Sunday, January 5, 2014

When I'm 64

A few months ago my youngest daughter, who is 30 years old, asked me the question. "Dad, why have you kept moving to the left politically when everyone else your age has become more conservative?"

By your age, she meant someone born way back in the first week of the first month of 1950--an era about as relevant to her as the one which contained the Ichthyosaurs.

Well, what are you going to do? I mean it was a long time ago--so far back into the foggy past that Herr Hitler had been dead a little less than five years when I came kicking and squawking into the world. And, I suppose it is a valid question given the number of 64 year old white guys born in Muskogee, Oklahoma currently running around claiming to be a leftist.

As with everything there is a history to the long trail which began that frozen night six plus decades ago. First off, as hard as it is to imagine today, almost everyone of voting age in Oklahoma back in the 1950's, including my parents, were democrats. The generation that was our mothers and fathers had not only lived through the second world war, but the great depression. They knew who caused the most devastating economic crisis in American history and it certainly wasn't the party of Roosevelt, or Truman.

Of course the democratic party back in the day was capable of deep and egregious sins. The conservative wing of it was also pro segregationist. It was them, not the republicans, who made sure African Americans couldn't eat at the same restaurants, drink from the same water fountains, and go to the same schools as white people. The anglo southern migration to the republican party was still a decade, or so off.

Be that as it may, the truth is because my parents loathed republicans I did too. To put it simply, I never unlearned what they initially taught me, even when they drifted to the right after the Kennedy assassination and Johnson presidency. Beyond that history the reality is, I ended up where I am now because of a few other reasons

First, after Eisenhower retired to Gettysburg, the republicans were fielding national candidates who appeared to be oily gangster types (Nixon) or were stark raving loons (Goldwater). Given who the GOP was running it was extraordinarily easy to lean toward democrats even before 1972, the first year I was eligible to vote.

Second, there was the war in Vietnam. I know, it is almost trite to even mention it now, but it was true. It wasn't that I was fond of  Uncle Ho, or the VC, or anyone else, but the more I studied it the more it seemed to me the motley parade of military tough guys who ran South Vietnam were every bit as bad, if not worse than the regime in the north. In short it became clear to me our government really didn't give a shit about freedom and democracy--in fact we were so obsessed with stopping the red menace we were willing to sacrifice both those ideals, not to mention hundreds of thousands of lives, in order win a civil war we had no business being involved with in the first place.

Before then, back at my high school, we had an enrollment of right around 2000 kids, four of whom were black. It was the first time I had gone to a school with any black kids. I wish I could tell you I wasn't a racist, but I was. In fact my racism was based on the worst of all reasons. I said things about black folks not because I really felt it, but frankly, because that is what most of my friends were saying. During my senior year I was on the school yearbook staff and one of those four black kids was too. She was a classy, intelligent girl and the first African American I actually knew. No, there wasn't a single moment, no blinding light on the road to Damascus. There was, however, a growing awareness over the next three or four years that racism was just so much bullshit. Not only that, it was evil bullshit and all of us--black and white--were in this together and despising someone because of their skin tone was not only useless, but downright counter productive to the nation as a whole. Besides, why take the time and energy to hate someone because of what they look like? I had better things to do and bigger axes to grind.

There were other things. Minor episodes in the big picture, but still stuck in my memory. The day I came out of a grocery store in 1972 and found my car vandalized because of a McGovern for president bumper sticker and peace symbol decal on the windshield was one. Then there was the time I was fired by Hertz as I attempted to organize a union election at their Oklahoma City reservations center.

Finally, I grew up in a gun free home. My father never owned one because his father, my grandfather, wouldn't allow them in his house. To this day my father quotes his old man as saying, "Nothing good ever comes from owning a gun." To prove his point, when I was three, my maternal grandfather bought a hand gun at a pawn shop and promptly blew his brains out with it.

The cold truth is I haven't moved to the left. I've stayed pretty much where I've been forever. Decades ago I was, on more than one occasion, called a communist. Then we moved to Massachusetts for five years and I was considered a quaint, middle of the road, democrat by the activists working for Mike Dukakis' presidential campaign. After we came back I was once again, that communist sonofabitch.

You see, in the end it is all a matter of perspective.

So there you have it. Do with it what you will.

If needed, I'll be at the bar with the other old geezers, my age.


No comments:

Post a Comment