This is a pretty long diary, I tried to write it as a narrative, because that's what it is. I had a very interesting trip to meet my girlfriend's family this past weekend outside of Erie, PA, including many hours of political discourse with people who I would have bet my life had drastically different political views than I do. Jump right in, I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts
Friday, July 11 at 1:30 my girlfriend climbed into the passenger seat of my Mini Cooper and we left Manhattan's Upper West Side. Our next stop was rural Pennsylvania, a tiny town about 20 minutes south of Erie, and my girlfriend's childhood house on a dirt road off of a dirt road. We have been dating for two and a half years and it was finally time to rip the bandaid off and meet the family.
From the theoretical thought of rural Pennsylvania to the more grounded knowledge that I was going to be meeting her brother-in-law (he of a bleeding Confederate flag wrapped around his bicep), I was nervous. Her family is a lower middle class, rural family, nothing like my family.
The best way I could describe it was that I felt like a political candidate, one who was raised in a city and with privelege. I felt like it was a campaign and that I wanted to come across as not an elitist and someone who was good for their daughter/granddaughter/niece/cousin/sister, etc.
As we drove up Route 17 in New York, I was disappointed to see all of the "psycho" billboards had come down, now they were just advertising antique shops and diners. As we motored along it hit me, my sister's bumper sticker was on the car. The bumper sticker reads, "oh well, I wasn't using my civil liberties anyhow" - a great bumper sticker to be sure (echoing my senitments exactly), but not one that I particularly wanted on my car in rural Pennsylvania, and not to meet my girlfriend's family, who I had been warned was very conservative.
Fasting forward through the NASCAR chats (yes, I do enjoy the occasional race), the 15 family members I met, and the fishing jaunt, we arrive at Saturday night...
Fifteen family members were spread out between the den, dining room, and kitchen. I was in the middle of a conversation about where I work and what I do, and Grandma sauntered up and broached the subject that I dreaded would come up.
"Interesting bumper sticker," she said.
"Yeah, it's my sister's car, so she put it on," I replied.
That was that because I was summoned by my girlfriend to get both of us out of the house for a bit and run to the store (a 20-minute journey each way).
Upon returning, Grandma didn't let it go. We started talking politics, a subject that I wanted to avoid at all costs. I was sitting and talking with a very religious family who hunts, is lower middle class, and basically everything else your stereotypical rural Republican family would be.
Grandma sat down next to me, I cringed.
"I'm a huge Hilary supporter and I'm just so upset with the way the Democratic party treated her," Grandma started.
Grandma Bev (my girlfriend's other grandmother) was sitting quietly across the table piped up and let out an, "I am too." Everything in the room stopped and everyone looked at Grandma 2. Grandma 2 as I later found out was a staunch Republican, very supportive of both of Bush's campaigns and just feels so betrayed by Bush and the Republican party. After a few minutes the shock had subsided and people returned to their conversations.
Grandma and I talked for two hours during which I heard her say things like,
"I hate what Obama did to Clinton and now with their 'Unity' tour, it's like in ancient Rome where the generals would lead their captives around."
"I'll vote for Democrats down ticket, but I'm not sure I'll vote for Obama. If it's going to be close in Pennsylvania, then I will vote for him because I can't imagine another Republican president."
"I don't think Hilary should be Vice President, nor do I think he should choose a woman, it'd be a slap in the face to all of us."
She also believes that Obama is full of rhetoric and not so much substance. I disagreed with her, and she understands why Obama has such appeal to people like me.
It was one of those political conversations where you don't agree with everything that is said, but that leaves you with a much greater appreciation for the different perspectives. She was a very sharp woman. We talked about PA Senatorial candidates in 2010 (Rendell and Altmire were among her favorites), we talked about Obama's 50-state strategy and how he could overcome his perceived lack of experience, and most of all, we talked about hope that her life on a fixed income in middle America, and with a granddaughter in the Army, could start to get better.
There are still deep wounds that will take time to heal on the part of Clinton supporters (not just the ones involved in the appropriation of Thomas Jefferson's fortune), but if former Republicans who are staunch Hilary supporters can see themselves as progressives, and understand aht it's in no one's interest to spite Obama, then I think we are on the right track to start to undo the damage done in the last eight years.