Sunday, July 3, 2011

Losing My Religion

My parents were Democrats.

I feel it is necessary to say that right up front because it tells you something about how I was brought up. It should tell you something about what I value.

In case it isn't clear, let me spell it out for you:
  • I believe in truth even when truth hurts.

  • I believe in fair and equal treatment for everyone in every situation or endeavor.

  • I believe justice is a two–sided coin, and it isn't always what the majority may think it should be.

  • I believe in individual freedom, and

  • I believe that, while respect must be earned, everyone is entitled to a certain amount of respect from others simply because they exist.
There are other things I believe, too, but that will do for openers.

Being a Democrat was like a religious faith in my family. My roots run deep in Southern soil, but my parents, who spent the first several years of their marriage living abroad, always identified more with the Democrats from the other regions of the country.

They were rarely in sync with many of the Democrats in the small Arkansas town where I grew up. They supported things like civil rights, and they were against the war in Vietnam.

I remember accompanying my mother when she went campaigning door to door for George McGovern in 1972. We encountered few positive responses on our sojourns through our county. I don't know how many doors were slammed in our faces. I just remember that there were a lot of them.

I also remember that the kids with whom I went to school reflected their parents' (and, as it turned out, the state's) political preferences. Richard Nixon got about 70% of the vote in Arkansas that year.

Kids always want to be accepted by their peers, and they are sensitive to the things that they think are barriers to that acceptance. I was quite young in 1972, but I remember feeling that supporting the Democratic ticket was keeping me from gaining the acceptance I craved.

Anyway, I remember one October afternoon when my mother and I were driving into the rural parts of our county to try to win one or two supporters for McGovern's quixotic presidential campaign. Henry Kissinger had just announced that "peace is at hand" in Vietnam, and I mentioned that to Mom.

And then I asked her a question. Mom wasn't given to icy stares, but she gave me one on that occasion.

"If Nixon ends the war in Vietnam," I asked, "couldn't we be for him then? Isn't that what we want to do, end the war?"

Mom stared at me for what seemed like an eternity. "Yes, we want to end the war," she finally said, "but there is more to it than that."

I didn't understand that at the time, but I understood what she meant when I got older.

And, for most of my adult life, I was a Democrat. Until 2008, I supported Democrats in every presidential election after I turned 18.

But I just couldn't vote for Barack Obama. It wasn't that I disagreed with him on many issues. Just the opposite, in fact. To be honest, I was bewildered at the time. I even told some friends, "I can't believe a Democrat is about to be elected president ... and I'm not going to vote for him!"

My friends were even more baffled than I was. I tried to explain it to them, but I couldn't. It was just a gut feeling, I said. I didn't trust Obama.

You must be racist, my Democrat friends said dismissively. But that conveniently overlooked the fact that I was raised by parents who were active supporters of civil rights in the American South at a time when white Southerners who did that wound up having crosses burned in their yards — or worse.

I just didn't trust him. Never have. But I couldn't explain it any better than that in 2008. And my uneasy feeling has continued to grow, along with the unemployment rate. As I wrote here about 18 months ago, I have become an independent.

I have tried to understand it better, and I think I do. In fact, I think there are lots of others out there who are beginning to experience the same nagging doubts I have had about Obama since he emerged as the Democrats' frontrunner three years ago.

They may be just as bewildered as I was — although they shouldn't be because there was much less evidence to support my position in 2008. Folks who are having doubts about Obama today have had 30 months to observe his actions — and inactions — in office.

For the most part, all I had to go on were my suspicions. I'll grant you, they were nothing more than gut feelings three years ago, and I tried to persuade myself that there was nothing to them — or, if there was, I hoped he would overcome the shortcomings that I feared he possessed.

But I have seen nothing since this president took office that has led me to believe that my suspicions were mistaken — or that Obama has made any progress in overcoming his weaknesses.

Persuasion really is the operative word here because that is a big problem I have perceived in not just Obama but many of the prominent members of his party in the last several years. I think it predates Obama's election — which, I suppose, would make him more of a product of it.

It really should come as no surprise when folks on the left and folks on the right disagree — that happens frequently. But I have seen an outright unwillingness on the part of the so–called liberals to treat dissenting opinions with enough respect to listen to them and respond to them. Instead, Democrats tend to dismiss the dissenters as stupid — and/or racist or sexist or whatever.

Say what you will about Rush Limbaugh and the other right–wing radio hosts — and most of it is true — but they treat callers with dissenting views with more respect than their counterparts on the left. They listen to what they have to say (usually), and they respond to the points that are made.

But Democrats too often skip the persuasion part. It's hard work. It's much easier to treat dissenters with contempt or condescension.

When I was growing up, both political parties were positioned more in the middle of the road, and they worked together to resolve their differences. Today, both are so far to either extreme that there is simply too much that stands in the way of compromise.

That's under normal circumstances. It's even tougher to persuade people to come around to your side when you've been demonizing them or dismissing them as fools.

A basic fact that many Democrats seem to have forgotten is that people respond positively to politicians who act as if they respect the voters' intelligence. Democrats like to accuse Republicans of being country clubbers — and many may well be — but, in fact, many voters see Democrats as smug and elitist with no respect for ordinary Americans' beliefs, fears and values.

I have often observed that the Republican Party veered far to the right when it nominated Ronald Reagan in 1980, and it has largely remained there for the last 30 years after striking its deal with the Christian conservatives.

It is harder for me to pinpoint when Democrats veered so far to the left, but I think it took root midway through the last decade — in the aftermath of Republican mishandling of the Terri Schiavo tragedy and the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

The pendulum swung back to the Democrats, and they began seizing the components of the federal government — but it turned out that all they had learned from Republican control of Congress (and, later, the presidency) was how to bully people into doing what they wanted.

That kind of politics, as Democrats should have learned by now, has a short shelf life.

1 comment:

The Commissioner said...

Excellent post. I've come to the so-called middle of the road myself from the other side of the aisle...but for many of the same reasons.