SAN MATEO, Calif. (RNS) In a world far removed from the tragic cesspool of Washington scheming and maneuvering, real people flocked to Central Park on El Camino Real for this town's first Bacon & Brew Festival.
It was wildly successful. Vendors ran out of food and beverages, sponsors closed off ticket sales early. The parched and mean-spirited landscape that ideologues are trying to manufacture seemed distant.
As they stood in line for burgers, barbecue, fries smothered in cheese, and microbrewed beers, young adults eyed each other's pregnant bulges and baby strollers. I heard no muttering about Obamacare. People have better things to do than to defund a program that benefits fellow citizens.
As they chatted with town friends and then went off in search of ice cream and more family time outdoors, residents of this diverse world south of San Francisco didn't seem to be counting markers such as race and immigrant status. They certainly weren't shilling for a few mega-wealthy donors whose hatred of a black president and disdain for lesser souls blinds them to human need.
Instead, they were enjoying life and allowing plenty of room for others to enjoy life, too. Pouring into this festival were Latino families, Asian families, black families, white families. Some looked Silicon Valley prosperous, some hailed from blue-collar realms.
I sensed not an ounce of tension as the rainbow of diversity shone in San Mateo.
To me, it felt exactly like being in Manhattan's Central Park: both fresh, lively, accepting worlds where no one objects if someone else enjoys "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
I know California has its own crazy politics, and distrust is as rife here as anywhere. Wealth can corrupt whoever holds it. Fear can be stirred.
But on this lovely September Saturday, I saw a better side of our troubled land. While politicians were plotting to shut down the federal government as a lever against a president whom they cannot accept as legitimate, real Americans were living life to its fullest. Some grandly and some not so grandly, but all free, all welcome.
The grandees and poobahs of D.C. will never stand in line for "cowboy burgers" or fish tacos, but they should.
They should see how Americans actually live. Not the hateful stereotypes they feed each other on Fox News and Tea Party blogs, but actual taxpaying, hard-working, citizenship-valuing Americans, like the thousands who found joy on Saturday in San Mateo's Central Park.
Congressional ideologues and their financial backers have convinced themselves they stand on principles that justify hurting other people. It seems to me the desire to hurt came first. They behave like playground bullies who take delight in pushing other faces into the sand.
Rather than meet in basements and concoct schemes to defraud the public, they need to visit the festivals of this diverse and lively nation. They need to see people doing the basics: making room for each other, allowing pregnant women to occupy benches, talking freely of their hopes, playing with their children, waiting patiently as harried vendors try to serve a larger-than-expected crowd.
How did a populace grounded in goodness produce such a deceitful and cruel political class? At dinner that evening, three young couples who represent the hopeful side of America asked, "Who elected these clowns?"
(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of "Just Wondering, Jesus" and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)