Thursday, January 10, 2013

I'm To Blame

(Author's Note: I began writing this on the morning after the 2012 Presidential election. Writer's block took over and I have not been able to find my voice until today, January 10, 2013. This is pieced together from two days that were only two months apart in time, but a world apart in mood and mindset.)

Over the years I've had many arguments about politics. It started at the dinner table, when I, an impressionable teen and my father, a close-minded  redneck (as I thought then) would come to blows over some new, radical idea I'd read, or heard about at school.

We would argue, and it often got unpleasant for the rest of the family, but I never thought it was wrong to argue about these matters. They seemed like important conversations, even though I usually left feeling young, stupid and thoroughly confused.

I remember reading an article in Reader's Digest in about 1977. It was about Ted Kennedy's son, who had his leg amputated because of cancer, I believe. The pictures showed a handsome teenage boy, a beautiful family, and told of young Edward's plucky courage and positive attitude. I came to the dinner table with the heartwarming story of this newest tragedy in the long list of family tragedies, and how Senator Kennedy seemed like such a good man. I was especially intrigued by his pet issue of socialized medicine.

All of my sisters probably remember that dinner and his reaction. It was explosive. My father ranted at my shallow, uninformed opinions and the abysmal state of education, when a reasonably bright girl could be fed a dose of pure Communism and not even be aware of it. I, knowing he was right about the shallow and uninformed part, continued to defend the principle of helping the poor and trying to prevent the future predicted by the senator, when people would be dying in the streets of treatable conditions, while doctors chose to only treat those with insurance.

I'm sure I had other heated discussions about politics and social issues in my youth, but this is the one that I remember best. I remember even better a few weeks later, at a larger family dinner at my grandmother's home, when I tried to broach the subject with my mother's parents and brothers present (I naively thought they would be sympathetic to my cause). I remember that my father wasn't present - another inducement to launch into my "new" idea.

I think I said something totally objective, as in: "I think the country's problems would be solved if we only had socialized medicine."

Was I in for a surprise when my beloved grandmother spoke first: "Michele, let's not discuss politics at the dinner table."

Pardon? If not at the dinner table, then when? I thought. Conversation moved on to other matters, like Auburn football and who had seen whom at church and other more important matters.

Dinner broke up, the women went into the kitchen and the men took over the dinner table. Eschewing the card games and dominoes on the living room floor, I boldly marched my 13 year-old self up to the table and started listening to my Uncle Howard telling a story about someone who left their truck gate open after filling the bed with watermelons. One of the most entertaining storytellers of all time, I waited until he was done, then jumped into the conversation.

"So, don't y'all think Ted Kennedy is right about socialized medicine?"

Another uncle, one of my mother's younger brothers, made a pained face and looked down at his hands. Yet another uncle, who had gone through a brief hippie phase and seemed at the time a potential ally, stared at me blankly. Uncle Howard cleared his throat and adjusted uncomfortably in his chair. And the first response to my question came from the unlikeliest person, my granddaddy. With me he was always kind and  encouraging, although I knew he had a bit of a temper. With no sign of irritation, however, he looked right at me and said, mildly:

"My-chele, it's considered rude to discuss politics and religion in company."

Being called "rude" in my grandmother's house was the stuff of nightmares. He didn't say I was rude, but he implied that my desire to discuss politics was, and the effect was the same. I was horribly ashamed and spent   the rest of the afternoon quietly (probably a first) pouting.

By the time I reached college I'd decided that the rule of polite society - the one that dictated that arguing about politics and religion was bad form - was just a bad rule. Debating with friend and classmates led to some of the most exciting and satisfying conversations of my early adulthood.

But in recent years, I've become reluctant to engage in those satisfying arguments with other adults. Too many times in the past few years, I've had friends and acquaintances react to my statements of opinion with derisive statements indicating that, since they disagreed, it would be rude for me to continue. In the interest of "live and let live" and "don't make waves," I saved my choicest statements for the captive audience at home - my children.

Many people are unable to tolerate opposing views being aired too close to their own safe space. I was given the cold-shoulder treatment at a neighborhood gathering by answering a direct question about who I was supporting in the presidential primaries. When I asked the man later why he drifted away, if he was uncomfortable discussing the election, he remarked something to the effect that politics had no place at happy hour. I defended myself by reminding him that I'd answered a question, not solicited his vote, but he said that it was all the same to him. Parties are supposed to be about fun, he said.

If that is true, then I hereby announce that I am not qualified to go to a party. If adults cannot listen to one another's opinions - on a wide range of matters, not just an election or a piece of legislation - then, in my book, they are not truly adults.I marvel that people who can have extensive, restrained discussion and disagreements about the relative strengths and weaknesses of their favorite or their least-favorite sports team, reject the idea that people can also have extensive, restrained discussions and disagreements about matters of policy or philosophy. But I digress, as usual.

