September 14, 2008
The Loneliness of the Blue-State Conservative
Hours after I slapped a McCain bumper sticker on my car, somebody tore it off in the parking lot of a local courthouse. No problem; I had bought a pack of ten and replaced it when I got home. I laughed when I thought that whoever had done it probably claims to support "diversity."
Perhaps it was the shock of seeing a McCain sticker in very blue Los Angeles, where such sightings were rare, that caused the individual to rip it off. I had certainly seen very, very few, and not a single McCain lawn sign. Meanwhile, Obama bumper stickers seem to be standard equipment on every Prius in the land. Yes, I was feeling every bit the lonely Republican.
About a week later, I also felt scared. While driving in my neighborhood one afternoon, I was suddenly distracted by the sight of the driver behind me, threateningly close on my tail. She was screaming and was very clearly thrusting the finger at me. (You know, the rude one.) She alternated this gesture with making an "M" with her other fingers, and jabbing them as well.
I knew I had not cut into her lane or violated any other rules-of-the-road etiquette. I could come to only one conclusion: my McCain sticker was causing road rage! I was consoled by the fact that, as an extreme liberal, she probably didn't have a gun on her. On the other hand, she seemed dangerous, and I wanted an exit strategy faster than the one Obama wants for Iraq. I pulled over as soon as I could to let her pass and get to her anger management session, but instead of speeding away from me and my odious political convictions, she pulled up alongside of me, still screaming and gesturing. I pretended to look impassive, but by the time she finally drove off, emitting more than just greenhouse gasses, she wasn't the only one who needed calming down.
Unfortunately, I was not much safer at home. I went to check the latest discussions on my writers' group online, and Palin-mania was at fever pitch. New discussion threads included "Latest Palin Scandal: Better than Desperate Housewives!," "Say No to Palin," "Palin Favors Book Banning!" "Father of Bristol's Baby: I Don't Want Kids!," "Palin Hubby DUI Arrest," "Huffington Post on Palin," "Gloria Steinem on Palin," and "Quick Guide to Palin Deceptions." These were only a few of the day's rantings, and many of the discussions drew astonishingly large numbers of responses relative to the size of the membership.
I knew from past experience that election time was no fun for the few conservatives like me in this group, but nothing in the past compared to this fever swamp. I found the Palin-bashing ironic, coming as it did from "feminists" who undoubtedly championed other whistle-blowers, like Erin Brockovitch, but Palin's fighting of an old-boy network was dismissed as something that probably didn't happen. Their reactions were hysterical and catty, underscoring some of the most endemic stereotypes of women.
I was stunned not only by the number of anti-Palin posts, but also the vehemence. "The more I get to know her, the more I loathe her," posted one graduate of the Daily Kos Academy. "The more I get to know her, the more I like her," I shot back, with my invisible flak jacket and helmet.
It would have been impossible and futile to try to fight the gossip gallery, but I couldn't resist posting my own fascination with the group's Palin-bashing: "What is this frenzy about?" I asked. "If you loathe her politics, fine and fair, but these smears, so many of which are quickly being proven untrue, is nearly unprecedented in my memory, and I've been watching politics for a long time. I am particularly struck by this in a group of writers, who understand the need to get facts right before 'reporting' them. Unfortunately for those on the left, the more bias and dirt that's thrown her way, the more money and support the Republican ticket gets."
This point was immediately shot down by someone who noted that there were lots of rumors about Obama spread by the right, such as that he was a Muslim, and that, let's see, he was a Muslim. The Amen choir immediately sang out, and I disengaged from the discussion.
After a few days of this, the moderator wisely created a new group devoted entirely to politics. This was cheerful news, and we few conservatives could safely visit the main discussion groups without being subjected to "Palin Speaks in Tongues!" message headers.
But the political junkie in me couldn't resist lurking one day, and I saw that the new political group was a little lonely. It had become an echo chamber. One of the more thoughtful leftists, who had tried to educate me via private email on the value of community organizers, sent out a call for the thoughts of conservatives, and I believed her to be both sincere and fair-minded. A few of us responded that it felt pointless to share our views with an audience so angry, so ready to pounce on anything we said, so gleefully trafficking in despicable rumors about Sarah Palin.
I think some minimal good has come of all this. The tone calmed down for a few days, long enough for we few, proud and brave conservatives (we estimate there may be as many as 10 of us, out of a group of at least 100) to try to explain our positions in response to questions. ("Just what do you mean by 'big government?" "Why do you think that Democrats don't support national defense?") But we got tired quickly, since it was clear that most of the questioners really didn't care what we had to say. Since then, nearly all posts on their political board are all Palin-bashing, all the time. I think the best outcome may have been that a few of the more open-minded leftists learned to have a little respect for the conservatives as people more evolved than merely wild-eyed knuckle-scrapers.
I also feel less lonely now. Since Palin-mania broke out, I've seen more McCain stickers, and even lawn signs are bravely popping up in this very blue neighborhood. And when I think back to my little road rage incident, I laugh at my own fear. After all, that woman was probably just a harmless member of my writers' group.
Judy Gruen's latest award-winning book is The Women's Daily Irony Supplement.