Monday, May 05, 2008

The Lindas of this country

Over the past couple of days, I've been trying to sort out my reactions to the current state of the Democratic nominating process.  And where my very visceral feelings about it come from.  And how this is all tied to my own hopes and fears for my family, particularly my son and my protectiveness for him.  

I have developed a very visceral negative reaction to Hillary Clinton in the last two weeks.  Prior to that, it was more of an issue of feeling annoyed that she kept running (although I really did not feel that she shouldn't go ahead and press on, if that's what she wanted to do).  I had already decided that I didn't want to vote for her because I don't feel that a continuing Bush-Clinton dynamic is good for the country: it replicates too many long-held antagonisms among politicians, and keeps our legislative process trapped in a stale favor-banking mode whose dynamics will be difficult to change.  

But as Bill and Hillary have continued to push racial and homophobic buttons in order to capture the vote of the demographic band with which they can win certain states, I've become really disgusted and even fearful of them.  What they're going for is the low- to moderate-income white vote, typically a demographic with very little college education.  Look--I grew up in close proximity to the portion of that demographic that lives in Vermont.  And let me point out that Vermont is a broad demographic mix (at least among white people) with a lot of decent people of differing income levels.

When I was growing up, Burlington wasn't really a city, more a large town, and the rest of Chittenden County was pretty rural.  I went to public schools and I was aware of which kids were the farm kids, which kids got the tickets for free and reduced school lunch, and which kids were impoverished.  I knew which kids' parents didn't care about them, were perpetually unemployed, and didn't provide basic care for their children.  These kids came to school dressed in what were essentially gray rags that were once dresses or shirts, had a feral look on their faces because their parents were perpetually emotionally and/or physically abusive, and never had lunch or the paperwork filled out for free and reduced lunch tickets.

Linda was one of those kids in elementary school.  We all walked by her house on the way to school, and it was about as dilapidated as a framehouse could get, sagging, with junk on the porch and in the yard and sheets hung on tacks for window shades.  My first or second grade teacher tried to take care of Linda: brought her sandwiches, spent time talking to her during lunch, which they often ate alone together in the teacher's office.  But you couldn't be friends with Linda, no matter how much the teacher tried to offer her opportunities to integrate with the class.  Linda didn't understand how to express friendship and she was suspicious of people who offered it.  The face she felt she had to present to the world was one of defiance and contempt.  

When we moved to a neighboring town with a similar economic mix and I started taking the school bus to school, there were other Lindas and their brothers--and there were a significant number of these types of people: people who talked about hating their teachers on the bus and wanting to hurt them, about taking their shot guns out after school and killing various sorts of animals for fun, little kids who used appalling language and made up appalling songs or parodies of songs that involved grotesque sexual acts, etc.  Kids who joked about rape.  Kids who bragged about anti-social things their older siblings did or spoke in the language of racial slurs and bigotry and homophobia.

What I'm trying to say is that these kids were growing up to be hatemongers because their parents taught them to behave that way, just as their parents' parents before them taught them that as well.  My parents taught me to stay away from them because, essentially, these people are emotionally damaged and typical middle class kids are not safe being around them.  

For the Clintons to use certain rhetorical tactics with a wink, wink, nod, nod about blacks, gays, and the college-educated is to provide a mainstream authority figure that appears to approve of the same messages that this particular strata of the low- and moderate-income white population has heard for generations.  It's to say to these people that what their parents told them and they way they raised them is just fine, thank you.  They were raised just fine, when, in fact they weren't, and not by a long shot.

Some of the worst hate crime incidents in our country have been committed by this demographic.  So I can't imagine that their reaction to the disabled is any better--I've mentioned on this blog before that when posting on Slate's Fray about Robert's disabilities or on a New York Times forum, I've had people comment anonymously that people like Robert should be killed at birth. 

The Clintons trying to tell these people that their entrenched hatreds and bigotries are "normal" and even "American" and that these attitudes are important and "count" is really, really frightening to me.  I still believe in a forward-thinking America that will accept not only people of all races and sexual orientations and genders, but will also accept the disabled as human beings.  The Clintons keep raising the specter of a backward looking, misanthropic America that I wanted to leave behind when I moved to an urban area.  

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