I have a young friend – who, most assuredly, would probably not appreciate me calling him my “young friend.” However, I am old enough to be his grandmother, so I can call him my “young friend” any damned time I want – and if he doesn’t like it, he can get off my lawn. My young friend is in his mid-20’s, who spent a month or so as a summer intern in my office.
Politics came up one day, and he proclaimed himself to be a proud Young Republican. Frankly, I was shocked. He seemed so …nice! Anyway, I offered to debate him on any subject, which was most likely a mistake, because he developed an annoying habit of buttonholing me at really inappropriate times; when I was in a hurry, or busy or on my way out the door. Besides, the office isn’t the place to have a heated discussion. I offered several times to go to happy hour somewhere and debate over margaritas and free nachos, but somehow that never worked out.
I ended up giving him my Twitter handle, and ever since then, he has barraged me with 140-character pearls of Young Republican wisdom.
That’s the background, and yes, I do intend to get to the point, I promise.
He tweeted me a couple of times this evening to tell me that GOP was most definitely the victor in last night’s slugfest in Wisconsin. I happen to believe pretty much the opposite – that the Democrats wrested two state senate seats away from solidly entrenched Republican incumbents in solidly reliable Republican districts. I mean, really – Democrats took seats away from two Republicans in districts so red that Scott Walker received close to 60% of the vote in every one of them. That’s pretty damned good, and I’m proud of those rabblerousing folks in Wisconsin who got mad and decided that they weren’t going to take anymore abuse and slander from the Koch Brothers and their pet politicians.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, let me tell you: I take this stuff personally.
I was mad as hell at around 9pm last night when I heard that the infamous GOP-operative-cum-county clerk of Waukesha County, Kathy Nicklaus, had, once again, apparently been at the center of shenanigans with the vote, when Waukesha County let it be known that the vote tally from that district would be … “delayed.” My first thought (and that of a whole lot of other people, if the firestorm on Twitter was any indication) was that Kathy was looking for her magic laptop, which spews out thousands of Republican votes with the push of a button, as it did in the Prosser v. Kloppenberg race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court a few months ago.
I was really pissed when the Democrats didn’t win all six of the recall races. I’m really angry at Republicans in general, and Governor Scott Walker and his Republican rubber stamps stand high in my pantheon of Republican villains. They called me a thug and accused me of sucking on the government teat – me! I have worked my whole freaking life, since I was 17 years old and had my first job paying a whole $2 an hour in the bra department of J.C. Penney’s. I have paid my taxes every single year. I have been unemployed twice in my working life, for a grand total of less than 12 months – over nearly 40 YEARS. And these people have the colossal nerve to call me a moocher – and frankly, that isn’t the worst of the things that I, as a liberal and a Democrat, have been called over the last 10 years.
As I’ve said here before, I used to be a Republican. But over time, the GOP has moved steadily to the right, has become steadily more bigoted, steadily more xenophobic, steadily more homophobic and overtly religious. I used to be considered a centrist Democrat, because I tend to favor somewhat more conservative fiscal policies, while being a staunch supporter of liberal social policies (gay rights, women’s rights, etc.). And over the years, my beliefs haven’t really changed, but I find myself being pushed further and further to the left, up to and including being called a “radical leftist.” What??
Also, as an atheist, I am becoming more and more alarmed at the insidious – and lately blatant – influence of the evangelical Christians on our politics. An article in Mother Jones has linked Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry to a fringe group of evangelical Christians whose stated goal is to take over our entire country. These people are just plain nuts, and honestly? I feel like they want me dead. Or at least rendered powerless and voiceless.
I grew up dirt poor; we scrounged for food in dumpsters, I was punished if I outgrew my shoes, and Christmas was the only time I ever got new clothes. My parents also abused me, to the point where I left home at the age of 17 and started earning my own way – something I have done ever since. I nearly died at the age of 11 from untreated appendicitis and had my first dental checkup at the age of 17, because doctors and dentists were too expensive. Hell, I was lucky I survived. Some children don’t survive. With me, poverty was personal.
