As someone who had remained blissfully ignorant of politics for most of my life, I find it annoying that my mind is constantly filled with concern and disgust over what I would like to believe are political differences, but I know come down to much more than that.
My awakening to the sad state of politics came around 2002. I had an upfront seat in a legal disaster that certainly caused people a lot of harm. After looking into how such a nightmare could occur, I found that partisan politics were to blame. More politicians were concerned about sound bytes than the real implications of the policies they were enacting.
But even with this epiphany, I found myself rooting for George Bush to win reelection in 2004. I say “rooting” because I don’t think you could call it support — I didn’t vote or donate money to his campaign, I simply watched the debates and disliked John Kerry. I don’t think my views on John Kerry every changed, I still think he’s an ass, but by 2008 my views on George Bush, like those of most of the country, were very unfavorable.
Sometime in early 2008 I read Barack Obama’s book. He had risen so fast that I had to see what the big deal was about, much in the same way I started watching Mad Men. What I read was encouraging to say the least. His views appeared to be very middle of the road. He was pro-choice, but displayed empathy for those on the other side. He wasn’t afraid to call out his own party, and even praise members of others.
It was hard not to like John McCain, especially the characteristics that were touted by his campaign. He was a war hero, a sponsor to some very good legislation, and had a reputation for reaching across the aisle. There were things that concerned me (like the Keating 5 scandal), but it wasn’t until his erratic behavior on the campaign trail that I was completely turned off by McCain as a candidate. The choice of Sarah Palin was the final straw, but his remarks about the economy and his wimpy attempts to get out of the debates were the nails in the coffin.
I made my decision based on the policies and character of each candidate. McCain’s military record was impossible to overlook, but a man with a private jet, more houses than he can remember, and millions in the bank, running against a man who had just paid off his student loans several years prior, made the choice much easier. Clearly Obama had a better clue of what was happening with the economy, which wasn’t saying much.
I knew that despite Obama’s chants for “change”, and McCain’s “reputation as a Maverick,” these two candidate would essentially say the same things all Democrats and Republicans say about the economy. The Republicans want to cut taxes to stimulate the economy, and the Democrats want to pay for programs to get back to work. The truth is, neither of these candidates really represented any significant change in the status quo, but Obama was clearly a better choice than a man who voted with Bush 90% of the time.
Being more politically active than in the past, I was anxious to engage with others. That’s when I started to find a disturbing trend.
I knew I would have a few Republican friends, and I was prepared for good conversations about the need to move away from Bush’s policies, but not into a liberal quagmire of big government and increased taxes. But that’s not what I found. It seemed that I was not the only type of person who had become more political. I started to hear the drumbeats of a racism and hatred that I never knew existed.
I was talking with a business partner (whose intelligence I was never overly impressed with) about the upcoming debate and John McCain’s attempt to get out of it. “Yeah, Obama wants to waste time on a debate when the country is melting down . . . Wrong Answer!”, he shouted. I told him that it sounded to me like a guy not wanting to debate the former head of the Harvard Law Review. I got no response, but it was clear that he felt strongly against Obama.
I was a little concerned that I was in business with someone who was either too stupid to see through McCain’s attempts to avoid the debates, or had other issues with Obama.
But it was on a business trip to Austin where I really started to see first-hand the coming storm of the Tea Party. I had an extra ticket to the event in Austin, so I offered it up to a former employee who had always enjoyed the event, but couldn’t afford to go under his new cheap-ass boss. During our trip to Austin in the March before the election, we spoke about the coming event and I was shocked at the flat-out racist responses. No thought to throwing the “n-word” around, and no real reasons why he would support John McCain. After talking to him for a couple hours, it was clear that I could list more real reasons (military record, experience, school vouchers, immigration policies, etc…) to support John McCain than he he could.
In the following months this person became increasingly …I can’t really say political because he had no real views . . . vocal. Any rumors about Obama being a Muslim were quickly regurgitated on his Facebook wall. We once had an argument where I was trying to get him to decide if Obama was a Muslim, or a follower of Rev. Wright. He declared that Rev. Wright was a Muslim and was pretending to be a Christian. His racist opinions started to show so much on his Facebook wall that I had to remove him from my list of friends, purely from the embarrassment of being associated with such ignorance.
The election ended and we had a our new president. I could tell there was a widening gap between some of my former co-workers and me that was strongly tied to my support for the President. Considering that I never considered myself, or them, to be especially political, I eventually realized this was not about politics, it was about being part of group that I was sick to find existed.
The idiot former employee Tweeted a message about the race being over and us burying the hatchet, but it was quickly followed by more racist jokes. He has since become a “member” of the Tea Party. I know this person well enough to know that he will not be going to any rallies or donating money to any political party, but just likes the camaraderie of idiots that is part and parcel of the party.
Recently, my cousin’s stepmother joined Facebook. This is a woman who has lived off food stamps, welfare, and every type of public aid imaginable. She has paid less in taxes in her whole life than I pay each year. She has raised two kids who are honestly the dumbest individuals I have ever had the misfortune of meeting. One has been declared legally retarded, at least enough to get money from the state, and the other has been in and out of prison. She also happens to be a proud member of the Tea Party. She makes her own signs about socialism, which (like most Tea Party members) she has no clue about. And she feels she is taxed enough already, even though I’m fairly certain she has never paid any federal taxes.
The fact that the only Tea Baggers I know also happen to be the dumbest people I know is not the most depressing part of this — it’s their kids. Their kids are even more ignorant, and carry an anger in them that is impossible to ignore. It’s not good enough that these people release their ignorance and hatred onto the world, but they have infected their kids with their sickness, too.
Somehow, a party has formed that relates universal health care to the Holocaust, thinks global warming is a myth, and can’t separate the Constitution from the Bible. They want to extend tax breaks to the top 2% of the country while they go out of work, they are offended by Obama going after BP, and they think the President has been faking his citizenship for over 40 years. I remember a Dilbert strip that asked the question: “When did ignorance become a point of view?”. We now have our answer — when it got it’s own party.