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Deanie Mills Headshot

Stranger In A Strange Land

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Molly Ivins once said, "In West Texas, gays stay in the closet because they're afraid someone will think they're Democrats."

That sums up in a nutshell how it feels to be a pro-choice, pro-feminist, pro-environment pro-peace activist Democrat living in anti-progressive West Texas, childhood home of George W. Bush, where the "W '04" bumper stickers sometimes get covered up with all those "Support Our Troops" magnets.

Eventually, you get to feel not just like a stranger in a strange land, but an alien on a distant planet.

Those Clinton, they were tough, especially because my moderate Republican husband took great delight in "outing" me at parties, telling the horrified revelers that I had voted for the guy they believed had devil's horns underneath all that thick hair--twice. My, my, the sport that inevitably ensued.
If it's possible to get publicly stoned with words rather than rocks, well, I've got the bruises to prove it.

Not that it shut me up. In my car windows I stuck my son's Marine Corps insignia right next to my Military Families Speak Out sticker, and never left the house without my peace-sign earrings. If anybody asked how my son was doing on his two combat deployments to Iraq, I let them know how I felt about the commander-in-chief who sent him there.

Sometimes, a person would glance around furtively as if we were about to conduct a drug deal, lean over, and whisper, "I didn't vote for him."

But things got really interesting a few months back, the first time I drove to town with a gigantic bright blue OBAMA '08 sign in the rear window, wearing my matching Obama '08 tee shirt.

People's heads literally turned. I was stared at, whispered about.

This was when it occurred to me that I was an ambassador to Bush Country.

As the only visible Obama supporter in the entire town (population 10,000), I had to take my diplomatic duties seriously. This meant taking a little extra care in my appearance--if I showed up like my usual slob self, they might think he was a slob, too. I always smiled at sales clerks and made sure not to hog the aisle at the supermarket.

At first, passersby would say things like, "What does OBAMA mean?"

After a couple months, they'd say, "That's that guy running for president, isn't it?"

Couple months later, I'd get a challenge, like, say, "Where does he stand on the war?" or, "Do you think he can beat Hillary?"

There was never any hostility in any of these questions--a refreshing change, I must say, from all the Clinton-abuse I used to take. People were genuinely curious.

As the Republican field became more lackluster and divisive, some of my conservative friends started to tell me that they wouldn't really mind so much, an Obama presidency. My husband, whose job takes him all over greater West Texas, the Texas Hill Country, the Panhandle, and New Mexico, began bringing home similar reports. The consensus seemed to be that, while they considered him a liberal, they had a sense that at least he would listen to the concerns of conservatives and try to be fair. Many of them took to watching his speeches on YouTube, and saying that it made them feel good because he didn't demonize Republicans, and because he was inspirational in a way Ronald Reagan had been.

And then yesterday, two things happened that made me contemplate the significance of crossover votes in a red state. As I was getting out of my car in a Wal-Mart parking lot, a man came up and asked me where I'd gotten my sign and tee shirt.

"If you're working for him," he said, "I will do anything to help--I'll pass out fliers, do whatever."

He told me he was originally from Wisconsin and that his family had a long history of working in the automobile industry, and that Obama's speech the day before at a Wisconsin auto plant had energized them all.

I was so excited to find a kindred spirit after my long lonely years in Democratic isolation that I could hardly drive home.

Once there, I got the final surprise of the day. A very right-wing Texan friend with whom I had argued passionately over politics for the past ten years, had sent me an e-mail that said:

"I saw Obama's victory speech the other night. Pie-in-the-sky. I don't trust it. There's nothing to it. I think an Obama presidency would embolden our enemies and that his economic policies would ruin the country.

"That said...I'm going to vote for him."