Those Emotional Swings
There are some things I don’t know any better right now than I did 24 hours ago:
When I can finally go back to making awfulplastic surgery.com the first website I check every day, instead of electoral-vote.com.
Whether I should try to become the first American in recent memory to be given political asylum in Canada, or whether I’ll have to go burka shopping one of these days.
And did I make a mistake in leaving Ohio for California? Was I wrong to take up residence in a swinging state, only to find that I had abandoned a swing state? How could I have known the exciting life that could have been mine had I stayed in my village east of Columbus, to be wooed by a passionate John Kerry and a determined George Bush, with my state’s name being crooned from every TV and radio, Ohio, Oooo-hio? What if mine had been the magic-bullet vote?
Back when the rest of you were soaring above the flyover states -- that was me down there. My forebears homesteaded an Ohio farm back when Abe Lincoln was still a boy. Johnny Appleseed planted apple trees there, and spent the night. That was in the old farmhouse; what we called “the new farmhouse” was built in 1899 by my great-great-grandfather. My father so adored Ohio State football that had I been a boy I would have been christened Woody Hayes.
I left before I was old enough to drive, unless you counted driving farm machinery, which we didn’t. As it turns out, most of my closest friends come from my part of the country -- Ohio, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan. We share, at the risk of sounding hokey, a centeredness, a belief in thrift and good-samaritanism and hard work. It’s why towns like mine are places that you can leave and remember, with equal pleasure.
All of those are what I love about the place where I grew up. What I hate about it, and why I fear for it, boils down to something that happened last week in Columbus, an hour’s drive from my village. A Salon.com correspondent outside a Bush rally reported that she saw Lisa Dupler, a chunky woman with short hair, holding up a rainbow-striped Kerry sign. As the Bush rally emptied, some of the Republicans hissed slurs. A woman turned on Dupler: “Why don’t you go marry your girlfriend?” A teenager yelled, “Kerry’s a terrorist,” and someone picked it up, “Communists for Kerry.”
I know for a fact -- a faith-based fact -- that those people don’t know for a fact exactly what a Communist is, except that it’s an “other.” It’s not the God-and-guns credo that bothers me about that voting bloc -- mine was a Protestant, hunting and fishing hometown. It’s that it leaves no room for the other, the different. The Buckeye in me is embarrassed and devastated by that spectacle. California has its agglomerations of haters and loonies, but not -- as there -- at a presidential rally in the capital of the state.
And the Californian in me was floored to find out all those people had just been listening to Californian Arnold Schwarzenegger tell them: “President Bush knows you can’t reason with people that are blinded by hate. But let me tell you something; their hate is no match for our decency, their hate is no match for America’s decency.”
In my village, we sang hymns in public school, not even thinking how it might make non-Protestants feel, because we didn’t have any, except the Jewish couple who ran the dry-goods store. I learned about minorities in books, about Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass. Even now -- I checked the census -- only about 30 village residents aren’t standard-issue white people.
The song I’d sing now is that Leonard Bernstein-Betty Comden-Adolph Green show tune that answers its own question: “Why, oh why, oh why, oh -- Why did I ever leave Ohio? ... / Ohio was stifling/ ... / The gossipy neighbors and everyone yapping who’s going with whom ... / Cousin Maude with her lectures on sin ... / What a bore! Babbitty! Stuffy! Provincial! Thank heavens we’re free!”
Being free has its trade-offs, but decency shouldn’t be one of them. Decency, like tolerance, begins at home, and if you don’t find it there, you can move to someplace you do. Or you can stay put and open a franchise.