I was raised in what is best described as a hawkish, right-wing, racially paranoid home–pretty typical for large swaths of the midwest in the ’60s and ’70s. Our suburb was diverse, but in a really white way. There were white people of German descent, and white people of slavic descent, and a few white people of hillbilly descent.
There were no more than two blacks in our suburb at the same time. It almost seemed like there was a law against more than two blacks at one time, but I’m sure there wasn’t such a law. I’m pretty sure. There were fewer Jews than there were blacks. I only knew what it meant to be Jewish from the jokes my uncle told at parties. (Apparently, Jewish people complained a lot, were often martyred, and sex was a burden to them.) Later, when I was on a travel hockey team one year, I finally met some Jewish boys (and a couple of black kids) and realized they were a lot like me. When the Puerto Rican families from Cleveland picnicked in the city park behind our house, my father raked the lawn near the fence like he was on border patrol. In hindsight, I realize now that our town was more than a bit medieval.
Introduction to Politics
My father voted Republican, and I was coached to do the same. I voted for Reagan and H.W. Bush. I read G. Gordon Liddy’s book. That’s who we seemed to be; I tried to be like my dad.
I briefly considered a career in the military because I wanted to fly jets as my father had done. But my eyesight was imperfect and pilot school was not an option; I became distracted as I mulled over what it would be like to be a missile officer with the reponsibility of launching a very, very deadly attack. I parted ways with the Air Force. Most of my classmates in ROTC were very nice, but a few of them seemed, to me, to be assholes.
Awake, Sweet Prince
I soon found myself attracted to the news reporting and human interest stories on National Public Radio. My brothers teased me for listening to such liberal crap, but if caring about stories of people with specific needs, and suffering specific troubles meant I was a liberal, then, so be it. My father was deeply concerned when I subscribed to Mother Jones. He thought I was considering becoming a communist.
I did not then, and I do not now, think of myself as a communist. I like having my own place to stay and my own bathrooms. I wish I had a house with more bathrooms, in fact, because I’d like a little more privacy. (I wish I had better Internet in the bathroom, but that’s another story.)
I worry when I hear political positions explained in broad terms. Ferris Buehler was suspicious of “isms,” and so am I. So when Republicans suggest that people need the opportunity to stand on their own, and that those same people with said opportunity can then either enjoy the fruits of their labor or suffer the consequences of their failure, I worry about a lot of people. I worry because the vast majority of us are not going to succeed very much in life without help. Very, very few of us stand entirely on our own.
The American Way
My parents helped me get into a college, Air Force ROTC got me part of the way through that college, and my parents helped me get out. A friend helped me get a job. That’s a lot of help. The sum total of all that help was that I could be mediocre at what I did. (Most of us are mediocre; that’s how mediocrity works.) I have not enjoyed anything close to the fabled definition of free-market success. But I still consider myself lucky. I got enough help to find good jobs and I have contributed to the economy while enjoying the stability of America.
I think it’s right to help people down on their luck. People lose jobs most often through circumstances beyond their control. Most people lack the foresight and the initiative to anticipate economic trends far enough in advance to change careers as the free-market economy dictates. I think it’s a good thing that American policy dampens the effect of the market economy by offering refuge to the out of work or under-employed through subsidies for their income, food, or well-being.
I occasionally hear conversations that are steeped with indignation over the free-loaders of society, as if people working minimum wage jobs but also getting free cheese have it too good, as if all of them planned this, somehow, as the ultimate scam. It seems to me that some Republicans are like angry teenagers, incensed that a sibling is getting something for nothing.
I’ll Fly If You Buy
I like parties that start with beer and food provided by the host but that, later on, pass the hat when the keg runs dry. I like to feel that I help others have a good time at the party, even though it ain’t my party, when I drop a fiver in the hat. My fiver might get me a six-pack of Schlitz, but the sixty bucks collected is enough for the keg (assuming the idiots returning the empty keg don’t decide to roll it down the hill to see how far it goes, and then manage to drop it in the river, but that, too, is another story). I like how, by pooling our money, we can all have a little more fun together. And the people that leave, rather than contribute, were probably just there for the free stuff, rather than to have fun.
I have developed a liberal attitude to many, many things in life, but that’s not why I vote for Democrats. I mostly vote against Republicans who seem to be fostering too much of a B.Y.O.B. attitude for my liking. Many of them seem downright fascist to me in their insistence on conformity to paternal dictates. I don’t want to tell people what they should believe, but I would like to ask them to kick in a fiver so that we can keep the party rocking.
One hundred years ago, Teddy Roosevelt started the Progressive Party partially in response to what he saw as a corruption of leadership in both parties due to special interest groups controlling them with their funding. His speech (http://www.ssa.gov/history/trspeech.html) was a call for reform at the top, and a call to support the lower and middle-classes, who, to his mind, were the true body and soul of the country. If they flourish, then the country can grow and be strong. The arguments are strikingly familiar, and remind me that what occurs in our modern political debate is not new, and won’t likely go away soon. But it helps me with my resolve for my own beliefs.
I like to share my time, talents, and resources whenever possible to help others. I don’t necessarily empty my pockets when someone on the street asks for money (I may be a tree hugger, but my heart doesn’t bleed that much) but I do give to charity, help in my community, and I pay my taxes without begrudging those who might benefit from social programs.
Narcissism Is an Ism
In spite of my fear of “isms,” we all fall into categories. I think of myself as a humanist, one who empathizes with those who are suffering, and hopes that each of us might strive toward our dreams, and find a safe, productive life along the way.
I think most people vote for Presidential elections based on emotional reactions to the candidate’s position on touchy issues. That is really not a bad way to approach, as the President sets the tone for Congress, and suggests things, and can control how certain things are enforced or implemented. Most things are out of their control. We should all consider which of those issues we are reacting to, and consider our own complex backgrounds as to how we came to arrive at those reactions.
Finally, which ism is bothering you the most?