Ultimately, in the name of getting along with a wide range of people, I have often bit my tongue rather than pick up the thread of a discussion and try to take it to the next level of analysis. Few people who know me well are unaware of my opinions and the thought processes I employ to arrive at them, but I don't always say what I'm thinking or try to convince another to think differently. This blog was, at one time, a place where I spoke freely, but even this platform was not safe from the slings and arrows and social consequences.

So keeping my mouth shut hasn't helped me, and it clearly didn't help advance my views in the last election. Like a coward, after being de-friended, literally and figuratively, I piped down for a while. Let the politicians, journalists and opinion-makers reach the confused masses and help Joe and Jan Q Public see what should be done to reverse the terrifying course sown which our government is taking our country. The politicians, journalists and opinion-makers are probably better insulated from the ill-will of their critics. I found I was too cowardly to become a true social pariah.

That was a mistake. My silence, my "keep your own counsel" attitude that so many others adopted as well, was one of many reasons why President Obama was re-elected. In my effort to protect my children from having a mother with enemies for neighbors set the worst kind of example for the very ones I thought to protect.

If all I cared about was social standing, this would already be a tragedy. But new friends appear, new books re-inspire, and children often tell you the truth about yourself when you least expect it.

The real tragedy is not fighting to save this country, my country and yours, for our children. I didn't campaign for or against issues that matter to me and will greatly impact their future. I didn't use my God-given talents or resources to try to reach others and perhaps give them something new to think about. I truly feel responsible for the outcome of the election. I have to answer to my children for my silence and passivity, while they look forward to a future that practically promises them a lifetime of uncertainty and insecurity.

The election amounted to nothing. We have the same president, committed to spending our way out of certain disaster, and a split congress intent on protecting their own hides while they dodge their responsibilities with more energy than they ever spend doing their jobs. As the "fiscal cliff" approached, leaders proposed turns and detours, but no meaningful, permanent changes of any sort that would help to avoid very bad economic policies from  bearing toxic fruit.

I may suffer, you may suffer, but we voted for this. Or by not voting, we let it happen
But it is our kids will pay. They will pay when our federal debt becomes unserviceable. They will pay when the safety net programs, like Social Security and Medicare, go broke, and their generation has to support a huge, aging population by some means we can't even guess at now. They will pay with lost opportunities, as America continues to lose it's hold on global economic leadership. They will pay by never knowing the value of the capitalist principles that once made us a great nation of creators who were also workers, and workers who were encouraged to be more. The will pay by coming of age in a world where their capabilities are never tested, because government has told them that they will take care of them; government will educate them, give them a computer and a cell phone, underwrite their housing, pay for their health care, and if they still fail, government will give them more aid, and foot the bill for their inevitable mistakes. No need to learn how to work hard or take care of themselves - that's a useless, old-school way of thinking.

They will pay by never knowing the meaning of American exceptionalism. The concept has been deemed offensive, not taking into account the feelings of people who didn't succeed. They will pay because the social justice activists succeeded in appealing to our Christian charity and sense of right and wrong, and declared that the innovators and builders and creators and risk-takers were evil and just as dependent on the government as the welfare recipient.

Our kids will pay by growing up in an America that is not about hard work, or achieving difficult goals, or defending individual liberty, or respect for privacy on personal matters, or working through tough times by changing the behavior that got you there, or honoring the Constitution as the best instrument of social justice ever created.

My kids will pay because I chose to be silent. I let a little social disapproval stop me from speaking from my brain and my heart. I have helped deliver them into a future that is very, very different from the one I would have chose for them. My desire not to offend friends or cross swords with people I care about has not served me well. No friendship is worth the sense of guilt I feel toward my children. Any argument, no matter how unpleasant, is better than the shame I feel today for not working harder to prevent this outcome.

I held my tongue and silenced my blog because I didn't think it mattered. I didn't think the country would vote to continue the policies and actions that have sent us speeding toward this social and financial precipice. I didn't think you needed me to tell you what is patently obvious about the state of the world - that the change we needed isn't the change we got. I figured everyone knew that, and would vote in accordance with that knowledge. It also hurt to be called a racist for opposing the president's policies. I don't think that opposing the bad policies of the president makes me racist. But being called one hurt me, showing how thin-skinned I really am. I know I'm not racist, but if I offend like one, then I'm better off just keeping quiet.
My fear was stronger than my commitment. The fear of being called a tea-bagger and a right-wing Christian extremist for my views on the second amendment and the sanctity of life were stronger than my commitment to those views. Even though I never took part in any tea party activities and don't deserve the title of Christian or extremist, the brush is very broad in the name-calling business, and I feared being labeled and having that label reflect badly on my kids.

