Tuesday, November 06, 2012
I Blame My Parents
Right after the last mid-term election I vowed as I have done after almost every election before to stop paying attention to politics. Following politics is a sick passion and useless endeavor. But like a rubbernecker passing that 5 car pile up on the Beltway, I cannot seem to keep my eyes on the road. I have to look, just a peek I figure won't hurt. Yeah right. One look and I get sucked in once again. So it has happened to me this time as it has so many times before.
I blame my parents. Damn them. I blame my oldest brother what with his know it all superior I know how you should feel about this candidate, that candidate and those loser welfare queens in the Bronx. I was inundated, saturated, and generally overwhelmed by the heated political discourse that took over the family conversations at dinner, in the car going somewhere, or after either parent read the op/ed page in the morning paper. Letters to the editor were especially volatile. My father would often zero in on them right after he had consumed the front page. It was a good morning when all I heard was an occasional grunt or snort. But if one of those letters pushed the right button, the man was off and running amok. "Goddammit ,......." I learned to leave the room once he had flipped to the Letters section.
So my passion for the political process came to me honestly and without my permission. I had no choice. If I was going to survive in a house full of political junkies, it was either slink away and become a shut in or join in and take my lumps as a rookie. And I took those lumps. I would like to remember the early years of my political education as a time when I stood up and held my own. Fought the good fight and took no prisoners. The reality though is etched in my mind. I was dog food, easy pickins, the family chump.The fact that I was still not 10 years old when I chose to take part did not mean I was given any slack, sympathy or treated with kid gloves. I cannot remember how many times I was drawn and quartered by either parent or my oldest brother. If you led with your chin in our house, someone was going to tag it. Age and inexperience had nothing to do with it.
I assumed every other kid had the same experience in their homes. It wasn't until I was in my early teens and poaching a dinner at a friends house that I discovered some families did not discuss politics at the dinner table. The Billy Sol Estes/ Lyndon Johnson scandal was all over the news. I remember I was a tad uncomfortable sitting there and no one was talking. They just ate and exchanged mundane niceties. So I brought up Billy and by then President Johnson. All eating activity stopped as if they were all controlled by the same electrical switch. In unison I felt all eyes focus on me. The dad wipes his mouth with a napkin and glares. Okay maybe it wasn't a glare, but it sure made me feel small. "We don't discuss politics at the dinner table." And that ended it.
I finished eating and politely refused a second helping as I was usually more than happy to take, what with being a teenaged boy with two hollow legs. My friend and I retired to their basement to "get out of the way" as he put it. As soon as we got to the basement he turned to me and ripped me a new asshole. His exact words escape me now, but I left for home that night knowing that political discussion in that household was off limits. I was never invited to their house again.
I had an epiphany that night. I realized that I was being raised by lunatics. But really really cool lunatics. My lunatics might skin me alive, but they still allowed me my say first. There was a passion for our political system in my house that encouraged taking a stand and defending it even if it did not fall in line with the parental line. My parents and yeah even my brother allowed me and even helped me to find my own political center though it might be in complete opposition to their take. I just better be ready to defend it.
All this brings me to the current sad state of the political discourse in this country. In my childhood home wherever we were, opposing views were not denigrated, they were disagreed with. Sometimes vehemently but I was raised to respect the right of others to hold the view even if I had other notions on the subject. And it seemed the general way of political discourse back then. Today, there is no discourse. There is no respect. And now that I think about it, I have also been sucked into this intolerant wave that has our nation by the short hairs. Any civility between opposing views is gone now. We have become so polarized that we won't even entertain another take unless it coincides with our own. It makes me sad to think our country has become so angry and hostile to itself. We need to lose the attitudes, the anger, and talk rather than shout at each other. This my way or the highway schtick is not doing us any favors. All it is doing, this squabbling among ourselves is to make it easier for the rest of the World to kick us off the top rung.
PS - Just a reminder to vote if you haven't already or did not know this is election day. I wish they would let us know further in advance. These last minute reminders coming from the media make me wonder if they are even paying attention.
And if you are so inclined and have not decided which ticket to vote for, might I suggest :