StreetTalk- Black, White and Gray


By Greg B. Macabenta 

Must we always choose between black and white?

In my first ad agency job, as head of copy and radio-TV  production of QSV Promotions,I  wrote the script and co-directed Sa Linggo ang Bola. a weekly radio comedy show sponsored by the agency’s biggest client, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office,

Because our weekly guests were the top movie stars at the time, like Susan Roces and Charito Solis, our show quickly gained popularity. In fact, it became so popular that the PCSO general manager made what I felt was an unreasonable request: he asked that a favorite female employee  be made one of the stars of the show.

I protested this. Having had a stint in Tagalog movies, as a screenplay writer and assistant director, I did not think it was right to make a star out of a complete newcomer, alongside established showbiz personalities.

“She has to earn her spurs first,” I insisted.

The president of the agency, J. Noble Soriano, patiently explained to me that, while it was laudable for me to insist that black should be black and white should be white, I had to realize that in business there was such a color as gray. We  had no choice but to comply with the client’s “request.”

I was too new in the advertising business to realize that a client’s request was law.

Being young, idealistic and hard-headed,  I offered, instead, to resign as writer and co-director of the show. But I reassured my boss that I had a ready replacement – someone I had trained as a script writer. I assured him that Nestor Valenzuela, my trainee, was not only competent, he would also be more cooperative.

And that’s exactly what happened. I quit the show but stayed on in the agency. Nestor did a good scripting job, while giving the PCSO employee the starring role that client had “requested.”

Remarkably, that young lady turned out to be a good performer. In fact, she eventually made a name for herself on TV and in the movies.

That experience taught me some valuable lessons. First, never to underestimate the capabilities of others. Second, never to  presume that I’m the only one who is right and others are wrong. Most importantly, I learned the wisdom of compromise or finding an acceptable middle ground without sacrificing my principles.

In other words, in a choice between black and white, consider the color gray.  The forthcoming presidential election has presented me with such a quandary.

For political partisans, it is a choice between Republicans and Democrats. A choice between President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence, on one hand, versus former Vice-President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris, candidates for President and Vice-President, respectively.

For right-thinking voters, it is a choice between competence and incompetence. As far as competence is concerned, as well as fitness for the highest position in the land, my choice is clear. Not Trump or Pence. I think Trump is the antithesis of a leader. A congenital liar, a buck-passer, a credit-grabber, a person with no principles, concerned only with what is good for himself. His presidency has been chaotic.

But for some people, it is a choice between good and evil.

The Republicans have made “right to life” a core ideology, while the Democrats have stood by the principle of “free choice” for women, specifically the right to abortion. Trump fanatics and die-hard Republicans would have voters believe that if they choose Biden and Harris, they are on the side of evil.

Trump has made this one of the cornerstones of his campaign. Because of this, Trump supporters have been willing to overlook his many serious failings.

Biden is a Catholic. It is unclear to me what his position on abortion is. However, Harris has been portrayed as a virtual “infant killer” who supports late-term abortion.

As a practicing Catholic myself, I am four-square against killing a fetus, at whatever stage of conception. On the other hand, I am against a second term for Trump.

I am told that I must make a choice between the “good” that Trump ostensibly represents and the “evil” that Biden and Harris stand for. This would seem like a “black is black and white is white” quandary similar to what I had to deal with in my first ad agency job,

But I don’t think the situation is as cut-and-dried as that.

First of all, I am not convinced about Trump’s sincerity in his reported position on abortion. I bet that if he were the candidate of the Democrats, he would cheerfully back abortion. He would make a pact with the devil to win – and even the devil can quote scripture.

But Trump’s hypocrisy is irrelevant to me. I am neither Republican nor Democrat. I have always voted for the candidates who represent my values. Trump does not. But neither does abortion.

Rather than see things as black or white, the lesson of many years ago has reminded me that there is such a color as gray.  Voting for Biden and Harris does not necessarily mean supporting their position on abortion. And being pro-life does not necessarily mean depriving women of free choice.

I need only remind myself that God Himself gave mankind free will – the right to make their own choices even to the point of making mistakes.

Over thirty years ago, my wife and I were confronted with a right-to-life decision, involving one of our children and his girlfriend. We made it clear that we were firmly against ending a life in the womb. But the decision was not ours to make.

They decided to get married and keep the baby. Our first grandchild.

Several years later, my wife and I were asked by our only daughter if it was all right for her and her fiancee to live together even before wedlock, since they had officially been engaged to be married.

Our response was: “If you are asking us, we are against it. But if you are telling us,  you are old enough to make your own decision.”

They decided to get married before living together. In fact, they decided to “elope” but it was a unique “elopement” because the families of both parties were invited (they also subsequently had a wedding officiated by a priest).

But to go back to a choice between Trump and Biden. The choice is obvious to me, but I will continue to oppose abortion as a matter of conscience.

There are other issues ostensibly distinguishing Republicans from Democrats that voters are being challenged to take sides on. Republicans claim to be “conservatives,” standing for less government intrusion into the affairs of the citizenry, champions of self-reliance and meritocracy.

On the other hand, the Democrats have been portrayed as “socialists” who would burden hard-working citizens with taxes in order to promote a welfare state and support illegal immigrants. Trump has made “socialism” synonymous with Communism and a welfare state. He has also accused the Democrats of espousing “open borders” that would allow criminals and deviants from Latin America, Asia and the Muslim world to overrun the US.

That, of course, is all political hogwash. The political strategists are purposely presenting extreme positions to force people to make a choice – even if it is a bad choice.

Frankly, I think that most politicians do not take extreme positions, either. It is simply the nature of politics to portray the other side as evil and their own side as good. Many of them would make a pact with the devil to get elected, while claiming noble intentions..

Charity or caring for the poor does not have to mean a welfare state populated by parasites. I do not subscribe to open borders and neither do the Democrats. But I am aware that America is a country of immigrants and my wife and my family are immigrants, too,  as are most people in America. And people have a right to desire a better life for themselves and their families.

That is why I am neither Republican or Democrat. I don’t have to choose between good and evil. Or between black and white.

There is such a color as gray.