That’s why I do not, for the life of me, understand these Republicans who call me un-American because I don’t want any other kid to go through what I did. I hate it that children are hungry right here – smack in the middle of the richest nation on earth. I hate it when I hear about old people and the working poor being forced to make ugly choices – between their medication and their rent, between food for their kids and gas for the car, between a dentist appointment to have that cavity fixed or fixing the car. Americans shouldn’t have to make those kinds of choices.
And yet, these Republicans loudly proclaim themselves to be the chosen of Jesus, the guardians of our national morality, the arbiters of good vs. evil for all of us. These chosen of Jesus are the same ones who advocate arresting homeless people for the crime of being poor, who demand that LGBT people lock themselves in the closet, who demand that every woman who accidentally becomes pregnant via accident, rape or even incest, carry that child to term and who insist that that child not be given any sort of assistance from the government, whether in the form of food, shelter or even education. They demand war upon the Muslim world and full enforcement of the death penalty – and yet, they proudly proclaim themselves “pro-life.” They demand that we drown government in the bathtub – and yet we hear of Republican after Republican taking advantage of farm subsidies (Michele Bachmann), tax loopholes, free government healthcare (Sarah Palin) mortgage loans from Fannie and Freddie (again, Michele Bachmann), and even owning bonds that would only be profitable if the American economy tanks (Eric Cantor), and then, of course, there are all those senators and representatives in Congress taking advantage of the very generous salaries, pensions and excellent healthcare they receive as part of the perks of their offices.
I don’t get it. I really don’t get it.
Back to my friend. He says he’s a Republican – actually, he claims to be a libertarian (which, in my opinion, is just a euphemism for an embarrassed Republican). I don’t think he gets it. It seems that all this is simply an academic exercise to him. He is on his way to being an attorney, and thus, in my opinion, he has no skin in the game; his future is assured. This stuff isn’t even real to him. He argues in sterile talking points and fancy academic terms from his college texts. He drops names of people I’ve never heard of – and frankly, I don’t really care if I ever do hear of them. They mean nothing to me.
You see, this isn’t just academics for me.
It’s real, and I have lived it. I have been laid off – twice – in economic downturns. I have had trouble finding a job that paid enough for me to live on; and I’m talking basics: rent, food, car payment, bills. I’m 56 years old, and these Republicans are talking about doing away with Social Security, Medicare, unemployment – and they want to hand me a voucher for health insurance that wouldn’t even cover the most basic healthcare for someone my age. To me, Social Security isn’t just some horrible, wasteful, “government entitlement program” for ne’er-do-wells and moochers – it’s what I may have to live on in 10 years or so, and these people are demanding that I give it up, after I have paid into it for the entirety of my working life.
That’s why I’m a liberal. And I’m damned proud of being a liberal. I can’t quote Supreme Court decisions, the Federalist Papers or drop names of neo-liberal heroes, but I have 56 years of life in these United States under my belt. And it’s personal – and it will always be personal – for me.
So back to my young friend…. He and I don’t seem to live on the same planet, nor do we speak the same language. I am simply horrified that any decent human being would actually admit to being a Republican these days, because, to me, being a Republican means that you would gladly take the food out of the mouth of a starving child and tell that child to stop being a moocher. Or you would tell a mentally ill homeless veteran that he is homeless by his own choice and that he should pull himself up by his bootstraps. Or tell a despairing 99er that she should be ashamed of herself for ‘sucking on the government teat.’ Or telling a poor single mom on welfare that she is like a scavenging raccoon “taking the easy way out.”
I can’t. I just …can’t. I can’t argue with him and his academic, bloodless talking points, because I’m talking about real, flesh-and-blood people – people I can name, friends with advanced degrees who can’t find work, friends who are struggling to feed their kids or pay medical bills. I can’t. I just can’t.