Today I want to talk about some things related to our continuing discussion of “political discourse,” identification, our history, and our human propensity to make assumptions. That’s a lot of ground to cover, so please bear with me. I’m bound to ramble.
Let’s start with discourse and President Obama’s speech. I liked it. While I’m no fan, it did satisfy some of my craving for reason in the madness of our current national dialogue. Unlike the television pundits and some on the right, I did not have a problem at all with the setting or the tone of the crowd. Tucson gets to react however they see fit, and if they needed to release some positive energy that others interpreted as having a “pep rally” feel, so be it. His speech and my own reflection these past few days about this country, its rhetoric, and where I stand politically are weighing heavily on my mind tonight.
I know where I stand, but it’s a rough place to be, and many others don’t get it. I no longer belong to anybody. It’s a very lonely feeling. For nearly 20 years I was a happy, if ignorant, liberal. My political life really started with the Clinton election of 1992, the first election in which I could vote for president. It seemed then that everybody hated the man and his wife, both of whom I loved. I slowly backed into a defensive crouch as the decade marched on and the Clintons came under attack from nearly every quarter, even from within their own party. I did not understand then that privilege and class had a lot to do with it, nor did I understand until recently our partisan history. Once you understand those two dynamics, the Clinton years, and so much else, comes into sharp focus.
The corridors of power in Washington are full of the elite. It’s the place the very rich send talentless sons and the place the children of well-off, well-connected, but not technically rich people buy their children the right educations to get into. Certainly they held a grudge against the product of a working class family, from a single mother to boot, who had worked his way up on mere wit and charm, no credentials needed to enter their Ivy League institutions. Oh, they were happy to give him an education, but then the fucker had the gall to jump to the front of the line, in front of the babies of countless powerful people who felt it was Junior’s turn. That was easy enough to understand, and by the time Clinton left office, my political mind was mature enough to realize it.
Putting our partisan history in context took quite a bit longer, and has been much harder work. If not for 2008, I’m not sure I could have done it. I had bought the rhetoric of the left hook, line, and sinker.
I don’t anymore because the way Obama ran his campaign, from McClurkin, to the character assassination of Hillary Clinton, right on down to the attacks on Sarah Palin, was at odds with what I knew to be common liberal values. We supported gay rights and the rights of women, we were proud of our history of civil rights pursuits and working class roots, we thought every vote counted and that election rules shouldn’t change in the middle of the process just because a small group of powerful people wanted a certain candidate. 2008 upended all of that.
What that break did was free me of party affiliations forever. I never forgot that, like many Americans, I gave George W. Bush a fair shot after 9/11, and he repaid that by doing things like outing a CIA agent and taking us to war in Iraq. I wasn’t going to become a Republican, even if I could occasionally vote for one. But I couldn’t be a Democrat anymore, and after the treatment I received from liberal and progressive “friends” because I chose to honor the ideas I held and not the party I had belonged to, I couldn’t really claim identification with the left at all. This freed me up to ask a lot of questions I had not previously had the courage to ask myself.
I questioned and searched and discovered that I had been wrong about much of what I’d previously thought. I had an understanding of many things that had to be questioned, and not just about the current political climate. I had certain ideas about history that needed to be challenged as well.
I thought the New Deal, for example, was a brilliant liberal achievement that was just awesome for everybody but the wealthy. I also thought the Civil War was fought by noble Republicans who acted with 19th century poise. Naïve, I know. So I dug into that history and came to realize that for much of our history, one dominant party or another has been violently chasing the other side into a proverbial corner, until that one ascends and the whole cycle is repeated in reverse.
Republicans treated Democrats terribly after the Civil War. Democrats treated Republicans terribly during the New Deal, and even after, into the war. Republicans chased the more liberal among us for a decade with fear of communism and fascism until the boomers became young adults, and the liberal side had a political machine the likes of which had not been seen before. The Silent Majority and the Reagan revolution paid them back by building machines of their own. The cycle keeps repeating, a sickening and sad cycle of intolerance as each side seeks only to conquer and disempower the other side. It’s hopeless.
