I’ve never liked election years.
When I recall elections of my childhood, I was blissfully ignorant. Sometimes my parents’ guy won, and they seemed happy. Sometimes he didn’t, and they grumbled a bit, but it wasn’t really a big deal. In high school, I even joined the Young Republicans Club as I tried to grasp the beginnings of Having An Opinion Of Politics. That was around the time Ross Perot was running for President, and my mom liked him. I remember plotting with my 10-year-old brother Ryan to somehow sneak into the voting booth with my mom and vote for Bush Senior when she wasn’t looking. Clinton won out in the end, though, and again, it didn’t seem like a big deal. My parents disagreed with news reports sometimes, but they did the same in years with a Republican president, too. It wasn’t Personal like it is today.
It feels like things changed when I came of age. Before the notorious election of 2000, I remember an SNL skit that I can’t seem to locate where White House insiders lamented that both Bush and Gore were so boring and middle-of-the-road, they created a Frankenstein’s monster of Half Bush/Half Gore as the perfect candidate. It was funny.
I was also in the middle of my first political science class in college, so I felt pret-ty informed. The night after the election was our big test. And, of course, that night was the ridiculous voting mishap of 2000, where no one in America actually knew who was to be President when we went to bed that night. Since we were all supposed to stay up late watching, the big test was rescheduled. It was a historical moment, to be sure.
I don’t know if it was that whole ordeal with the recount, the hanging chads, the electoral vote misrepresenting the popular…OR if it was 9/11 one year later and the aftermath there, but it seems to me like something in America broke. People were angrier. Republicans were gun-totin’ rednecks and Democrats were tree-huggin’ hippies. Networks were invented to pander to one side or the other, and viewers of one automatically discounted anything reported by the other. Celebrities started bragging about their affiliation, and people would watch his character in a movie and say, “Wow, what a good actor. Shame he’s a dirty [Conservative/Liberal].” (This statement doesn’t apply to Sean Penn, because no one should like him, and Smug is not a political party.) Being partisan became part of people’s personality, not just something they researched and thought about every couple years, but then otherwise went about their business as a productive member of society.
Or maybe I just grew up and realized the world is mean.
In 2004, I was so depressed about the election and the widening divide between parties, I could barely sleep. Both sides made a few good points but spent more time pointing out the BAD points in their opponent. The Internet was angry. Jon Stewart was angry. Michael Moore was angry and probably hungry. I just wanted to hide under a pillow.
My fury culminated when I saw the movie “I Heart Huckabees,” released right in the midst of all the party wars. I watched The Dinner Scene, which still raises my heart rate to this day, and walked out in the middle of it, demanding my money back. (They didn’t give it to me because it occurred more than 30 minutes into the movie. LAME.)
My anger towards this scene was a microcosm of exactly everything that I felt: namely, it no longer mattered WHAT I believed in — if I were against suburban sprawl or not, if I agreed with the church or not, if I were pro or anti dependence on oil — but that both sides, BOTH SIDES, presented their cases in such a condescending, offensive, and straw-man manner that the opposing viewpoint might be better off being sexually attracted to babies than believe whatever they’re accused of believing. I hated everyone, and I wasn’t even young enough anymore for that to be COOL.
It simmered down slightly after that, but the two distinct pots kept boiling quietly until 2008. In this election, I was cursed with having a facebook account, full of both passionate and educated friends and relatives of both political parties. I believed — and still do — that most political opinions are meant to be kept private. Talk about it with your friends, sure. Talk it over with the fam. But once you stand up on a virtual soapbox and post some political “truth,” I think it’s tacky. You have every right to your opinion, sure, and I have every right to block you. You also have the right to tell me about your sex life, your bathroom habits, that growth on your back, but unless some weirdo is putting a gun to your head and making you FB status it, maybe a little decorum should be observed. Especially when you follow people who maybe don’t believe the same as you. And who maybe don’t want an angry comment thread involving your second-grade teacher and ex-girlfriend to be the place where you spread awareness and maturely discuss differences.
So 2008 was exhausting, too, but I got very good at clicking “Hide news from Joey Joe Joe,” so I survived.
This year, I can feel it boiling up just the same, and I’m just bracing myself like the Stark family. Because I have the same problem I’ve had for, well, I guess 12 years now, which is: I’m a moderate.
There, I’ve said it. When I hang out with my friends in California, I loudly agree with the liberal viewpoints I subscribe to and pretend to see something shiny when I disagree. When I spend time with my family and friends from home, I nod my head vigorously with their Conservative opinions and then pretend I hear someone calling me in another room when I disagree.
This is my curse. I can see the good points in both sides, and that makes people on both sides angry with me.
I am pro choice, but I also believe in capital punishment for the guilty. I love the gays and think they should get married. I disagree that the rich should be disproportionally taxed. I believe in science and dinosaurs and evolution, but I also think God is a pretty cool guy.
There aren’t websites for moderates, though, because by definition, we’re such a mishmash of whatever, we probably couldn’t even agree on coinciding mishmashes. We’re not moderate because we’re in the middle, necessarily. It’s that the opposing viewpoints on each side average OUT to the middle. It’s like being relieved that you don’t have to eat gross vegetarian pizza OR gross meat lovers’ pizza, but still not being able to agree on the million delicious toppings you could share.
There could be moderates out there who are pro life and anti capital punishment, hate science AND hate religion. When I was single, I lamented the fact that not only would I have to find a boy who was cute, nice to me, liked sports AND musical theater, but one that would agree with my ridiculous and seemingly arbitrary political values — none of which aligned with anyone else I’d ever met! Now, it just so happens I FOUND this guy, but that right there was a miracle of both science and religion.
So here we are. A new election year. I don’t know who I’m voting for. But I hope it doesn’t make me hate everyone I know again. Maybe some James K. Meow will gallop up on his Dark Horse with a Pro-Kittens-For-Everyone and Anti-Bad-Guys platform and make the decision easy for me.