“All in all, when push comes to shove, the American voters were not all scared or lacking in common sense. And the Obama voters consist overwhelmingly of non-white persons. Three cheers for diversity. I guess we can thank our parents for raising us to become ‘old white guys’ who know how to love everybody regardless of skin or ethnicity. Love, David” (From my brother’s post-election e-mail.)
David and I have ongoing, heartfelt political discussions by e-mail and on the phone. We’re very much in agreement about our beliefs and loyalties, but he is more active about trying to influence the public discourse. He writes opinion pieces and letters to the editor for Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI. He reads thoughtful political analysis constantly and has made a deep study of Reinhold Niebuhr and his spiritually-based political thinking. David has also published commentary and given talks on Niebuhr. His comment about thanking our parents set me thinking about my personal political heritage.
Mother and Daddy were patriotic in the same way they were Methodists and community volunteers. The duties of citizenship and church attendance seemed to be part of the same package. You loved God and you loved your country and served both to the best of your ability. I know they were interested in the Socialist party for a time in the late thirties and well remember square dances with potlucks and much discussion of the cooperative movement. My mother voted in several elections for Norman Thomas, the Socialist candidate for president. They both revered Eleanor Roosevelt, but I picked up the feeling that they disapproved of her husband. During WWII, Mother was active with two Pacifist organizations, but also assisted with the rationing program and rolled bandages for the war effort. My father was an Air Raid warden. As I grew up I loved celebrating all the patriotic holidays and was aware that both my parents viewed voting as a solemn obligation. They were registered as Republicans, and when I was in high school, I asked my father about that. He told me that the only way to have a voice in local politics was to be part of the majority party and vote in the primary elections. I know from dinner table conversation that in national elections they always voted for the candidate they liked, regardless of party.
David is right that we were definitely brought up to love everybody without regard to skin color and ethnicity, or for that matter, sexual orientation. However, it was clear to me that Mother shifted to the right politically after my father died in 1972; at the same time Bill and I were moving steadily further left as a result of our work with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). We were exposed to major economic and civil rights issues as we directed eight-week youth work projects in southern Appalachia and on a Cheyenne reservation in Montana before spending two years in High Point, NC working in school desegregation. Then we observed firsthand the mixed impact of the United States in Central America during the three years we lived in Guatemala. But we also learned to appreciate the development work of AID, Peace Corps, and scores of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) like AFSC. During our time there, a revolution was brewing that eventually erupted into a civil war. We returned home committed to working for social change both at home and abroad.
The election of Barack Obama in 2008 felt like a dream come true. I think history may well affirm that among his important accomplishments was simply getting elected and then re-elected. I believe that changed the aspirational narrative for African-American parents as they talk to their children. As president, he has already accomplished some brave goals, and I hope that his second term will be even more productive. I’m thrilled and relieved by his 2012 win; at the same time I am fully aware that nearly half of the electorate is disappointed and probably fearful for the future. That troubles me.
This blog has evolved from a vehicle to promote my book about caregiving into a memoir-based examination of life in my ninth decade. I have placed the emphasis on exploring the daily experience of aging, tapping the wisdom borne of life experience and combining it with common sense problem solving. In the beginning, I decided not to write about partisan politics because old age brings the same set of problems to all, regardless of party affiliation. Now that the worst election cycle in my memory has ended, I decided to share some post-election thoughts about how this experience has affected me. For openers the most common complaint I felt (and heard from my peers) was weariness from the onslaught of the news, advertising, robot calls, and ugly junk mail. Conservative commentator David Brooks summed it up on the PBS News Hour when he dubbed this the worst election cycle ever and commented that on both sides “the level of tolerated dishonesty” was higher than any time in his memory. That aspect of the campaigns took its toll on my sense of well-being.
The Republican primary was disillusioning and scary to me. Based on my personal positions on immigration, income equality, civil rights for all people, healthcare, and the imperative for deficit reduction, I was afraid that if Governor Romney were to win we wouldn’t really know what we were getting. Although he was somewhat more forthcoming, Paul Ryan doesn’t represent the things I believe about the role of government. Once the negativity started full scale, I was saddened that the Obama campaign felt they had to join the fray. As the rhetoric grew more negative, particularly in swing states like North Carolina, my occasional conversations with David became more important. At that same time I deliberately reduced my exposure to news and the hateful advertising.
In the face of high unemployment with many Americans going to bed hungry, the expenditure of billions to win an election felt obscene. Underneath the cash flow, there are doubtless expectations of a quid pro quo, which may hamper common sense legislation. Governor Romney’s comments about the 47 percent were deeply offensive to me. His cynical opinions specifically and the pervasive racism in general made me feel the body politic was losing ground on issues where we had once seen progress.
The sum total of living through the just-completed election has been emotional and sometimes spiritual turmoil as I felt the erosion of integrity evident in the polarization of our country. Most of my friends are in the same political spectrum as I am, but I know and care about any number of people who are equally anxious about our country now that the Democrats have won. During the campaigns, election-oriented conversations within my age group seldom touched on substance but rather focused on the stress, anxiety, and disappointment caused by the process.
Now the election turbulence has been replaced by the aftermath of Sandy, the armed conflict in the Middle East, the looming fiscal cliff, and the nasty debate that has erupted from the tragedy of Benghazi. The consideration of that tragic event in Libya is further muddled by the sad story of General Patraeus et al. The onslaught of bad news and fearful outcomes cast a pall over the nation. This has a profound effect on my generation, precisely because (to quote the Mother Superior in Cradle Song by G. M. Sierra) “All we can do is watch and pray.”
Years ago, when I had three pre-school children and was complaining to my sister (mother of six) about my nonfunctional washing machine, she responded, “It has been my experience that when my life is in the greatest turmoil, inevitably the car or a major appliance breaks down.” In the fog of my personal pre-election angst, a determined repairman was trying to figure out why the washing machine wouldn’t spin, and a parade of people from the gas company were in and out trying to fix my oven. As the Florida votes were still being counted after Obama had been declared the winner, the mystery of the spin cycle was diagnosed and repaired, and my brand new Amana stove was installed. With these three good outcomes, some peace of mind has been restored, and hope will no doubt soon follow. Meanwhile the Republicans who may still be frightened about the next four years remain in my thoughts as I watch and pray.
Next Post: 12/04/12
Next Post: 12/04/12