And that’s where I find myself today. Every step into enlightenment seems to bring with it more futility, more alienation. See, I’m human, and I really want to belong. Most of us do. I like to talk a good game about political independence and logical consistency, and I do value those immensely. But I’m now in an unmapped place, and there just aren’t a lot of people out here. And I think my anger over my forced disassociation from the political life I knew, as well as family and friends, hell even readers of this blog who have made assumptions about where I stand politically and have thus written me off (even though those assumptions are wrong) is partly to blame. Honestly I haven’t had the time or the inclination to correct people, so frustrated am I by the uncreativity of such thought processes. I forget I was once just as uncreative myself.
I was very surprised recently to find one of my posts being discussed on another site, a site I thought was friendly. Not only was my post being discussed negatively, the conversation was punctuated with comments about me being “too right wing” for some readers. Now, these are blog comments, so I take it with a grain of salt. And I’m aware that a lot of the people who woke up in 2008 have slipped back into an unquestioning mindset, and the equation is simple for them. I’m not bashing Sarah Palin, and I defend conservative women, even that witchy bitch Christine O’Donnell, so I must be right wing.
Fine, I never wanted that kind of audience anyway. But there were a couple of commenters who I really liked, and it was painful to see my character disparaged by them in the pile on. I steeled myself against it. My work here is important to me, and this was a case of catty faux outrage that I refused to buy into, and because I wouldn’t toe that line, I was being othered. I try not to be pulled into stuff like that, and it’s happened a lot since I started this blog. I could tell you stories about some of your favs, but I haven’t. Gossip is just as bad.
But the work can’t be important just to me. It has no place if it has no or few readers, and this blog has really died in the last year. Sometimes I feel like I’m talking to myself. So maybe I’ve miscalculated in not responding to the criticism. Maybe it hasn’t worked, this idea that if I just double down and continue being me, it’ll all work itself out. Maybe I have steeled myself into this alienation. I really want to be part of a dialogue, not writing monologues, and I guess I have to rethink how I’m doing this. But how?
One thing I’ve got to do is let go of some of the defensiveness. A lot of Americans do, and I guess it’s ironic that I find myself here again. I don’t want to be chased into a political corner, and I don’t want to chase anybody else into one either. I kind of feel I have been, and that’s led me to defensively posture my anger, as opposed to my grief, over our current state of affairs. In turn, my rhetoric has reflected this anger at times.
Grandpa used to tell me this story about his father. They lived on a little farm in Southern Indiana, two bedrooms, six children, and the parents. Mother used to walk half a mile to pail water up a hill to boil for the laundry. You get the idea. Poor, but earnest country folk. His father’s family had been registered Republican ever since the Civil War. Their family really suffered, as did the whole area, during the Depression. Suddenly the WPA opened up some job near their town, but you had to buy your own tools. His dad spent the last of their money to buy those tools, but was turned away at the job site on account of being Republican. Before he left home that day he was reported to have said that he might even vote for FDR if things all worked out.
I think often of the missed opportunity that was lost to corruption. I don’t want to be that kind of person. I don’t want to hold a grudge my whole life because of political betrayal. But I still can’t join parties. I still can’t identify with the left or the right. I see too clearly now that the left has massive problems, as massive as the right. And I also now see that not every idea emanating from the right is bad. Finally, I see that the left sometimes has good ideas, and generally says it has some values I agree with, even if it rarely actually acts upon those values and sometimes betrays them. Like I said, this is unmapped territory for me. Maybe I don’t know where I stand. Maybe there’s no chance for me to belong. I don’t want to believe that, but I’m pretty tapped for ideas.
Gosh, there’s so much more, but I have to stop. I’ve gone on too long already, and bless you if you made it this far. I’m not sure I remember why I started this essay anyway, except I was feeling reflective after Obama’s speech. I’ve talked about some things I’ve wanted to talk about for a while, but couldn’t find the context for. I guess I’m hoping I’m not alone in feeling this political alienation, futility, and misunderstanding. And I’m hoping for some creative ideas about how to move it all forward.