Monday, February 20, 2012

This One's Political (Sort Of)

In our discussion of The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement by David Brooks over at The High Calling, our fictional characters Erica and Harold take a turn for the political – they get involved in a presidential election, working directly for a candidate (party unidentified but I would suspect Democratic). Brooks uses this to talk about our political inclinations and how we get them, and throws a lot of conventional wisdom out of the window.

I wonder what he would make of me.

The first time I was “legal” to vote was 1971. At that time in Louisiana, if you wanted to vote, you had to vote in the Democratic primary. The Republican Party existed in Louisiana and other Deep South states, but it was a non-starter in state politics from the end of Reconstruction in 1876 to the 1980s – a century of Democratic control.

For the most part, this “southern Democrat” translated as conservative. Then came the McGovern candidacy in 1972, and the changes engineered in the Democratic Party which turned out to be vastly more consequential than McGovern. What the changes had the effect of doing was to drive Southern conservative Democrats into the arms of the Republican Party.

For the next 30 years, and in three states – Louisiana, Texas and Missouri, I considered myself a Republican. I voted for Republicans at the national and state level, and usually if not always at the local level. My attitudes, perceptions and political beliefs were shaped and molded by essentially a Republican sensibility. I did feel an uneasiness with how the Republicans talked a good game on social and moral issues but never really initiated much. They seemed more adept at stopping or slowing, but not really willing to take on the major moral questions.

Two things happened that cut me adrift.

First, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 demonstrated the sheer incompetence of federal disaster authorities. People were dying in the streets of New Orleans, while the administration seemed more interested in making sure the President had just the right backdrop for a photo opp. I think the President truly cared, but his handlers were far more concerned with political appearances than with rescuing people.

This was my hometown, my family and friends, my heritage, and I was stunned by the ineptness of the government’s response. As columnist George Will pointed out at the time, whatever else you wanted to say about them, the Republicans were supposed to be competent. I joined the streams of tens of thousands who took to the internet to find out information, share information, and help people (I will admit to sharing what I learned about how to get in and out of the city with all the major highways blocked by police and troops.)

The second thing that happened involved David Kao, who had served as deputy director of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives for the White House. He began to tell all – and the “tell” was about how the key political handlers surrounding the President callously mobilized and used evangelical voters to get elected and then promptly ignored their concerns.

People like me.

I walked away from what had helped shape me for three decades – most of my adult life. I didn’t turn to the Democratic Party or other political groups. I simply walked away from the Republicans.

I began to do some serious soul-searching about what had shaped me. I realized that it had been less about what the Republicans stood for (or what most Republicans stood for) and more about what the Democrats had become.

Politically, I’m still adrift. I still am. And it is a good thing. I broke the lenses I was looking at life through, and I began to see more clearly.

To see more posts on these three chapters in The Social Animal – The Leader, The Soft Side and The Other Education, please visit The High Calling, where Laura Boggess is leading the discussion (and may be avoiding all this political stuff).


Laura said...

LOL, Glynn, I'm avoiding it like the plague. But what you describe here is exactly what is needed. When we get stuck in old ideologies out of habit...I really respect your decision to think critically and not just go with what you've always known. We are in a tough spot politically. Maybe David Brooks will accept my challenge ;)

Megan Willome said...

I really appreciate your story.

I know exactly what a Southern Democrat is, as a Texan. I grew up in a very political family, and although the members now represent every slice of the political spectrum (including non-voters), there's no one I like to discuss politics with more than my dad. He's been there--all over. He knows people as people.

Louise Gallagher said...

Thanks Glynn for posting this.

I live in a province that is and has been governed by the Progressive Conservatives for decades.

Which means... old boy networks, a callous disregard for the needs of the marginalized and poor, a breakdown in the education system, health care in disarray and a host of other ills that imperil the well-being of our society.

I've always voted Liberal -- knowing my vote is basically wasted in this 'blue-tory' province.

Voting isn't the only way to be heard.

Speaking up. Taking action. Being part of creating change, making a difference.

All of that counts.

Thanks for the inspiration this morning.

Diana said...

What a thoughtful, honest post, Glynn. Thank you. I'm not a southerner, but have been a registered Republican most of my adult life. Now I truly do not what the heck I am. I find no personal resonance on the political scene at all. Trying to prayerfully find my way to wisdom in the voting booth, but have a sort of creeping hopelessness about it all. Praying about that, too - because it's not a helpful or healthy place to be.

H. Gillham said...

My parents were Southern democrats, and then --- well, you summed it up.

Now, I just find myself more in a place of voting against someone rather than voting for someone.


Deidra said...

Thanks for sharing your political journey, Glynn.

I have loved politics for as long as I can remember. It was important in my family, as many people fought and died for our right to vote - twice for me, as a black woman. My dad took me with him to polls and I watched with great respect as he pulled the lever to cast his vote. It was a sacred moment.

These last four years, however, have worn me out. I ask all of the obvious questions to the people on television, because it seems pointless to ask them out loud to real people.