Monday, November 12, 2012

Peeking out of my Political Foxhole

OK.  It's been almost a week.  I'm thinking by this time, it should be pretty safe to peek out over the edge of the political fox-hole I dug for myself to see if the shooting as actually stopped.  
Normally, I like politics.  I became interested in politics, and the process of electing our leaders, when I was about thirteen years old.  It was then, right before the next general election, that I found my dad's sample ballot sitting on the end table by the sofa.  I flipped through it and read the propositions and the candidate statements, then checked off the ones I would have voted for with a pencil that was close at hand.  I set it back down and went on to the kitchen, not thinking much more about it.  
Later that same day, walking through the living room again, I ran into my dad.  He was sitting on the couch and noticed me coming into the room.  
"Come here for second," he said to me.  "I want to talk to you."  
"What did I do now?" I thought at I sat down on the opposite end of the sofa.  
"Are you the one that marked up the sample ballot I had here?"  He nodded when I admitted that I had.  He flipped open the ballot and pointed to the mark I made next to some candidate's name.  "I wanted to know why you voted for this guy."  
It went on like that for a couple of hours as I recall.  Every candidate.  Every issue.  Why did I select that person or take that position?  And my questions, short and to the point at first, designed more to end the grilling I felt I was getting, didn't seem to satisfy my dad at first.  Questions that started, "But don't you think...?" or "Did you ever consider...
?" would follow my answers.  My use of the most common teenager response of a shrug with "I dunno," only caused my dad to straighten up, lean toward me and point to the ballot and say, "What you mean, 'you don't know?'  If you did this in the voting booth, it would count!"  
There came a point when something happened in my brain.  Or maybe it was in my gut.  It was an emotional thing, for sure.  It was a sort of resentment.  A kind of anger.  This was America, right?  Even if I was "just a kid," I had the right to my own opinion.  Even if I couldn't vote yet, when I could exercise that privilege, I could vote however I wanted, right?  
This feeling came out when my dad asked me why I had voted on one of the propositions on the ballot that year.  It was one of the first public smoking regulations.  It established a law that restaurants had to provide smoking and non-smoking designated areas for their clients.  I had voted in favor of the proposition.  
"But aren't you trying to tell people what to do?" my dad asked.  He didn't smoke at the time, having quit when I was six or so.  "Don't they have a right to live the way they want?"  
"Sure they do," I answered back, getting fired up.  "But I have a right to live the way I want, too.  If they want to smoke in their home it's the same if I don't smoke in my home.  But if they smoke in a restaurant, then I'm being made to smoke whether I want to or not.  I'm not saying they have to quit smoking if they don't want to.  I AM saying that they ought to do it away from me so I can be the non-smoker I want to be."  
"I think this law does more than just that.  I think it's too much of a burden on people running a business.  I think it's telling people how to live their lives."  
I took a deep breath.  I looked my dad right in the eyes and said.  "I don't think so.  I think it's just being fair to people who want to be healthy."  
There was a pause.  My dad seemed to be watching me.   Finally, he took a breath of his own and said...  "Ok."  
"Yeah.  Ok."  He shrugged.  He set the sample ballot back on the table.  "That's it.  You can go do whatever you were going to do."
I got to my feet but I didn't leave right away.  I didn't get it.  What was the point?
"I'm...  Not in trouble or anything?"  
"Naw..."  He looked up and saw the confusion on my face.  "I was just surprised at some of the choices you made.  They were things that I wouldn't have chosen, and I wondered how you came up with them.  I wanted to make sure you were thinking for yourself and not just repeating what other people had told you."  He shrugged.  "Now I'm sure."  
We had other political "discussions" over the years, my dad and I.  Some of them longer and more heated.  I remember another one, when I was a grown man visiting my folks for some holiday.  My dad bought some wine for us on the way home from the airport.  We sat up until three or four in the morning, finishing off the way and trying to solve the political problems of the world.  We finally went to bed after my dad said, "I can't remember what the hell we're arguing about, but I know I'm Right!"  
"Well...  I KNOW, I'm RIGHT, TOO!"  
"Well then...  That's all there is ta'say about it."  We laughed and went to bed.  
You can't seem to have political discussions like that these days.  People are angrier.  They can't accept that your opinion is different that yours.  More than that...  If your opinion is different, then you are a threat.  You are someone that will destroy this country if the government follows your belief.  
They refuse to believe that you came to your beliefs by thinking for yourself.  They are certain you are being fed propaganda by "someone else."  
And it doesn't matter what side of the political spectrum you are.  I've had friends on Facebook from the left and the right threaten to un-friend someone for not believing the way they do, or for expressing their political opinion in same manner they've been doing.  I could only shake my head and log off.
Thomas Jefferson once said, "I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as a cause for withdrawing from a friend."  Then again, he never had to deal with friends ranting online about how wrong you were for expressing the opinion you did.  
Right before the election, I heard a term that describes pretty aptly the political environment this country is experiencing.  A Cold Civil War.  The only thing we're not doing is getting out guns and shooting at each other.  And like the Cold War it's name after, it will probably take some wall, emotional or spiritual, to come falling down before we can get back to where it's Ok to say, "this is what I think..." without having someone scream at you.  
Those are the reasons I decided to keep my mouth shut this election season.  As much as I wanted to talk about the political race, as much as I wanted to do as I've done with my dad and other friends over the years, sharpen my ideas on the whetstone of other thinking people's opinion, I kept my mouth shut.  I am not going to withhold myself any longer, though.  The feeling I had when I was thirteen talking with my dad is back.  I am kinda resentful.  I'm a bit angry.  This is America, and I have the right to believe what I believe and express it.  
And so, finally, with the understanding that THE ELECTION IS OVER AND MY OPINION WILL NO LONGER AFFECT THE OUTCOME WHATSOEVER, OK?  I am going to tell everyone what my choice was.  
I voted for Obama.  
There.  If you want to check to see if I came by this decision through my own thought and consideration, be my guest.  I was raised to deal with things like that.


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