Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Losing faith in an old man's wisdom

When I was younger (and decidedly thinner), Wongdoer and I were essentially intellectual disciples of our favorite teacher, the head of the Social Studies department at our high school. Self-dubbed the Old Bastard (or the "O.B."), he was the political antithesis of the general student body, which polled in favor of Mondale over Reagan 79%-21% in 1984. The O.B. has been gone for more than 14 years, but we both were heavily influenced by his genial, realistic, and honest conservative worldview.

It's not like the O.B. worked from unmolded clay. When we started in high school (which went from grade 7-12), Wongdoer and I had the same homeroom at the beginning of the day. He'd get to school at around 8 a.m. and greet many of his fellow students with a cheery "Vote Republican!" shout. At this time, Wongdoer was 12. Some things change little in 27 years. My own inclinations were anti-Carter and anti-Soviet. My strong pro-Israel views developed as I became more involved in the world as a whole and not just my small slice of it.

My second-biggest influence (sorry, but it's true, not first) was my old man. Yes, he had been a union shop steward equivalent for the local UFT branch and was a 1.5-generation immigrant (my grandma came from the old country, grandpa was born here to immigrant parents), but he voted conservative and met the middle-class, ethnic, veteran profile of the Reagan Democrat before Reagan's 1980 nomination. He lived through the Cold War, knew what the Soviets were about, and hated those Commie bastards. He is a huge Anglophile, an attitude that I adopted so fully that my son is named after my #1 political hero, Churchill (and my son is named after my dad too). My siblings all took after him politically too. Both brothers voted consistently Republican, and were probably further right than the old man. My sister may be a bit less strident, but usually no less reliable on such matters.

[As for my mom: she's a New York Jew and votes like one. She's lived through the whole Cold War and still hasn't smartened up -- kind of like VP Biden and Sen. Kerry. I love her dearly, but she's completely hopeless. And her side of the family makes her look like a moderate.]

So I was worried last year when the old man was decidedly non-committal about voting for McCain. I didn't love McCain and never have -- his economic outlook is squishy, he's been a Senator too dang long to have many coherent political principles, he is happy to sacrifice First Amendment protections in the windmill-tilting attacks on the corruptive effect of political advertising -- but I understood the choice Americans had in the election. And all I really needed to know to cinch my vote for McCain came when the Russians invaded Georgia, McCain lambasted the Putineers before Pres. Bush even formulated a reaction, and Obama stood mute.

My old man elided certain discussions and spoke in generalities about his vote. But my suspicions were confirmed by his reaction to David Brooks' column in the NY Times last week. My reaction was that Brooks is an idiot (click link to get to Brooks' column); he should have seen this coming. Dad's reaction was to point me to the piece and say "this is interesting and worrisome." That proved it.

Dad voted for Obama.

Ultimately, he confessed. And his reasons are the same ones people used to justify hope over reality: Obama's young, the US should have a new face, not a grumpy old bugger like me, he'll moderate his views once in office, and he can't really be THAT liberal, right? My siblings had the same view -- they went with Obama too; which just proves that when I beat my eldest brother for the top SAT score in the family, it was not an aberration.

They're all wrong. Obama IS that liberal. And only us right-wing troglodytes were right.

I am not, and never have been, one to shy away from my beliefs in the face of tremendous opposition. Want to know why I idolize Churchill? Read The Gathering Storm. I may share much of his outlook, but unfortunately I am not a Great Man as he was and yes, I do believe that history is shaped by Great Men and Great Women.

I also know some things are right. I was the 1 in 5 who supported Reagan at my high school. I know Reagan won the Cold War. I know Iran's nukes are a threat to US security. I know Israel is not an apartheid state nor is it the cause of hostilities in the Middle East. I know that lowering the corporate income tax from 35% would raise corporate income tax revenues. I know that if one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, the latter is a da*n fool. I know Che Guevara was evil, just as Stalin was. I know abortion kills a human being regardless of the political issues.

And my Dad knows all this too.

And he voted for Obama.

And that's a shock.

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