Tomorrow is October 26th, the day that Marty McFly, the star of the movie Back to the Future, goes back in time to first impair, and then save, his parents’ coupling and, thus, his own existence.
I saw the movie in a movie theater in Washington DC, our homeland’s Capital, with my family while on vacation in the summer of 1985. My family’s weak knowledge of the locale delayed our arrival at the theater until the movie had already started, and as we quietly searched for empty seats in the dark, all the clocks were ringing at Doc Brown’s home to a Marty on the morning of his tale.
From that first viewing until now, I had believed that the movie was only about a young man who travels back in time and has a wonderful adventure.
I now think the movie is about the young man seeing his parents as the heroes who give him his vigor, instead of the villains who scheme to impair it.
Picture how Marty’s parents and family home appear at the start of the movie. Now picture the parents and home at the end. And now, pretend that instead of traveling back in time to change events, Marty travels back in time just to witness the events, and, as if in a dream, sees the events of his parents meeting as occurring differently than he has allowed himself to believe.
And when Marty McFly wakes from his dream, he sees his parents and home as it always was. Not stopped in the past like that busted clock tower, but eternally youthful. And the only difference was in HOW he saw their courtship take place.
A few days ago I read an article in my favorite newspaper, the New York Times. It was a lead article, right at the top of my phone, about President Biden’s plan to lower drug prices being deleted from the big spending bill as part of a compromise between the writers of our written laws.
A 30-YEAR CAMPAIGN TO CONTROL DRUG PRICES FACES YET ANOTHER FAILURE
Is this the BEST headline to use if the author WANTS a compromise to be found in the future? When I read this, what I hear is that the proponents are painted with failure, and the opponents are painted with malice.
Here is not what the Times wrote, but what I heard in that headline:
The proponents failed not by their ideas but by their naked ambition. The opponents succeeded not by their ideas but by their naked ambition.
That is what I hear, in my mind, and there is no proof to the contrary.
And from my hearing, I interpret this headline to scorn both the proponents and opponents of the law to lower drug prices, and in so doing scorn the very process of compromise itself.
And then right underneath it, a sub-headline reads that this:
COULD BE THE MOST EMBARRASSING DEFEAT
Instead of reducing the tension of the first headline, this sub-headline adds to the tension.
Why embarrassing? Why does the New York Times call not finding compromise EMBARRASSING? Why do we see our leaders as embarrassing failures, instead of as the source of all our wealth?
Should people be embarrassed when their best efforts fail? Is that what we tell our children? You should be embarrassed when you don’t succeed in the way we expected!
But our principles! says a strong voice in my mind. We can’t compromise on our principles, and to not call this embarrassing would sound like we have compromised on our principles!
True, a stronger voice answers back, but we never said anything about compromising on our principles. The only law is written law, and written law reflects no principle save one: that NO COMPROMISE plus PEACE is a superior state for all as compared to a compromise but no peace.
The relationship can be re-stated as an equation:
(No Compromise + Peace) > (Compromise + No Peace)
The New York Times is too FINE a paper to reject the substance of this principle and formula. There is no way that the New York Times that I have come to know and love since eleventh grade English class would hold any principle higher than peace.
So why does the Times scoff at the relationship between law and peace by calling a failure to reach a compromise embarrassing? The answer is in the very same Back to the Future whose teachings we celebrate tomorrow.
WHAT IF, instead of seeing the years of not finding compromise on drug prices as Marty’s parents at the start of the movie, we saw those years of peace between the States as Marty’s parents at the end of the movie?
What if the headline had read instead:
LAWMAKERS STILL WORKING ON AGREEMENT TO LOWER DRUG PRICES BUT FIND COMPROMISE A CHALLENGE
Now, instead of embarrassment and failure, the focus is on COMPROMISE and subtly tells every reader to find ways to compromise in whatever policy debate they stumble into. And the facts of the article – the sum of Yeas and Nays, the text of the bill – are exactly the same as before.
To alter just the WAY the event is reported is to alter just its character. Characterization is not hard news.
And if characterization is hard news, then my ‘A’ on the New York Times quiz in eleventh grade was unwarranted, and I kindly ask that someone travel back to 1995, and delete the mark.