I grew up in a place blandly referred to as “Central New Jersey,” an area of only a few counties, caught between aging farmland and boomer-driven suburbia, outposts that crept away from the two behemoth cities, matching the invisible demarcation of property values affected by those urban centers. Lower prices here, put up a development. Lower prices further away, put up a development there. So in the late 1960s, that line was Mercer County, home to the state capitol and a rather well known Ivy League university. I went to elementary school in that town, the once was national headquarters for politicians, before they moved it to its final resting place of Washington, DC.

The nuns taught me to love the sinner and hate the sin, to separate bad behavior from the innate goodness in people, and even though these messages were fraught with many contradictions and a near-constant failure of memory on the part of their congregants, I tried to buy the principles. I asked many questions, and got a lot of non-answers, such as:

“What do you mean there’s always been God? How could there be no beginning?” This was met with a “It is a divine mystery, my child. You must take it on faith.”

“How can there be three beings but only one being?”

“It is a divine mystery, my child. You must take it on faith.”

And on, and on. There was that point my senior year in high school during which I finally figured out the grand logic, much to the chagrin of my erudite instructor, but for many years, I attempted to content myself in the not knowing.

But I did get older, and I expected better answers than I’d received from lazy-minded or otherwise resistant grownups. I could tell that there were competing schools of thought on all kinds of philosophies, although I didn’t really know how to boil them down.

As I approached 18, I asked my Mom how she voted, generally speaking. She looked at me with a curious expression, somewhere between disheartened and cautious, as if she were talking about a close friend who had The Consumption.

“We vote Republican in this house,” she told me, a little above a whisper. Maybe it was a stage whisper, though that would have been silly as we were the only two home at the time.

“Why is that,” I asked, not really surprised at her answer.

It was, she explained, because my father was a small business owner, and he steadfastly believed that the GOP was more small business friendly. And this may have been true at the time. But what interests me is that I didn’t, in all my years of grooming to be a conservative, feel a burning hatred in my heart for the Democratic Party, even if I may have laughed at a liberals joke here and there. But hey, there were a lot of inappropriate jokes in the 1980s, many revolving around who blew up where and how in the Challenger accident.

I made it to college, spending the first few weeks either not believing my good fortune, or decrying my random roommate assignment, a privileged kid who actually told my mother, to her face, on Moving In Day that Syracuse had been their choice because of its reputation as a party school. I sought the refuge of new friends, minimizing the time in my own dorm room.

One of those friends was in a new club called the Campus Crusade for Christ. She had convinced me that they were a better way of understanding God and spirituality, that there was a fantastic benefit of not having to find meaning through the priest-God conduit. I figured I would check it out.

It was not for me. It was really, really not for me. Now I’d gone from getting no answers to having answers all over the place—explanations for everything under the sun. If some question didn’t have a ready made answer, it was only for the fact that nobody had thought of the question yet. All of these answers were supposed to arm us when we went out as missionaries to convert other people to the Walk with Christ. I was beyond uncomfortable. I pulled away from the group.

One of the things that troubled me the most was that even though I was reading the Bible more than ever before, we as a group were listening to it less and less, and giving more credence to the CCC leader. And it wasn’t long before he started delving into politics. Which politicians we should vote for, which party stances for righteous, and which were the devil’s own design.

There was no more split between behavior and personhood. People themselves were good or evil, saved or under the control of satan. For me, this had gone off the rails.

But here we are, a score of years later, and many, many people buy these messages part and parcel. I am left scratching my head. Is the anti-regulation push good for small business? Not if it means the banks collapse under their own greed and the credit market tightens past the extreme most business owners can handle. But we don’t put those things together, we limit any cause and effect conversation to what bad people are doing to us. The illegals. The gay agenda. The terrorist Muslims. We stick awful names on communities to make them seem even more hell-bent on the destruction of society, even though the vast majority of undocumented workers have been here for decades and in jobs that other people won’t take, even though people under the GLBT umbrella can’t agree on what movies to list in their film festivals, much less have an actual agenda, and even though the people committing terrorist acts aren’t actually Muslims, but opportunists who are ripping off a few passages from the Quran. Let’s paint the world in hate-colored glasses, and we can see whatever we want.

There’s a Tea Party group in Walla Walla now, and they have an earnest, if not grammatically challenged Web page, filled with lots of anger-inspiring invective, as invective is designed to do. The contradictions are many, but this one is the best:

The government is distant and does not care about you.

The government is too big and too into your business.

They also spend a lot of screen space on rhetorically assuming that because the US Constitution says we have inalienable rights, that this means we have the right to “own the fruits of our individual labors.” This vague, intentionally archaic language could mean, really, any of the following:

We get to keep the Ford trucks we produce as car assembly line workers. No wonder the Big 3 are in trouble.

We own the children we have birthed ourselves, into time eternal. This almost seems pro-choice to me.

If we are landscapers, we now own the lawns we’ve groomed and the plants on them. It’s like 40 acres and a mule, all over again.

I could go on, but I’d rather see more examples in the comments.

Here’s the thing: if none of my income went to taxes, I would have no government, right? Unless they’re thinking about taxing businesses more. But I don’t suppose that’s the case. I’d just have to hope that if I have a medical emergency, I won’t need an ambulance, that if my house catches fire, I can put it out with my own hand-held extinguisher. Or that when my kid wants to go to college, some bank will give her a loan, after all those years of home schooling, since there’s no more public education. Maybe when my mother loses all of her marbles we’ll just drive her to downtown Omaha and tell her to hope for the best.

I think the political landscape has gone off the rails, or if it hasn’t, that it sure looks like it has, and I wish my Dad’s brand of conservatism were back. At least he didn’t drive around with bumperstickers on his car saying “Up Yours, Obama.”

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Categories: ponderings


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2 Comments on “Politiclasm”

  1. Heckboy
    February 22, 2010 at 4:32 pm #

    I have 2 possible reasons for such a huge backlash this time around.

    #1. The really wacky conservatives (neocons) have had their way for 8 years. they have gotten use to being in power and are acting like petulant little kids who’s toys have been taken away. If they can’t have their way they are going to hold their breath, stomp their feet and clamor for attention.

    #2. It might have to do with the fact that the president is black. In their eyes he’s not just black but BLACK!, maybe even Bllllaaaaaaaacccccck! It really looks to me like sublimated racism. Who makes up the majority of Teabaggers? Angry upper middle class white people. A month ago I overheard an elderly white dude complain about Obama. “He talk real nice, but he ain’t no leader.” I guess to him leadership had a melanin count.

    I’m just glad our president speaks speaks better than that old dude.

    • evmaroon
      February 23, 2010 at 12:22 pm #

      I just think that any political platform based on hating some group(s) of people is not a winning or helpful way of moving a country forward. But hate seems to be perennially appealing to at least some segment of our community. I wish it didn’t get so much air time, but apparently, it generates good ratings for Fox News. How awful.

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