Monday, November 01, 2004

Strangers in the Rain

My wife and I were raised as Republicans, though we were never exactly clear why being a Republican was a good idea. On the most general level, we were proud that the Republicans were the party of Lincoln. For my wife, the Yankee lady, this is understandable. For me, it was just that much more intellectual dissonance: the South of Robert E. Lee, good; the civil rights movement, good; sex, probably very very good by all reports; the Second Coming of Christ, which would put an end to marrying and giving in marriage, good if it didn't happen before I had sex.

The irreconcilability of new information with old information was not an issue. When you are young, the irreconcilability of information is a positive delight, the apotheosis of Whatever Is Is Right -- At The Moment.

My wife voted for Goldwater in 1964. Though I was a year too young, I'd probably have done the same. I don't remember what I was thinking back then; perhaps I was starting to have cerebral activity of a kind you might call thinking. The day after Kennedy's assassination in 1963, the little Bible college that my wife and I attended was one of the few colleges in the country that met classes. My wife and I -- who did not know one another at the time -- were among the few students who boycotted classes, which was not an empty symbol since we could have our grades lowered for cutting. When I saw how few in number the boycotters were, I caved and went to class in the afternoon. My wife didn't. (And then a year later voted for Goldwater. Dissonance.)

We married in late '65 and moved to North Carolina in '66. The Republicans did well that Fall and we were delighted since the typical Southern Democrat politician was a racist through action and statement -- or action and statement avoided -- as we saw close up. We were enthusiastic Rockefeller Republicans, assuming that the Democratic Party would fracture, and the Republicans would move into the void, good on race, good on Vietnam, good for business, just and balanced all around.

You may recall that did not happen. With the war, with the violence against civil rights, with our immersion into the comparatively liberal student culture at Duke, we went with our hearts. We changed our registration to Democrat. It was not a thoughtful decision. Applying rationality retrospectively, I can say that the logical application of our values, our world view, our idea of causality would have moved us in the same direction. But that was not precisely what was happening at the time. My wife and I discovered that those particular aspects of Christian philosophy that had taken root in our hearts -- justice and mercy, yes; superstition, no -- made us fierce new Democrats! (The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John: Handle with care.)

It is perfectly respectable intellectually to acquire ideas haphazardly, even illogically; to perform a logical analysis only later, carefully weighing alternative ideas; and then to conclude that one's early ideas are valid and need not be abandoned. I certainly like to think that's why we believe pretty much the same things now we did in 1968. But that was not our year for thinking clearly. At the time we were just so angry. Everyone we supported lost. It hurt so good.

In 1968 we stood in line outside a junior high school in Durham in the rain for three hours to vote for Hubert Humphrey. He finished third in North Carolina that year, behind Nixon and George Wallace. I still feel weirdly proud, though my wife points out that lapsed Christians never do escape their taste for martyrdom, particularly if you can go home later and have a cup of cocoa.

But let's not end this ramble into the past with a dismissive joke. I believe that representative democracy is probably -- I mean the word at its most serious, as in basic probability -- the best way for humanity to prolong its existence, and for that prolonged but not indefinite existence to be characterized by comparative freedom of speech and movement and comparative freedom from want and comparative unlikelihood someone will be able to kill you because they don't agree with you.

Also, I remember Durham in the rain. Perspective is good. We aren't beaten yet. Vote a little, hope a little.

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