Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Talking Politics (or not)

I don't know why I expected my dad to be reasonable about politics. I mean, I knew he was a raging conservative. I even knew he slavishly waited upon every word that fell from the lips of Bill O'Reilly. So what was I thinking, that he'd be all like, Whatever. McCain, Obama, it's all cool, man?

The thing is, I guess I was hoping some of that was a bit of an act, that whole Fox News part anyway. I made the mistake of saying, What makes Obama any worse than anyone else? after Labor Day family dinner at my parent's house (while 4 children, between the ages of five and two, two of them mine, ran wild around the house). Apparently, I "just don't get it." No, I don't, but I think I've decided not to discuss it further.

Everyone says, Don't discuss religion or politics with your family. Assuming you don't all agree on every single point. My sister and brother-in-law, for the most part, can discuss these topics with my parents without concern, even though my sister became a (evangelical, so that's okay) Catholic and married one. Me, on the other hand, I'm voting for Obama, but I'm not saying that out loud in front of anyone in my family. Oh, and I also don't think de-legalizing abortion is a good idea, but this is also not to be discussed.

My husband who (hopefully obviously) isn't biologically, psychologically or emotionally related to my parents, sat (perhaps uncomfortably) still during this brief confrontation, but didn't even bring it up until I did, well after we were back home and the kids were in bed for the night. His parents are also Republicans, although not of the Religious Right kind (more the Southern, Comfortably Wealthy kind), and his dad likes to send us forwards containing rumors about Hillary Clinton and various other hated Democrats. My husband likes to immediately link to the Snopes debunk and hit reply. It doesn't seem to bother him like it does me. Isn't it just the way it is, that you move apart from your parents politically? Isn't it?

It is, but not in my little enclave of Christian family and cohorts. Here, you know what's right, and why would you want to change it? I wonder if someone who grew up among raging progressives might feel a similar hesitancy to betray/hurt/disappoint her roots. Is my disagreement just rebellion? I know it isn't just the influence of the liberal media. I hardly even watch the news. Okay, a little Stewart/Colbert if I'm up extra late. And a fair amount of NPR in the car.

Now, I have a problem with the idea that the only way to be a Christian is to vote Republican. Or to be a one-issue (pro-life) voter. But that isn't really the heart of my rant. I think the heart is that I respect my parents. I value them as articulate, thinking, reading people who raised me to be the same. I remember my dad talking about writing college papers on the American Indian Movement and his stories about traveling through the South as a child in the 50's (he lived in Philadelphia) and being shocked by the separate drinking fountains. He talked about the inspiring speeches of Jack and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

For God's Sake, my parents voted for Carter in 1980. (I was hoping to find a link that said, Nobody Voted For Carter, but it was closer than I'd thought. And check out the issues Reagan and Carter disagreed on.) How do I know this? Because I voted for Carter in the 3rd grade elections at my elementary school and I was practically the only one in the school who did so. And 8-year-olds vote the way their parents do. 8-year-olds believe in their parents' beliefs.

Of course my parents are entitled change their political beliefs, too. What I don't like is feeling like they (mostly my dad, my mom rolls her eyes at him when he's not looking, although I'm sure she's voting Republican, too) have gone right for the bait people like Bill O'Reilly are throwing at them. No reflection. No question of whether this is the party that meets my needs and addresses my concerns. At first it was just the abortion issue, I think, and I can respect that. The whole life-begins-at-conception argument is (enviably?) morally unambiguous. But now, Dad? You're angry that Obama might want to get rid of the estate tax when you have no estate that qualifies for that tax and have railed your whole life against the greedy rich people of the world (even if some of that was because you felt disenfranchised and unsuccessful yourself?). I freaking had to get reduced lunch in school! If anything, you should be on the other side. Tax the g-d-mn rich!

I'm not politically savvy or even particularly well-informed. I just know that it hurts my heart. My dad and I have a good relationship now, and it seems weird not to be able to, I don't know, be reasonable. Not agree, but be reasonable.

I would blame Bill O'Reilly (oh, yeah, there's a man of upstanding moral character!), but that seems too simple. My dad is what he is. He's capable of better, but I can't do anything about it.


JG said...

Eeeek. I also was raised by Republicans, and am not one now. And this election is making me want to call my mom (my dad's a lost cause) and say, "C'mon. Seriously. You're so GREEN. How can you vote for these folks?" But I won't.

Peter Ruxpin said...

People like Dad are not interested in being made aware of their inconsistencies, lack of logic, or incorrectness. For them, there's no separation between their politics and their belief system. Everyone at their church believes the same thing about the Bible and about Barack Obama. (The Bible says what the preacher tells me it says and B.O. is a secret Muslim, "Manchurian candidate," or just a radical, uppity, white-hating black man.) Or at least they BELIEVE that to be the case. And BELIEF is the most important part of their lives. Ironically, truth is relative (while they would tell you nearly everything is black or white). Once it becomes clear that the facts cease to matter, it's best to just let it be. Don't bother. Really. The best thing to do is to allow the ridiculous statements he makes to just hang in the air and let the outlandishness waft over everyone in the room.

Karen said...

Hey, I go to that church, so maybe we shouldn't assume that everyone believes the same political thing. I'm sure it's almost everybody, but still. You're right though, that I probably shouldn't bother. I'm surprised I cared.

P.S. Mom was defending O'Reilly last night--"Really, he's not as harsh and judgmental as people think. He's pretty fair." I choose not to watch to find out if she's right. Time too precious.

I'm glad I'm not the only one in the family not voting R.

Peter Ruxpin said...

What I think I failed to make clear is that they BELIEVE everyone at their church feels the same way. And that belief is the most important part of the communal experience. Personal faith plays a distant second fiddle.

Additionally, I think B'OR can be pretty persuasive as it pertains to his own impartiality. If one doesn't know any more about the news than what one sees on "The Factor," his "fair and balanced" techniques can be very convincing.

estewartm said...

My extended family is similar. My aunts have been trying for several months to convince me that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim and once he is president he is going to attack! I don't so much care what they think if me and I might be a little bit antagonistic towards them about these things, but for some reason I really care about what my grandparents think. I think that might be similar to the situation with your dad. My grandparents probably wouldn't bring these issues up, but my aunts do knowing that there will be a conflict and it has caused me to just avoid spending any time with them. That probably isn't the best way to go about it.