During 2012 my father Gary and I have mostly avoided the kind of heated political arguments that categorized every single meeting between 2003-2005, those most pained years of liberal impotence in American politics. My mother Sue has become a mainstream Democrat in the last decade, much to Gary's chagrin, but she gets very upset when the few times a year when we see each other turn into an episode of All in the Family without the laughs. I can manage to avoid fights when it is only a few times a year I see them.
But in the summer 2011 I spent several weeks in their home and the political tension came to a boil after Gary gritted his teeth through a Barack Obama town hall in a small town near where I grew up. At our town's Pizza Hut afterwards I unleashed a near screaming tirade against him in front of his friends, Sue, my aunt and some girl I knew from high school who was along for the ride. I can't tell you for the life of me what we were arguing about, but certainly some combination of the same old shit he brings up every time I see him: corruption in Illinois Democratic politics, Obamacare, the estate tax, the unjust early cancellation of Undeclared, earmarks and the Trail of Tears.
Since that fateful Pizza Hut explosion (not unlike the Tel Aviv location's bombing in 1999), we've been polite. This keeps Sue happy and improves my relationship with Gary. It's a constant effort to avoid arguments though because I work in politics, he follows it closely and, let's face it, everything can be tied to politics or at least your outlook on society. A commenter on Daily Kos once wrote
but I know not to talk politics around people with whom there's no basis for any common ground. That means I spend most of my days silent, because every where I go folks are conservative, many of them wingnuts. The conversation doesn't have to be political for that to be apparent: you can hear the coded racism, the jingoism, the class animosity in everyday comments that people make. Its pretty clear in the kind of jokes they think are funny. Those are the times when one just looks away or changes the subject to some other less offensive form of small talk.
That's a large part of the reason I don't like where I live, its almost impossible for me to really be myself, or to have interesting conversations with the folks around me. We just keep everything on such a superficial level that we basically say nothing at all. I mean, even conversations about child rearing, or shopping reveal a person's political orientation.
and I've found it to be mostly true. Nevertheless, we've been riding a good streak that broke last night.
Tuesday's results are unquestionably more positive than negative. Our center-right President was reelected by reassembling his coalition of blacks, Hispanics, Nascar drag queens, young people (like you), middle aged people (like me), trasngender union members, et cetera. The Democratic caucus in the US Senate dropped perennial political sociopaths Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman and added openly gay Tammy Baldwin and openly progressive Elizabeth Warren. Pot was legalized. California voters struck out the three strikes law. Same sex marriage finally won at the ballot box. There were of course sad developments as well: Californians maintaining the death penalty, Oklahoma adding apostasy to its list of capital offenses and my erstwhile home state of Missouri sinking further towards Arkansas (figuratively but perhaps literally too).
So why did Gary choose last night to start a political fight that led to us receiving a lifetime ban from Carrabbas Serbian Grill? Probably because he felt his ideology was defeated and he wanted to lash out. I can sympathize with that (again reference 2003-2005) but it's much uglier when it has racial/class undertones. Gary almost literally invoked Romney's infamous "47% of this country of this country want government handouts" speech that probably helped doom his campaign. This is no surprise to me, because Gary has always been a Randian without the philosophy. His mindset is that he's worked hard (which he has) so he should be successful (which he is) and taxes/government regulation are taking away from him to give to people who refuse to work or don't pay taxes or just aren't the right people. What I didn't realize at the time that his life long ideology had already been encapsulated in a viral video of Bill O'Reilly dealing with Tuesday's results:
When this dumb Irishman says it, I'm annoyed. When internet commenters on the Atlantic Wire accuse Obama of planning the Benghazi consulate attack and say things about Muslims that would be condemned as vile acts of racism if levied towards any other group, I'm forced to make vitriolic death threats or aggressive homosexual overtures. But no one can set me off the way my own father can. He isn't a fundamentally bad person and to see him deal with his mother in law's death (the reason he's down here in the first place) so Sue doesn't have to makes me respect him a lot. But it isn't enough in this world to take care of your family and friends. You have to be good to people who aren't like you. This can partially come from your large donations to the Church of Latter-Day Saints but it also must involve you supporting public policies that make life better for everyone. It isn't enough to fund a college education your son habitually wastes, to be a good person you have to support the government stepping in to fund college education for everyone. To summarize: all conservatives are bad people.
Many of the analyses we're reading about this election speak to what our ignorant friend Bill O'Reilly is saying in the video above: that the "normal" white majority isn't enough to win an election anymore. This might be true at the federal level but there are plenty of states where appealing to bigotry and ignorance of conservative-leaning white voters will be enough to power you to victory for years to come. As this clock starts ticking and the percentage of white voters in national election (still 72% in 2012) dwindles, what happens to the reactionary members of this group? Do they sorrowfully mourn the loss of "their country" like Bill, drop F bombs and suicide bombs at Carrabbas like Gary, or shoot kids to death who represent "multiculturalism" like Anders Brevik? Only time will tell, but I'll keep working on my father - and hide his guns when Wanda Sykes becomes the new Illinois Secretary of State.