About 75 people watched Steve Israel and Elissa Slotkin through the Zoom platform and entered into the broader discussion of Congressional controversies.
Mother-adult daughter discord in the satiric novel Big Guns launched talking points in a conversation featuring retired Congressman Steve Israel of New York, the book’s author, and Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin of Michigan’s 8th district.
The mother, a small-town mayor, promotes legislation to ban guns in the territory she administers. Her daughter, a pro-gun lobbyist, opposes the measure to advance her career.
The novel, written by Israel to explore gun control issues, was spotlighted June 10 as part of the digital speaker series planned by the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit (JCC). The series substitutes for in-person programs offered during the annual Detroit Jewish Book Fair.
About 75 people watched Israel in his New York home and Slotkin at her family farm in Holly, Mich., through the Zoom platform and entered into the broader discussion of Congressional controversies. Questions and comments were added through an onscreen chat box monitored by Jaemi Loeb, JCC senior director of cultural arts.
“I wanted to show the impact of gun violence on a community, and so I created a small town with a Jewish mayor,” said Israel, whose earlier satiric book, The Global War on Morris, introduces a nondescript salesman mistaken for a terrorist.
“I’ve always been fascinated by families with different political ideologies. That dynamic is such a wonderful personal story,” he said.
Slotkin agreed that stories can move people more than general policy discussions. She explained how the real stories she hears from constituents — some 1,000 a month through calls and emails — affect her approach to work. For instance, she reacted to the many alerts from medical workers lacking personal protective equipment needed for treating COVID-19 patients.
“It is totally insane that medical equipment and pharmaceuticals are made outside the United States,” said Slotkin, who has served as a Middle East analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency and acting assistant secretary of defense for International Security Affairs.
“My big push is that we have to treat certain supply chains differently from others. We have to incentivize making medical supplies and pharmaceuticals, at least some of them, [in the United States]. There are laws about buying American military equipment. We didn’t want to be dependent on another country if we had to mobilize for war.”
Israel, currently working as director of the nonpartisan Cornell University Institute of Politics and Global Affairs while also working on a novel about Albert Einstein, and Slotkin, the first Jewish woman from Michigan to serve in federal elective office, talked about their experiences as moderates wanting to bring about change.
“Redistricting created a Congress that is far left or far right,” Israel said about the problem of Republican or Democrat-controlled states that arrange districts by party rather than geography. “It’s a lonely club to be in the middle. Until we have more people who are willing to compromise, I can’t be entirely optimistic [about passing reasonable gun legislation].
“If you’re a Republican in a district that has been drawn to protect you, you don’t fear a Democrat beating you in a general election. You fear a Republican to the right of you beating you in a primary. Nothing animates primary voters on the right side of the ideological spectrum more than guns.”
Both Israel and Slotkin revealed personal Congressional experiences and love for reading — and learning history — although a lot of Israel’s time is spent on writing. Slotkin’s traveling time around Washington, D.C., or throughout her district can find her listening to nonfiction books.
Israel delved into his motivation for satiric writing. In Big Guns, the satire comes across through a congressman promoting legislation mandating guns be carried by everyone beyond age 6.
“People often conflict satire with parody,” Israel said. “Parody pokes fun at people’s physical and personal characteristics. Satire pokes fun at paradigms rather than personalities and has to be based on a kernel of truth.
“I think satire is a form of patriotism. It’s also accessible. You’re not forcing your opinion on others or drawing them into a complex story. I think humor can further entice them and make a point.”
A replay of this event is available through YouTube. Upcoming digital events will feature Jamie Bernstein, author and filmmaker, with Ted Chapin, president of Rodgers & Hammerstein, on June 25 and winners of the National Jewish Book Award for Debut Fiction on July 6. To learn about future events, go to jccdet.org/culturalarts.