Republicans Are People Too

This year Loretta and I had just about the entirety of both families over for Christmas.

It was fun greeting them all as they came up the driveway. Everyone was waving and smiling, and as they got out hugs and kisses abounded. While most were carrying wrapped packages – I noticed that what Mom had in her hands was a large, brown paper bag.

I knew immediately what it contained.

For as long as I can remember my neighbor from the house next to the one I grew up in has been giving me a bag of persimmons this time of year – every year. That fact is more amazing when you understand that, not only do I not live next to him anymore, neither does anyone in my family.

My parents sold that house years ago.

And yet my old neighbor, remembering that I love persimmons, picks a bag for me every year and sees that it gets to my mom – who then sees that it gets to me. And every year I mean to sit down and write him and his wife a nice thank you note.

You know, I don’t think I’ve written one yet.

I mean I deeply appreciate what he does – I really enjoy those persimmons – but I cannot seem to write the man a letter of gratitude. It’s not like I don’t know his street number (I read it on his garage most days between 1973 and 1982). And it’s not like I don’t have the time (especially since he has the time to fill a bag for me every year).

I think the reason is this: I’ve become a little complacent about the whole deal. Not terribly so, mind you. I do still swing by my old neighborhood every now and again – and when I do I stop in to say hello, chat him up, and thank him for sending persimmons. But I think I’m taking the old boy just a little bit for granted. Isn’t it weird how we can do that? Take something that was once new and come to see it as normal – even commonplace.

Sort of like that whole voting deal from a while back.

You remember the election about a month and a half ago? You recall what happened, right? The Republican candidate – this fellow from Massachusetts – got run out of town pretty handily by the sitting sheriff. It wasn’t predicted to go down that way, but now that it has it seems like that was normal – but at the time it was kind of exceptional.

Stunning defeat might be slightly overstating the thing, but not my much.

What that defeat capped was sort of a disavowal of the course that some more vocal factions within the Republican Party had taken over the last few years – most notably the Tea Party.

You know, the Tea Party has been more than a little assailed over the past year (trust me, I was among the assailers) and as strongly as I disagreed with them on most points, I also feel their pain.

I know where these people come from – I have an idea what caused them to adopt the beliefs they came to hold. Our country has weathered some very hard times recently – very hard. The housing market crashed, which led the economy to crash. Many of these people owned houses that became worth nothing near what was paid for them. At the same time lots of these folks lost their jobs as the economy stayed sour. That left a whole lot of people in the position of owing more on a house than it was worth, with no real way to pay for it.

That is a deeply frustrating place to be.

So what do you do if you find yourself in that position? Change the housing market? No, you don’t possess the power to do that. Grow the economy so that you can find work? You don’t have the power to do that either. And when people are not in control of their situations – when they feel powerless – well, that’s about the best recipe for frustration and anger.

So what do they do with their anger? They vent it – because anger has to be vented. To not vent it is to invite more frustration and anger. And where can it be vented, I mean in a way that could eventually affect its underlying causes?

In the voting booth, that’s where.
We had – still have – some angry people who were deeply frustrated. People who were raised on the American Dream. Who were told get the job, buy the house, follow the rules, and everything would turn out OK. But it didn’t turn out OK. They lost their jobs, and their health care, and their houses. And, sometimes, their self-respect.

And when you get people in that mindset they want answers – and they want change – and they want those things now. So when some blowhard politico rides into town and tells you that he or she can change things so they’re back like they were before they went to hell in a hand basket, you’re tempted to believe them. At the very least you kind of want them to be right, right?

Didn’t it seem like just about everybody in the Republican Primaries was leading at some point or other? I take that to mean that people were frustrated – and though they may not have known which way to turn, they still knew they wanted to turn. It was almost like watching Karl Rove implode on Fox News during election night coverage – everything was going wrong, all at once, and there didn’t seem like a way to make things right.
But we’re through the election now – the reach of the Tea Party seems to be lessening as people start to see a brighter future. The economy is starting to come back – housing is beginning to show signs of a recovery – and people are letting go of the panic that had them feeling they had nowhere to turn.

You know, it’s tempting to vilify certain factions of the Republican Party now that it appears their influence is dissipating. I don’t mean those politicos who took advantage of a nation when it was down, I mean people – good, everyday people – who were trying to follow the rules and do the right things and make a good life for themselves and their families.

I would tell you that, based on what I know of my old neighbor (he’s a former police officer and small business owner) his politics are probably decidedly right of mine.
But you want to know how important that is at this moment?

Far less important than me writing him a nice note to tell him how much I’ve appreciated him all these years.