Well, I'm still not sure if I am strong enough to handle the criticism, but I will blog again, and I'll blog honestly. That means that Polite Ravings will be about what I want it to be. If I want to write about housework and stupid dogs, I will. If I want to write about news and politics, I will. If I start out writing as the Domestic Diva and end up sounding like Chicken Little, it's my blog and I don't have to be the ditzy, disorganized housewife every time I take it in my head to write. If freeze-dried journalists and Kardashians can broadcast their opinions, so can ditzy housewives.

To the friends and family who don't like Polite Ravings with my strong opinions and critical judgments of current events, do yourself a favor and don't read me anymore. I won't be trying to spare your feelings or apologize for mine. I welcome your comments of disagreement, and would enjoy them even more in person, perhaps around a dinner table with a good bottle of wine at the ready. I don't mind being called wrong. Just don't tell me what to write, or not to put it on Facebook, or suggest that you would read my writing, if only I would just remain light and humorous all the time. Here's your PSA: I won't.

And to the children, mine and yours, who are inheriting this mess, and the future we gambled and lost with a check written on their future earnings, I can only say Mea culpa and I'm very, very sorry.


  1. First of all, I have to tell you that I too know what it is to feel like stifling your voice is the only way to make peace. And that feeling couldn't be more wrong. I've found there are ways to speak without offending but also that those who may be offended by your opinions are just looking for something to be offended by.

    Politically, we couldn't be more on opposite ends of the spectrum. Speaking as a voter of George W. and Obama (twice for both!), I am still an old school girl, parent, and friend and I am teaching my children some of these old school ways, even as a "born-again" liberal. We're not all free-loaders who don't believe in hard work and doing for yourself and we're not all responsible for the mess of this country as of today either. I personally see little glimpses of hope when it comes to issues I care about...marriage equality and healthcare relief for those who desperately need it. Speaking from the front lines on the latter of those two issues, my hope is that the patient I used to buy medicine for (and not very costly, but he still couldn't afford it) will get his medicine one day just as easily as I do. But I don't think he's alive any more.

    I love hearing the perspective of others, especially my son's new best friend, an exchange student from Switzerland. It just seems high time this country gets a much more global perspective on how we do things that absolutely DO work in Europe.

    Anyway, very cool post. Your voice is needed and strong and I am never offended. :)

  2. Thanks, 2 Kids, for your thoughtful comments. I certainly don't blame liberals - as you've self-identified - for the problems facing this country. There is more than enough blame to spread around the 2 parties and the many philosophical/academic/religious groups (an others) who have pushed various agendas in the last 4 decades. Many of the problems that concern me are more the result of unintended consequences of laws and programs and policies. As to the issues you care about, marriage equality and healthcare relief - you are correct that these are not the issues I am passionate about. My concerns tend toward treating economic problems with economic solutions, not government ones. I hope your friend, if he's living, has access to the drugs he needs. But I don't believe a new government program is capable of making that situation - sick people who need medicines and are unable to pay - one bit better in the long run. It is a core belief I have and nothing about Medicare or any other health-related program gives me hope that ACA will be anything other than a boondoggle that will negatively reform health delivery, crush big pharma and enrich a new generation of takers while leaving sick, poor people just as dependent as ever. I probably want the same results for gay couples and poor, sick people, I just don't want those results mandated or dictated by the Federal government.

    Thanks so much for reading my blog and taking the time to comment. Your opinions are welcomed!

  3. Well, Michele, I'm glad you got that off your chest. As you probably know, old liberal Aunt Margaret loves a good argument. Reading this latest makes me realize we are not in the same key on a number of issues, but we can certainly discuss such things civilly. Perhaps we can do that when you come to be "tourists" in the area again. You can even have my motto, "I may not be right, but I will not be quiet."

  4. Well Michele as a non-USA citizen and not knowing too much about the in-depth politics of the USA I welcome your latest blog. There are many times, when I go home to visit family, that we sit around the table and have numerous debates about the state of the economy in the UK and what a mess the previous government got us into and how we are now paying the price for overspending etc. Its healthy to have these discussions and disagreements, that's what the politicians do don't they!. Surely it makes people more passionate to vote when the time comes. No it doesn't I hear the voice in my head saying, but I still believe that people should talk about it and thrash out the differences. If one surrounds ones self with all like minded people it takes the fun out of having some honest and open conversations about the state of things. The latest argument in the UK press to raise blood pressures is that those on benefits are having their annual increase of handouts reduced because their rates are going up faster than those earning a salary. I totally agree, how can that be right that those working for a living see those who can't be bothered get annual increases when they probably haven't had a pay rise for at least 3 years because of the state of the economy. Oh please don't get me started. Please, please keep voicing your opinion, if anything putting it on your blog will stop you from exploding!!