Before I go, I have something to say

Are You Political?

Politics. How I hate them. Especially in a presidential election year, I find myself lunging for the off button to the radio, the TV, as soon as I hear someone from The Other Side spewing garbage over the airwaves. Even when one of “my” candidates gets wound up, it’s often too grating to be endured. “Great!” I want to yell. “I’m delighted you want equal rights for women / fair pay for hard work / marriage for every couple in love. Now shut up!”

Years ago, I was at a party; four couples gathered for dinner. I’m sure all eight of us agreed on the “right” candidates, from sheriff to senator to POTUS. Yet the conversation still made me less than relaxed.

That’s the thing about politics. It’s not just which camp you’re in, but why, and how much you know, and how strongly you care. At this gathering, things began to get uncomfortably detailed, and, feeling in over my head (I’m a liberal! Isn’t that enough?) I turned to a friend who was more than happy to engage in a separate, much more enjoyable, conversation. It wasn’t long before a high-powered woman turned to me and said, loudly, “So, Pam! You’re not political, are you?”

Although I smiled as I answered (“Why, of course I am! I care deeply about all of this!”) I wanted to announce, “No, Christine [not her real name]. I’m an idiot.” Or maybe, “I didn’t know there would be a test.”

I was reminded of women who study sports scores in order to keep up with the guys at work, hoping some of that Guy Power will rub off on them. I refuse to spend time memorizing golf scores or bass fishing records. If my colleagues are polite, they’ll change the subject.

I don’t remember what my friend – a guy, by the way – and I found to talk about instead of the finer points of this year’s gubernatorial race. We were both writers, so maybe we talked about a book we’d both read. What I remember is how palpable the relief was for both of us – a feeling that, Oh good, I don’t have to pretend to know more than I do. After all, I thought we’d been invited to a dinner party, not a competition.

And here’s the other thing, the retort I wish I’d made. About politics, and about Christine’s rude question. Aren’t I political? I think I just might be. I don’t mean putting signs in my yard or joining some “Occupy Whatever” rally when nobody seems to know exactly what it is we’re there for, or against.

But if “political” means caring about certain marginalized groups of people who tend to be ignored at the polls, then I’m political. If “political” means getting up and giving speeches to explain to people who have not experienced it what physical abuse, or divorce, or poverty mean, then I’m political. If “political” means writing letters to the editor supporting judges and county attorneys who understand domestic violence and aren’t afraid to prosecute it, then I’m political.

It’s not just about domestic violence, but my life history has made me – although I would not have signed on, given the choice – an expert, Exhibit A, on this subject. I also care about cleaning up the planet, and creating that village that raises children responsibly, and allowing people to love – and marry! – the people they choose, and all those other bleeding-heart (Beautiful Soul) causes. Yes, it dismays me when the promising candidate I voted for turns out to be a foot dragger once elected, but politics has come to mean, sadly, too much partisan gridlock. Now that Ted Kennedy is gone, the kind of compromise that used to bring legislators on both sides of the aisle together seems too much like a doomed pipe dream.

On our way north to our annual week in the woods, I saw a lot of yard signs. We were in Wisconsin, after all. “Support Walker” demanded one group, while the other, as if with its fists raised, snarled back, “Recall Walker.” Is this how politics is run? So much summed up in a verb and a name, and so little of substance – all the detailed particulars missing in that bold type hammered into the ground? Is this politics, or just an argument of yard signs? How will these neighbors manage to get along after election day? By the time you read this, we’ll be finding out. It reminds me of a yard sign for George W. Bush that remained in a yard on my way to work for weeks after he won his second term. That homeowner was a sore winner.

Maybe the best yard sign says simply “Vote” – or, more hopefully, “Vote intelligently.”

Although it may not sound like it, I’m not a one-issue voter. This is why I vote absentee, even when I’m absolutely certain I’ll be in town the second Tuesday of November. I want a chance to investigate the background and record and sometimes misinformed speeches of every name on that ballot. While I may end up filling in the boxes for all one party, I only do that after I’ve determined that I’m really okay with every single name on the list.

So, am I political, Christine? You bet I am. Even if I can no longer stand to listen to the voices of some of the people I voted into office, I care deeply about who will win next time, and I’ll make sure my ballot is cast.

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