Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Sojourn to a Foreign Land (aka Texas)

I was so busy in December being freaked out about my thesis defense that I'm not sure I ever told you about going to visit my mom.  I flew to Texas the second weekend in November and stayed with her for five days.  She lives in the same town as my older sister and her flock of six kids, so I got to spend a bunch of time with them, too.  It was a great trip.

But it was the weekend after the presidential election, and the town where they live must be one of the most Republican towns in the nation.  Of course, the town where I live is similarly conservative, but with a different slant.  Our town is more working class, blue collar, and anti-government-- which means that they lean right, but they sometimes aren't any more excited about the Republicans than they are about the Democrats.  In my mom's area in Texas, they are all about government, as long as the Republicans are in charge.

So they were all upset because of the election results, and predicting gloom, doom, and disaster, and maligning our poor president.  I don't always agree with him, but I don't think he's a disaster.  These people think that he is the worst thing that has ever happened to our country.  ever?  really?  I even heard one woman refer to him as "that evil man."  seriously?  Just because you disagree with someone doesn't make him evil.

So it was kind of a disturbing trip in some ways.  It made me realize how vast the divide is between the two poles of our country.  I mean, not that I didn't already know, but I had kind of hoped in my dreams that when the election was won so decidedly by the incumbent that maybe it would be a bit of an eye-opener to the more extreme conservatives.

But I should have known better, because I remember the same thing from my liberal friends when Bush won in 2000 and 2004.  And to be entirely honest, I know some liberals who thought Bush was evil--or at least Cheney, anyway.  They didn't see Bush's decisive victories as evidence that they were wrong, or needed to reconsider their position.  They just talked about moving to Canada or Mexico (and didn't do it).  Just like some conservatives are now.

I was horrified by some of the political talk going on in the aisles of my mom's Southern Baptist church-- the way they have intertwined their particular political beliefs with a religious justification that makes them see their opinions not just as their beliefs but as God's chosen principles for how government should be run.  But I still love those people.  Their spirit, their energy, their enthusiasm for their beliefs.  I get it, I get what they want and how they want the world to be, I just disagree.  I love that church-- it was my church in junior high and high school-- and in a weird way, it still feels like home.

Sometimes I feel like I'm one of the few people thoroughly aligned with one party (Democrat in my case), who can still respect quite a bit of the other party platform.  For example.  I'm glad that there is a tension between government services and fiscal responsibility in our country.  That's the way it should be, if you ask me.  You have the Democrats, who want to make sure we are taking care of the poor, and the opposing force of the Republicans, who are going to make sure that we don't bankrupt our government to do it.  (and don't say that's already happened, because if you look at the numbers, the blame for our current economic mess has to be shared among a wide variety of causes, including bank/corporate bailouts and war).  I don't want to live in a country where orphans roam the streets in packs, or thousands of people live in shantytowns-- which is what happens when there is no government safety net for the poor.  But I also don't want to live in a country where we can't be realistic about what we can afford.

What upsets me is when these poles get aligned with a religious sense of Right, so that we are no longer able to see the value of the opposing point of view.  Dean and I were appalled recently to listen to a man who is a dedicated Christian, who wouldn't hesitate to say that his commitment to his faith is the most important thing in his life, say emphatically that he was a self-made man, he had worked hard for every cent he had, and he had never accepted any help from anybody, and he shouldn't have to give a single cent to some welfare mom who sits on her butt all day and collects her welfare check.

It was such a contrast to the way I was raised: everything we have comes from God; we are only stewards of it, not owners; if it weren't for the grace of God, we would have nothing.  (Not to mention that he recently retired from a corporation that has received millions if not billions in government tax breaks.)

But on the other hand, there's something to be said to the Liberals here, too.  I've heard many Liberals claim that if Jesus were here, he would be on our side.  Jesus certainly wanted us to be generous with the poor, but he never advocated it as a system of government.  He never advocated any system of government.  His exhortations to generosity were always personal.  You sell what you have and give it to the poor.  Not "sell what you have and give it to the government to redistribute to the poor."  The early Christians lived in commune-like communities, but they were small communities, they were not national governments. 

I vote Democrat for practical reasons, not religious ones.  I want there to be a safety net for the poor, and I think in a country the size of ours, the only way that's going to happen in any meaningful way is for the government to do it.  Yes, it's inefficient, and yes, it's an imperfect system.  But I don't see any way around it.  Rich people and corporations don't usually give money to soup kitchens, day care centers, and homeless shelters.  They give money to build a new building at their alma mater, or have their name on a plaque in symphony hall or an art museum.  But that is a practical reason for voting Democrat, it's not because I think it's capital-R Right.

So, this is the first of two (maybe three) posts responding to various things I heard while I was in Texas.  More to come.

7 comments:

  1. Yeah that aligning their political beliefs with their religious beliefs is a scary thing for me to hear. It's where I am, too.
    As to the man who is worried about handouts going to welfare moms, someone should point out to him that the biggest handouts are STILL going to corporations and corporations that are in the black by millions. (For example, all 5 major US oil companies.)

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    1. agreed. I spent about an hour trying to track down more precise information about that, but "millions in tax breaks" is the only thing I could find for sure in the amount of time I had to spend researching the subject, and I didn't want to exaggerate.

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  2. We may not always see eye to eye politically....but I love this post.

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    1. (that made my day. thanks.)

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  3. I have WAY to much to say on this subject to just make a comment, so all I'll say is keep writing. :)

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    1. (your request has been granted)(ha)

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  4. Like the Jon Stewart quote I had on my blog... "What would Jesus, or any other human being who isn't an asshole, do?" Ease.

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