Wednesday, November 03, 2010

What all the hot air boiled down to

Yesterday morning, after I'd taken my two younger sons to school and before I would take my eldest son to the polls to vote in his first-ever election, I realized my car was running low on fuel and pulled into what must be one of the last remaining full-service gas stations in America that still offers niceties like checking one's oil and tire pressure.

The gentleman on duty was an older man, although come to think of it, I am getting old myself these days, so I'd say we were contemporaries, or close to it. He asked if I'd like him to check the oil while the tank was filling.

"Just the tire pressure, please," I said.

"Where you from?" the man asked.

"England, originally. I've been here a while, though," I said.

"Well, we've got to do something about that," he said, pointing to my bumper, where an Obama/Biden sticker remains. "You should be voting conservative."

Oh dear, I thought. As much as I'd love to set him straight, I'm not sure it's a good idea to get into a political argument at this hour, particularly when I don't want to upset the person responsible for my tires being properly inflated.

", my husband is a Republican but our family supports Democrats, Republicans, AND Independents. Whomever we think is right for the office, you know?" (Which is true.)

And he said, "Well, that might have been a good strategy in the past, but look what happens to some of the Republicans, even--that Charlie Crist is not a real conservative. He turned around on his values."

At that point, I thought it best to say nothing and quietly hope for a change of subject. But the man seemed determined to make his point to me, an audience of one, captive as I was in my little steel cocoon littered with soccer gear and old detention slips: "He used to be a great pro-life candidate, but he's no better than any of the others, and turned on his values." He jabbed his finger in the air again, gesturing toward my bumper. "The ones that turn on their values need to go."

So there you have it. As if the tea-leaves, as it were, had not already coalesced so legibly, so ominously. What we saw yesterday--particularly in states like mine, among older voters--was a broad display of something I've worried about and written about so many times before, particularly with regard to Sarah Palin and her ilk: the religious fundamentalism and "Handmaid's Tale" mentality that winds through the body politic and all too often chokes off voters' other concerns, even economic ones.

This man working at the service station will not be benefiting from an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. He will not benefit when the cost of living continues to rise but his hourly wage remains effectively stagnant, as it has for decades now. He will not benefit from the billions of dollars Big Defense, Big Oil, Big Insurance, Big Pharma, and Big Ag will make thanks to their new friends in government; he will not benefit as small businesses continue to go under, college costs soar out of reach for most middle class Americans, and the only career paths open to his children involve either low-paying service jobs or putting on a uniform and getting sent to the Middle East (again). To "protect our freedom" (again).

No, he will not benefit at all when the cut-out characters lined up on the puppet stage of my mechanic friend's straight-Republican ticket get their sticky little fingers on yet more levers of power.

But like far too many other white, middle-aged men and women, he supported the so-called Values Candidates and in so doing, voted against his own best interests in ways he may not even realize.

Because the wedge-issue-wielding slimebags who preach and pontificate their way into government for the sole purpose of furthering the interests of the United Corporations of America need only do one thing to get these Americans' votes:

Say they are going to Save the Babies.

Which, of course, they are not. Not the way the fundies hope they will--by rescuing Blastocyst Americans and Embryo Americans and Frozen Embryo Americans and Stem Cell Americans via the outlawing of abortion--and not the way one would hope a government would save babies, either, like not letting their city drown or their food supply be poisoned or their basic medical needs go unmet because they didn't choose wealthy parents.

The capital-C Citizens-loving Supremes are not going to mess with settled law. And the babies belonging to families who've lost their homes? The babies born into poverty for whom vital pre-school programs represent hope for an education and a better life? The babies who may never know what fresh spinach or strawberries taste like but whose little bodies will be soon be well-acquainted with the ill effects of polysyllabic food additives largely banned by the rest of the developed world; recombinant bovine growth hormone; and cheap, obesity-and-diabetes-inducing corn-sugar analogs? The babies that wind up having babies themselves, thanks to the success *cough* of abstinence-only programs and the lack of widely-available and affordable birth control? The babies who might, had their bodies and brains been appropriately nourished, have grown up and become business owners, community leaders, artists, writers, musicians, teachers, astronauts, or presidents, but who will instead continue, in ever-greater numbers and in ever-worsening health, to meander through the bleak landscape of service-work serfdom?

Those babies?

They don't get saved. They need to stop relying on government, apparently, and learn to believe in and rely on themselves, those babies. And if they can't, there will be plenty of private security thugs to keep them in line and evangelical-staffed privatized prisons to house them--no worries!

I cannot understand this country. But I do understand what happened yesterday.

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