About halfway between our cities of residence, Houston and Austin respectively, my dad and I meet in a little restaurant named Schobels. They mostly serve chicken-fried items and other southern dishes. The waitresses, high school girls who wear too much makeup and never seem to remember the beer selection, call their fettuccine Alfredo “a little chunk of heaven.” This is the place we come every few months when phone calls only serve to remind us that we haven’t actually seen each other in too long. We hug multiple times in a row, lament the fact that we don’t meet more often, and invariably drive each other completely berserk with politics.
My dad and I represent some of those generational and cultural divides that were so widely discussed during the last presidential election. I’m a twenty-something, ex-skateboarder, agnostic, relativist, American-apologist Obama voter. He’s a fifty-something, ex-football captain, ex- WASP, absolutist, American-exceptionalist McCain voter. But even given our history of late night debates, which only serve to make us more aware of just how estranged we are from one another, I was still surprised when my dad bought a handgun just before Election Day and started attending Texas Tea Parties some months later.
“Tea Parties? Really, Dad? With all those people carrying misspelled, nonsensical signs?” I asked him one night. He’s crazy, I thought. He’s gone beyond some boundary where social clowns become political martyrs and tacky is a dress code. The feeling was mutual. We had a shared thought process template with the blanks appropriately filled: “It doesn’t make sense to me. My dad/son is a smart guy. He’s logical, thorough, and pretty well informed. He’s just conservative/liberal, not crazy.” But we weren’t sure. It was time for a Schobels conference. We needed to see each other face to face and say “I love you” and “I’ve missed you” and “How can you possibly think that way?”
This last question sparked a conversation between us, leading me to further examine the cloudy rhetoric and emotional ballasts of the political perspectives which have made people on both sides of the divide question the definition of sanity. Below are seven things I learned from a conversation with one man—my dad—a Texas Tea Party Patriot.
1) Something is wrong with the tea parties.
The word “obvious” rolled through my mind like information on a Stock Exchange marquee. My dad had just admitted that the tea parties needed some adjustments, but instead of making sarcastic remarks I asked him what those adjustments were.
Basically, there is no leadership. Territorial defensiveness, entrenched interests, lack of political experience, and infighting have disrupted any cohesive movement. Although the supposed pioneer of the Tea Parties was recruited by an arm of the Republican Party, my dad insists that “Tea Party Patriots are not Republicans…We are sick of the whole system. We are real.” What about accusations of faux-grassroots Astroturf, I asked him. These meetings are heavily promoted by FOX News and there is evidence that some of these organizations are funded by people like Dick Armey and David Koch. When my dad said, “these are normal people that are pissed off,” he had a point. The existence of opportunistic Glenn Becks, Republican Dicks, and Independent Kochs doesn’t explain away the true outrage and fear of so many ordinary Americans. So, yes, there is definitely something wrong with the Tea Parties, but there is also something undeniable that must be addressed.
What upsets you so much, Dad?
2) Universal health care infringes upon my right to have health care.
When I heard my dad say this my brain shut down and rebooted like a computer attempting to answer a Buddhist koan. I asked him what he meant, and he said our family chooses not to have health care and after Obama’s health care reform we will not have the right to choose.
True. We will either pay for health care or pay a 2.5% income tax. But it seemed like a moot point to me. I could fill an entire wikipage of responses to that statement. For instance, I don’t choose not to have health care; I just can’t afford it. But if health care is actually affordable, then paying for it won’t be a problem. And there are already similar laws involving compulsory purchase like the mandatory car insurance we have in Texas. And as far as choice, anyone can still choose his or her own private insurance through the health care exchange program. Most important in terms of rights, this reform is the first American system that actually treats health care as a right—not a commodity like private health insurance does. In fact, Obama’s health care plan does the opposite of my dad’s statement. It doesn’t infringe on his “right” to have health care; it infringes on his “right” to not have health care.
If I did write that wikipage, my dad would most certainly get an account and dispute everything on it. He’d question the legality of the 2.5% income tax, whether the new health care system will actually lower costs, the comparison between car insurance and health insurance, and whether or not there will be any private insurance companies left. He would also state that health care is not a right; it is a commodity.
While our rhetorical swordplay would be interesting, these parlays would not be made because of rights. For my dad it’s really about control. He believes his personal well-being will be micromanaged by a government that he can only describe with negatively connoted words. Words like sloppy, broken, or wasteful. The accuracy of my dad’s depiction of our government is debatable. I’d say he’s off, but not way far off. The funny thing is I describe the government with a different set of negatively connoted words. Words like arrogant, ignorant, and pretentious. I guess that’s the liberal set. Any of these might be valid descriptions, but the idea that government bureaucrats will chaperone your doctor throughout your medical visits seems