time.
It’s where a pint, a smoke and an opinion mean something.
And it’s where you often have to go to find honesty.
If you don’t go there, or somewhere like the French, you’ll judge the American public by its media or the actions of an unpopular president.
If we do that, we are turning our backs on a country more like us than we would like to admit.
And in the process, we will be turning away from a country that wants what we want, in very general terms, for our children.
There are precious few of those nations in the world, so turning our back on even one just doesn’t seem honest.
Michael Hale is a Whitehorse-based writer.