My neighbors put a McCain/Palin sign on their front lawn across the street from our Obama ‘08 sign. Why did this make me so upset? They are entitled to their opinion as much as I’m entitled to mine. This is America, right? So why did I have trouble moving past this sign? My husband finally burned out listening to me obsess and told me to just get over it. I had insomnia for two nights thinking about that stupid sign. I really like those neighbors.
This week’s issue of Time includes an article written by a journalist who got in his car and drove around Missouri talking to “ordinary” people who vote. He stood in someone’s driveway and gabbed with a half a dozen couples about why they are voting for whom. He should have come to my neighborhood. A lot of neighborhoods are torn by this election. A lot of neighborhoods, families, circles of friends. I think I’m so right on issues, candidates, and moral imperatives. How can so many other people be so wrong?
And why am I having so much trouble with the neighbors’ sign? When we moved into our house in June, Mike and Judy welcomed us with warmth and generosity. Every time they saw us, they stopped to talk. They came to our housewarming party. They offered to help us set up for it and offered to bring chairs over from their house. They offered to loan us tools for home projects. They offered to help us work on our deck. They are good-hearted folks. Not much older than us, they are both retired and in their retirement they have a home business managing the “home base” for firefighting teams throughout the state. They cook for firefighters all summer long, often driving all night when a fire breaks out to set up the base in time to have hot coffee and breakfast ready for weary firefighters.
A few days ago, I took the plunge and asked Judy, “So, I see your sign, and I’m wondering what you think McCain will do for you?” A benign question. Trying not to be too confrontational. Judy replied (apologetically, mind you) that her family is Republican and has been for generations, is against gay marriage and abortion, that she’s a conservative, always has been, that’s just the way she is. She says security comes first and therefore she will vote for McCain. “What do we really know about Obama? What do you know about him?” she demanded. I didn’t want to touch that one. So I asked, “What do you think about Sarah Palin?” Again, a benign question. I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable. I felt incredulous more than anything and wanted to understand. I wondered how this intelligent woman could completely miss the boat like this. Judy replied, “I think she’s a real bombshell. We have friends in Alaska and they love her.”
I didn’t argue any of these points with Judy. I didn’t explain to her why McCain would make us less secure in the same way that Bush did by alienating most of our allies around the world, killing thousands of innocent people thus enraging their families and countrymen, and stomping around in places we didn’t belong in big boots while talking embarrassingly loud. We are the ugly American. We are the target. Security comes with building relationships, not shooting people. I didn’t mention that the supply-side economics of Reagan, Bush times two, and McCain, that says that if you keep giving money to the wealthy it will trickle down to the middle class and the poor, doesn’t work. It did not trickle down. It trashed the economy. I still don’t get how giving money to rich people equals giving money to poor people. I didn’t point out that the largest political demonstration in the history of the State of Alaska just took place in Anchorage and it was an anti-Palin rally. I did wonder how someone who thinks Obama lacks experience could feel comfortable placing Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency. She has barely been out of provincial Alaska and confesses that she is a Washington outsider. As for my knowledge of Obama, I’ve read both his books so I think I know a little about him. Sigh.
I did not say any of these things to Judy; instead I asked about her mother’s health and what her grandchildren are up to lately. As we parted and walked to our separate houses, separate signs, I realized why that sign upsets me so much. It upsets me because I like Judy and Mike. And I want for us to be good neighbors and I want for us to be friends and I want to enjoy their company. Now I will have to work twice as hard at it because we are very different sorts of folks. Just thinking about that work makes me tired. But I am committed to doing it because political candidates will come and go while Mike and Judy will be my neighbors for at least another 20 years or more if we live long enough. Here, on the ground, outside Washington, I live across the street from good folks and I will do the necessary work to appreciate them, enjoy them, and remain grateful.