My entire family consists of two first cousins and the offspring of one of them. The one with the offspring is more like a sister to me. Let’s call her Jill. I’ve always liked that name and would have liked it for my own… but I digress.
Jill is ten years my senior. In 1959, we watched the Democratic convention on her small black-and-white TV and were both thrilled at the nomination of John F. Kennedy. Jill had married young and just had her first daughter, an infant at the time, who would, like her two sisters to come, grow into a progressive Democrat despite being raised by two staunch Republicans.
In 1959, however, I didn’t know Jill was, or would grow to be, a staunch Republican. I don’t know that I even knew what a Republican was. I recall a playmate once asking me if I was a “Demo-rat,” and wasn’t sure about that either, except from her tone, which was decidedly derisive, I knew that was not a good thing to be if I wanted to be her friend. I didn’t.
Flash forward. Jill and I have managed to go pretty much our entire lives without discussing politics. Maybe because I always assumed, and she had given no indication otherwise, that she was, like me, a Democrat. Let me just say unequivocally that my cousin is one of the most gentle, loving, caring and generous people I’ve ever known. Truth be told, she is much nicer than I am. Much. So imagine my surprise when, upon a recent visit, I discovered that not only is she a fan of hate-mongerers, Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck, but that Fox is her sole source for news, the voice of Rush Limbaugh accompanies her morning cup of tea and she has cancelled The San Francisco Chronicle, a paper she read her entire life, because suddenly it is “too biased.”
I first became aware of our political differences during this last presidential election. A total news junky, I eagerly shared with her articles expressing viewpoints from the left, jokes trashing McCain/Palin, and my personal impassioned support for Obama. I honestly, and clearly naively, believed that we shared these opinions or were at least in the same ballpark. Maybe she preferred Hillary. I could live with that. What never occurred to me was that Jill could be as firmly entrenched in the views of the right as I was in those of the left, although I had been told as much during the Bush-Kerry race by her sister who had informed me that she was strongly supporting Bush/Cheney and so was Jill. Okay, Jill’s sister, I can understand. She and her husband took to the woods a long time ago. Literally. But Jill… no. That was not possible.
So, with what I now see as myself being stubbornly in denial, I continued my arguments for Obama. I mean, really, what intelligent, reasonable person could even consider voting for McCain when, among many other things, Palin was so obviously not qualified to be one bad biopsy away from the presidency? And I certainly considered my cousin to be intelligent and reasonable. At first I received back fairly innocuous responses. Things like, “Oh sweetie, I think I’ll probably vote for Howdy Doody. I don’t think any of them are worth a damn.” My cousin does not seek out confrontation. But slowly the responses started to change until I began receiving some e-mails that took on a distinctly right-wing tone. Petty, angry, small-minded -- not at all like the cousin I had grown up with. “Obama is a Muslim,” type exchanges, along with e-mails touting the horrors of illegal immigrants getting social security and the like.
I began to blame her husband, Bob, an easy scapegoat with his ever-present NRA cap and referral to his own gay son as “that kind.” He is her second husband. Not the father of her children. They have, however, been together going on 20 years, and he has always been pompous, arrogant, and a bit of a bully. There has never been any doubt as to where he stands in the political landscape, and I began to suspect that not only had he probably brow-beaten my sweet cousin into acceptance of his neo-con views, but since they share the same e-mail address, the e-mails I’d been receiving must be from him. Planning to trap him, I wrote back, “Jill, you’ll have to start signing your e-mails because I can no longer discern your voice from Bob’s.” I promptly received this response from Bob: “I never e-mail you. It’s always your cousin.” WTF!
Now would be a good time to remind all of you who are old enough to remember of the 1960s movie about the pod people, a tale of invaders from Mars who grow pods which blossom into exact duplicates of various human characters who are then replaced by these invaders. To me, this provided the only acceptable explanation as to what had happened to my cousin. She was a pod person.
Since the election, Jill and I have taken to avoiding the topic of politics with each other. Well, not altogether. Last month she did forward me a photo of Newt Gingrich posing with his wife, along with a litany of right-wing charges maligning Nancy Pelosi. I promptly fired back, “Which wife is he standing with? I know he’s cheated on all of them, fine upstanding Republican Christian that he is.” I received back a rather pious reply, all lower-case, “sorry. i didn’t mean to send this to you.” We never spoke of it again.
As I said, earlier, Jill does not like confrontation. Her husband, however, loves to spout off and pick a fight, something I used to let myself get sucked into despite the fact that I knew he delighted in it. It would always put my cousin in the middle and make it difficult for us all to be together and, remember, this is my only family. So on this recent visit, I vowed not to go there, with either of them, no matter what. I said nothing when Jill voiced her admiration for Fox wackos. I chose to go for a walk until the Limbaugh show was over. I bought my own Chronicle. And when, on the long drive to her daughter’s for a family graduation, her husband spewed some nonsense about how his taxes “were going to pay for abortions in Afghanistan,” I merely cocked my head like the Jetson’s dog, “Rrrreary?” Had I missed something? This had certainly never been the first thing that came to my mind when I thought of Afghanistan. I told myself there’s just no cure for stupid and hoped that my not taking the bait would give him a migraine.
But, sadly, here is the bottom line. My cousin is a good, decent, loving person. She has been there for me for my entire life and I love her dearly. I want to understand how she can be the person I know her to be, yet align herself with the venomous views of the right. I really do. But as I read through this diary, I have no better clarity now than I did when I started writing.
I wonder if my cousin does not feel the same way about me, and if maybe she has not written her own diary on the subject and published it on Drudge. Perhaps I will have to take a look.
My Back Pages - November
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