Thursday, May 19, 2011

Marx thruogh Brown to Conservatism part 3

By the time I was going door to door for Clinton for the 1992 election, I was doing brief psychotherapy at an agency in southwest Detroit, with kids and families…. very poor kids and families. And I’d started to think that, maybe the awful state of Detroit since the 60s was because of the increased entitlements it soaked up, not in spite of it.

The clencher for me was when I was treating a 14 year old for school refusal. She was different than other kids with that problem; usually, there is some underlying depression and anxiety or a messy dynamic with the parent or parents. But not with her. She just plain thought school was stupid -- which it is; but she didn’t have any ideas of anything practical to replace it with.
Wondering if “poor self esteem” was causing her to not want to jump out of bed in the morning in order to sleep at her desk at school, I asked her, “But what will you be able to do as an adult? What kind of job will be you able to get?”

She looked like me as if I had just asked what 2 plus 2 was. “Job? What do I need with a job? I’ll just go on welfare, like my mom.” After questioning her a little about this, I realized that everyone in her extended family was on welfare, and everyone she knew in the generation before was on welfare. She never saw anyone getting up to an alarm clock in the morning, never saw anyone pay a bill, never was told mom or dad or auntie or whoever couldn’t take her to visit grandma because they had to work, never saw anyone around her sacrifice or delay gratification in anyway. And she had no ability to project what it might be like to be different, so she didn’t feel at all ashamed or guilty for her plan to just have other people take care of her for the rest of her life. Something clicked right then:

Throwing money at people was making them dependent.

I remembered a plaque my 6th grade teacher had had on her wall at the Catholic school I’d attended: “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.” I felt like Helen Keller must have when she figured out the sign word for water meant something wet and cool that she used to call “wah”.

In the fall of 1993, I went to California to go to a conference (where, as I discuss on another thread, Leon Panetta stole my fruit) and I had the two most interesting political experiences in my life. One was walking through Jerry Brown’s bedroom. (OK, it’s anticlimactic; my friend Sarah, now at NOW, worked for an anti-nafta lobbying group with Governor Moonbeam. She, Jerry, some French bald guy who was kind of his James Carville, and a couple other people lived in a big ex-firehouse in San Francisco, and to go from Sarah’s room in a separate structure on the roof into the main part of the house, you had to walk through Jerry’s bedroom.

I have to say though that I did meet Jerry, and he actually is very nice, albeit in a prog sort of way. He did a lot for Mother Theresa’s patients at the time, and you gotta give a guy his props for that.

The second was that I started to listen to Rush Limbaugh in the rental car I drove from Sarah (and Jerry’s) house to Los Angeles. My sister Kathy had already made the journey from leftwing feminism to logic, and was crazy about this guy; I had started watching Mary Matalin’s show and knew she subbed for him, so that gave me the courage to do what my colleagues at work would have blanched at: become a dittohead.

I still didn’t come out of the closet as a conservative to my coworkers and my family until long afterwards….really, not until 2001. My dad died in 1999 believing I’d voted Democrat in every election.

Then, after 9/11, I was introduced to one of my heroes, Tammy Bruce.

Tammy calls herself a “gay, Reagan voting, gun toting, feminist Democrat.” She wrote a book called “The New Thought Police” that not only crystallized for me the Orwellian nature of the latest Democrat platforms, but reminded me (ashamedly) of many of the actions that I and my friends had taken as leftwingers in college. She talked about how students frequently organize to harass conservative speeches with tacit approval from the universities where they speak, but any interruption of liberal speakers is not tolerated.

She talked about a double standard that I, who’d begun to challenge some of my liberal friends’ assumptions out loud, was beginning to find myself: When I was a liberal, espousing the most radical of notions (eliminating private property; gun control; abortion on demand; speech codes and the like), people who disagreed with me would sometimes seem startled or roll their eyes. Often, they would ask me questions that showed they wondered if I wasn’t right; even more often they would ask me questions that made me think they might be right….I usually never talked to those people afterward.

But I was never humiliated. I was never harassed. I sometimes felt a sense of decorum to not share my beliefs with people I respected due to their sensitivity, but I was never afraid to say what my beliefs were.

Now, and really, ever since 9/11, I have to build my confidence in order to share my beliefs with someone. One coworker was always telling me to stick to my guns, be honest about what I believed, show her the real me. I did. She sent me a lot of hate e-mails in response and finally went away (by then she’d left the job). I get yelled at, shouted down, and warned to tone down my rhetoric among mental health professionals who’ve known me for 20 years and know that I’m smart and know that I think critically before I speak.

In 2000, I’d begun to write folk songs, play guitar and sing at open mics. Starting quietly around November 2011, when a friend wrote a (very good, actually) song called “Talking Sounds Like Joe McCarthy Blues” lampooning the Patriot Act, and building to a crescendo that included nights when every single song played by everyone but me and the guy who was just learning John Denver covers were badly written numbers about the hopeless case of George W. Bush’s soul or how getting rid of Bush was important as winning the Civil War, emancipating the slaves, getting suffrage for women, and eradicating small pox all together. I stopped attending these soirees, giving up a no doubt brilliant musical career. Not only was I afraid to say something about agreeing with Bush, or how I thought Michael Moore’s film was a bunch of bull, but I was afraid what would happen to my brain cells if I heard another song by a guy who couldn’t sing choke out lyrics like, “You must be afraid George/ that must be what’s wrong/why else would you want to kill kids with a bomb?”one more time. You can see why The conservative blogs  became such a haven for me.

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