Friday, August 29, 2008

There's A Donkey In The House

I have used this forum for many a true confession.

I have confessed to occasionally listening to Delilah. And to crying at the end of Titanic even though I've seen it 50 times. And to liking the occasional sappy power ballad. And to failing the written portion of my driving test the first time I took it. And to not being the best mommy in the history of the world.

I want to throw a new one at you today, and it's the hardest yet. You probably already know this about me, but it's something I was raised to not talk about in polite company, so it's hard for me to just come out and say it in public like this. I don't know if I can do it. Here goes nothin'...

Deep breath...

There. I said it. Let the stone-throwing begin.

I know most of you are like, "Duh. Big deal. Tell me something I don't know." But for me, it is a big deal. Because in these here parts, I am vastly outnumbered and others like me are blasted in newspaper editorials, local columns, and telephone polls. I've learned that silence is golden; in Cincinnati, democrats are best seen but not heard.

I got my first lesson on this in 1984. I was in fifth grade that November, and I remember learning about Reagan and Mondale in the pages of Weekly Reader. Well, not just Weekly Reader. I was also getting an earful of political rants every day from my father, who had spent a good portion of the first Reagan administration either layed off from the auto plant or on strike with the U.A.W., and who used to be a Republican and waged war with my mother in 1976 when he voted for Ford, but who was now a militant left-winger. "Reagan" was only said in my house with angry eyes and gritted teeth (though my mom adored the way Johnny Carson impersonated him), so I of course thought Reagan was a harsh President and wanted Mondale to win. Gee, my little 5th-grade brain thought, doesn't everyone?

Um, no.

After reading the Weekly Reader rundown, good ol' Mr. Goering asked his class to put their heads down on their desks (because who you vote for is a Big Secret).

"Who wants Ronald Reagan to win the election?"

I kept my head down, but could hear the rustling of cotton against cotton which meant a lot of hands just went into the air.

"Now, who wants Walter Mondale to win?"

The only sound I heard was the bony creaking of my own arm. I peeped up and there were only two hands in the air; mine, and some girl who I think was only in our class for a week before her family moved to parts unknown. An outsider, in other words, like me.

I was shocked. With all the vitriol and indictments I had heard at home, how could so many people want the Republican to win? Were my parents alone? History says "yes" for that particular election and with that particular candidate. But in northern Kentucky, the Republican always wins. It didn't take long to learn that, and to learn to keep my mouth shut.

My mother knew we were in hostile territory. A coalminer's daughter from southeastern Kentucky, her parents became fervent democrats in the 60s when the Kennedy family worked so hard to bring awareness and aid to impoverished and dying Appalachia. Mamaw had a memorial plate hanging in her kitchen with the sepia-toned painted profiles of Jack and Robert Kennedy on it; I used to see her reach out and touch it from time to time, sadness and remembrance in her eyes. My mom and her people were members of the Pentecostal church and were morally conservative; yet they also believed that Democrats like the Kennedies were the politicians who truly followed in their Lord and savior's footsteps and looked out for the poor and the downtrodden. The recent view that all evangelical Christians are Republicans baffles her; you can describe her as a lapsed Evangelical, but you sure as hell can't describe her as a Republican.

When we moved from Kennedy-loving country to the suburbs of Cincinnati, it didn't take long for my mom to realize that not too many of her neighbors shared her views. She always told me:

"Never, ever talk about politics to people at school. Or about religion. Or about abortion, because that deals with both politics and religion. You will just get mad, or you will make someone else mad, and it's just not something you talk about in public. Especially around here."

So I got really good about keeping quiet. So good that I became wishy-washy. When I was asked on occasion to take a written position on something political in my government class senior year, my teacher gave me high marks for arguing from both sides of the issue but often left a note to the effect of, "But what do YOU think?" I would have rather failed than tell my teacher, who was big and scary and seemed like a Republican sort of guy, what I really thought. In my seminar class at Kentucky's Governor Scholars, we did an exercise where our leader asked a question of the group, like, "Do you believe in a woman's right to choose?" or "Does America need more gun control laws?" and then assigned the four corners of the room to how strongly we felt. The middle of the room was for "undecided." Then each area was allowed to express their opinion.

I stayed in the middle of the room. For every question. And when asked said, "I can see it from both sides."

One of the college-student moderators tried to call me out.

"Do you have any strong political views on anything?"

I answered with a shrug. And as y'all know, I am an opionated, passionate person. I just don't fly that blue flag in this red state.

I went away to college at Centre in the fall of 1992. Hooray! My first election as an 18-and-older co-ed was a presidential election! My dad told me before he drove away that first day on campus:

"Be careful with the money we send. Study hard. Don't drink and drive. Call when you get homesick. And register to vote; Clinton is going to help make student loans easier to get and let you be able to deduct your interest from your taxes."

