As Jim Carville once famously quipped, the state of Pennsylvania is just Alabama sandwiched between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. I'm from that middle part, the Alabama part. For the most part Carville is right, which is why, prior to flying back to see my family last week, I told myself:
"Brian, these people are kin...if you want to continue loving them, don't bring up the presidential race."Since 2002, from my cushy vantage point out here on the Left coast, I've watched as my family, like so many others, became products of Bush Spin. They loved the war, voted for the dipshit (twice), and offered up all kinds of wild excuses for why it was necessary to topple Saddam Hussein ("If we wouldn't have stopped him, it woulda only been a matter a time before he'd been over here bombin' us again.") So, considering the nature of the two Democratic frontrunners looking to reverse the damage Bush was allowed to inflict, I thought it best to keep my opinions to myself.
Well, that lasted all of 30 minutes, most. My mother, whose famous line when I'd visit had been a stern "We're. Not. Discussing. Politics.", said to me: "What do you think of this presidential campaign?"
Instead of flat out announcing who I was for in the presence of her and my old man, I rattled off something about how I "lean left" and am "borderline socialist", and how I like it when programs have abundant funding, etc, etc. Then my mother said: "Yep, and that's why I'm voting for Hillary."
Needless to say, this threw me a bit.
She's a Republican who works for a literacy program that has, for the last several years, been subject to repeated slashing of funds. When she voted for GW (the second time) in 2004, I had to wonder how she couldn't see the correlation between his being in office and the fact that she had to take a $6,000 pay cut to continue working there. Fact is, however, she was brainwashed right along with the rest of middle America. Seeing as how I am also from the sticks, I was aware of the limited access to alternative news sources (it's all Fox News and USA Today), and how, when the President says "Let's have a war", you get caught up in the patriotism with all those neighbor boys proudly suiting up and headin' off to distant lands to "defend our freedom". But then those neighbor boys come back dead, gas prices go up, life isn't as much fun, you're making sacrfices, which ultimately lead you to question: "Wait, why are we in Iraq?" .
But my mother has officially been burned by her party-of-choice, the Republicans. Now she's switching sides.
"The women I work with all say 'Oh that Hillary, she's nothing but a witch,'" says my mother. "But I tell them 'You just wait. If she's president, there'll be more money for us, we'll be better staffed, be able to afford better supplies..."
Interestingly enough, my two grandmothers, had few good things to say about Hillary:
Grandma 1: "That Hillary's nothing but a troublemaker."
Grandma 2: "A woman as president, Brian...can you believe we're talking about this?"
Those reactions are reflective of one of the deepest prejudices the world has ever known. My grandmothers are both post-War homemaker-type women, so I assumed they'd harbor a suspicion of a woman calling the shots (even though I gently reminded them both of Eleanor
Roosevelt) But when I asked them what they thought of her opponent, Barack Obama, they said: "Well, I'm not sure the black guy would be any better at it, but I'd trust him before I'd trust her."
However, neither of them gave a thought to McCain, and Grandma 2 described Huckabee as "goofy looking."
On Friday night, I talked with my great uncle Ray at a fish dinner (a fundraiser for the St.
Joseph's Catholic elementary school in Lucinda, Pa.) I promised to keep my mouth shut there, as well, until he asked me "So, what do you think of this presidential race?"
I told him "I love it, Ray. This has been the most fun I've had since the Steelers won the Super Bowl." (I thought it'd be best to parallel my enthusiasm for campaigns with spectator sports).
Says Ray: "Well...lotta people seem to like that Barack fella. They say the young people, like abouts your age, seem to be gettin' behind him. I don't know. I don't mind a black guy being president and this one seems like he'd do alright. I'm just afraid that if they let him be president, next thing we'll have an Arab in there. And y'know, people's been saying all sorts of nasty stuff about Hillary, that a woman shouldn't be president and it'll be like havin' Bill in there again. But I bet you she'd do a good job. She seems to knows what she's doin'. Hell, I bet she'd be better at it than half the men out there.That Barack just seems like he's all talk."
Says I to Ray: "And whaddya think of the Republicans?"
Says he: "They can't seem to get their shit together, can they?"
So, I bore witness to deep-rooted prejudices held by my elders. Two old women both agree that a woman has no place in the White House. They don't really care for the "black guy" either, but he deserves to be there more than the woman.
But my great uncle, who believes only white people should run this joint, thinks it's about time we elect a woman president.
Interesting, indeed...but not half as interesting as the fact that they couldn't care less about their beloved Republicans. Fuckin' A, right!
As for my mother, I've never seen her so jazzed about a presidential candidate. She brought Hillary up non-stop, argued with her mother and mother-in-law, read up on how delegate-rich the state is and how important the primary. In general, she acted like I did when Ralph Nader ran in 2000.
Unlike my grandmothers and great uncle, race and gender are playing no part in my mother's decision. For her, it all comes down to one thing:
"Bush has this place so screwed up," she says. "I know I voted for him, but now I see that was a mistake. Obama might say all the right stuff and be Mr. Cool Guy, but I'm not taking any chances this time around."