I went to a meeting the first weeks of school where upperclass women were helping the freshman girls register to vote and giving information about the candidates. I filled out my registration card, turned it upside down so the girl sitting next to me wouldn't judge me for checking "Democrat", and listened politely. I prayed they wouldn't ask us who we were leaning toward. They didn't, and even though the girl across the hall from me wore a Clinton/Gore t-shirt, I dared not engage anyone in political conversation.

And if you're not going to talk politics in college, seriously, what good are you?

I admire my friend and frequent "anonymous" commenter DR who opened her mouth in her college classes to express opinions that, while maybe not popular with all of her economics classmates, needed to be said. To this day, DR and her husband are among a short list of my friends I will openly, angrily be liberal around. Oh, I'll talk politics with other friends, but only after priming the pump with an adult beverage or six and changing the subject when things get too uncomfortable.

I first started working here in the fall of 2000 when the world seemed pretty evenly divided between Bush and Gore (though here's another ugly confession: had McCain gotten the nomination in 2000, I probably would have voted for him and been disowned by my parents). Because so many people seemed undecided or kind of "eh" about either candidate, I thought it was pretty safe to honestly answer a question asked at the faculty lunch table one day: Who's everyone going to vote for?"

When I said I was going to vote for Gore, I might as well have said I murdered puppies and took candy away from small kids in my free time.

"Really? I don't see why any intelligent person would vote for Gore. Why are you voting for him?"

Yes, this was actually a response from someone who I would surprisingly have a pretty good working relationship with after the election was over.

In 2004, I ate lunch with this same group of teachers but kept quiet even when I was being baited. But one day a teacher, who remembered my response in 2000 and who was trying to get me to come out of my silence, stunned me with this remark (directed to no one in particular, allegedly) as soon as I sat down with my lunch.

"I don't get that Kerry guy. He claims to be both a Catholic and a Democrat. You can't be a Catholic and a Democrat. What a hypocrite! I don't even think you can be Christian and be a Democrat. I mean, can anyone explain this to me?"

Well, I am both a Catholic and a Democrat. And this guy knew that. I fumed. I was humiliated. I was fresh out of snark. So I got up and left.

This is why I don't talk politics.

But things are changing for me.

One day in February of 2007, I was running on the treadmill at the gym when Barack Obama announced his intention to run for President. I ran for 40 minutes, which I don't generally do on treadmills. But I couldn't stop listening to him. I was awestruck. I had wanted him to run since I heard him speak in 2004, thought I thought he would be a longshot and would run a couple of times before he ever got the nod. But I was never much of a HRC-for-President person, though I admire her beyond words. I found myself, previously so bitter and cynical and quiet, starting to get excited about politics and (yes) willing to maybe get a little vocal about it.

When I got back home, Jason, who has an uncanny knack for buying me books I want before I even know I want them, handed me a gift bag with an early birthday present in it: Dreams Of My Father by Barack Obama. My mother-in-law was staying with us that weekend, and I looked her square in her (usually Republican-favoring) eyes and said,

"I just heard Obama announce his entry into the race, and I really like him and want to vote for him."

The first step on my way to sort of being active.

My closest friends are mostly Republicans, with an Independent or Dem thrown in here or there, and I married a registered Republican (though in the last 8 years I think I've brought him over to the dark side, and I didn't even have to throw blue jets of electricity out of my fingertips to do it.) My most left-leaning friends are far enough away that I don't get to pow-wow with them as often as I want. I am accepting of people's differences and don't judge anyone by their political leanings. I love my friends like family, Republicans or Libertarians or whatever. But I am no longer going to sit back and be quiet and be afraid of what people will think about me because I am a Democrat. I usually make apologies to my friends for being what I am. No more. I am coming out of my shell, folks.

I was inspired by Barack's acceptance speech in front of the DNC last night. And I am not ashamed to say it. Say what you want; say that he's style over substance, that he's inexperienced, that Hillary would have been a stronger candidate. Say that anyone like me who supported McCain 9 years ago should still be behind him now (he's not the same maverick he used to be, I tells ya!) Say that Obama's elite, out of touch, "too smart." I feel inspired, and moved, and proud. And isn't that a huge part of the job of President of the United States of America? To not so much "rule" the country as to inspire us to get out, get involved, take charge, make changes, and better our world? To not just sit back and be happy to be governed? Ask not what your country can do for you and all that stuff?

I know he has some haters out there, so I dare not ask for comments. I know he doesn't have the support of even everyone in the party. I know that depending on what poll you look at on what day, he doesn't have the states he needs. But I can't help but feel some Hope. Yes, with a capital H.

That is all. The Cranky Librarian blog isn't gonna get all political on you. But when you're this excited, you just can't hide it.

I'm about to lose control and I think I like it.


Robert K. said...

Glad to hear you're coming out of your political shell. ;)

I thought Obama gave an amazing speech as well. I do not plan to vote for him, but I will not say that he does not deliver an inspiring bit of oratory. I question whether, beneath the idealism, he has the cunning to take on Congress. I have a hard time imaging him playing off the Democrats and Republicans the way Clinton did. But after watching McCain squander the only strong argument in his favor by picking an inexperienced woman as his running mate (seemingly in an attempt to pick off Clinton supporters), both tickets are pretty worthless in my humble, libertarian opinion.

On a side note, there is something a little ironic, yet gloriously post-racial, in the fact that the black candidate is being criticized as an elitist snob.

corycaleb said...

As a fellow (yes Virginia - they do exist) Catholic Democrat (though I have to shamefully admit I came to the Democratic side later in life than you - I have since learned the error of my ways) - just want to give a hearty Amen to you :)

corycaleb said...

As a fellow (yes Virginia - they do exist) Catholic Democrat (though I have to shamefully admit I came to the Democratic side later in life than you - I have since learned the error of my ways) - just want to give a hearty Amen to you :)

Library Lady said...

Corycaleb! I knew you when, back in the days that you sided with Webster the few misguided times I took his bait and tried to express something resembling an opinion...woo hoo! Good to have another smart woman on our side.

robert k., I love that last bit...and I love hearing that perspective about McCain's VP pick (who I am just going to call Whatsername because I'm too lazy to Google to refresh my memory of this chick I've never heard of before) and the reasoning behind it. I'm afraid that the squandering is going to work.

Ooooh, isn't intelligent political discourse fun? I mean, even when you're sober?

corycaleb said...

Yep - I have fallen. Likely it is the 8 years as a legal aid attorney working with the poor and down trodden that opened my eyes :) I was more of a crowd follower back in the day - I must admit I didn't really analyze the politics of it all back then. Just know if ya ever need someone to back you up in a political discussion, call on me! WE can be two women united :)

Heather said...

Woo Hoo Cranky!

Loved this post. I love that you're coming out of your political closet and I love it that you love Obama as much as me!! (Remember our pow wow months ago when I was still in Edwards' camp--you tried to show me the light!)

I love the story of your family. I think your Mamaw and Papaw are right--working for the poor and downtrodden is so much more in line with the heart of the Gospel than abortion and gay marriage will ever be.....In my humble opinion at least.

I think O's speech was really good. It was inspiring and forceful and he pointed toward some concrete policy changes.

Folks who say he's not experienced enough to take on the job should remember that Lincoln had about the same amount of experience when he became president. And I agree with you, Cranky, a big part of being president is the ability to inspire and engage people so that they--not corporate lobbyists--direct the public policies that impact all our lives. As Obama said, we need to show folks that change doesn't come from Washington; it comes to Washington by way of the people!

You've got me fired up! We should volunteer w/ the campaign one Saturday this fall. Can't wait to come visit soon--maybe we can make Webster see the light!

Rick Hibbets said...

Good post, Toni. I've found that you often have to be very careful about when and how you express your political views (workplace, parties, etc). Nevertheless,you should always be proud of them if they spring forth from personal convictions.

I heard Sarah Palin give a fantastic speech on the radio today after McCain announced her as his running mate. Considering this week was the 88th anniversary of women's suffrage in America, I think her presence in this contest is as consequential as Obama's.

Old Wiseman hall-mate of the CL said...

Three Cheers for the Cranky Librarian and Coreycaleb! The older I have gotten, the stronger my convictions have become. So far not much public discussion that I can see in this part of Appalachia. Waiting to see if there is any dialog at my university -- one party on campus is doing a voter registration drive. I remember that excitement too, CL, of our first elections as 18 year olds. Now I just have to figure out how to spread that excitement without any party affiliation.

Anonymous said...

Well, look at all the jack@sses come out of the woodwork!
I remember that presidential election myself. At that time I was still waffling between being raised as an evangelical/Lincoln republican and being heavily wooed by the token radical in the economics dept. The funny thing is that Jen A. and me were holed up in one room on the fence but leaning to the red while two other friends of ours were in the room next door solidly on the left. The both of us have now moved all the way into the blue room and were just talking about O last week. Her husband J.R. is now a libertarian, just like your friend Robert.
The main thing no matter one's persuasion is to vote. Even if you write in Gatewood Galbraith. I *so* do not get people staying home on election day, especially women! I've given a few female family members some grief over not voting - including my mom - and take both daughters into the voting booth with me even to vote for city officials in primaries when nobody shows up. We're so blessed that voting is a 20-minute affair on a big election day instead of stand-all-day-in-the-heat-and-hope-nobody-blows-something-up.
See you at the polls!