Before President Obama came to Iowa City, where I work, my mom sent me a text: "He's coming straight from the convention! You better go. I want a full report tonight!"
My parents have never shied away from political discussion. My dad, a Truman Democrat, born and raised in Kansas City, and my mom, a compassionate, Christian conservative, reared in rural Farley, Missouri, have always had their differences. But over dinner, the discussion of ideas is what mattered most. They would capitulate over sometimes four or five different points of view before they found common ground.
One of the more special memories I have of my parents discussing politics was the 2004 presidential election. While my dad had voted for Al Gore and my mom, George W. Bush during the 2000 election, when it came to 2004 they were both undecided. They wanted what was best for America, and talked until they both agreed: they would vote for George W. Bush. With no intended disrespect to Senator Kerry, they felt that it was not prudent to take the reins from the current president, George W. Bush. In this instance, my mom won the argument.
If my father is the role model for the person I want to be, my mother is the spirit in which I live my life. So it's safe to say she and I disagree from time to time about politics. There have been heated discussions, and at times I think she's been disappointed we don't see eye to eye.
My mom is a lifelong Republican. And Mom has abandoned the Republican Party because, in her words, she no longer feels welcome. She's attended campaign events for Claire McCaskill, has been canvassing for her, and got both a Claire McCaskill and Barack Obama bumper sticker. She called me last week to tell me that she turned the Republican National Convention off the television in disgust. "It's just not right... or maybe it's too right." It killed her -- she had always looked forward to watching her party energize the country. She watched the entirety of the Democratic National Convention, and despite disagreeing at points, and recalling a distaste for President Clinton surrounding infidelity to Hillary, she resoundingly was roused by the hope the convention inspired in her.
My mom taught me that you show your love to people, not say it. You live your faith, not preach it. She and Dad, together, taught me life is about treating other people right, not showing other people you are right. They support the troops. They love their country. They love being Americans, and they believe in America.
Mom and Dad believe in education. I think some of my parents' proudest moments include my brother, my sister and me getting high school degrees, and my brother and me graduating from college. My parents' story is not the story of a Democrat marrying a Republican and raising a politically minded son (me). It's the story of two people who invested in the ideas of supporting their country, education, and the idea that the world would be better for their children than it was for them.
My mom and dad remember times when race riots happened in Kansas City. My dad coached a high school football team with African Americans who were not welcome (in the 1980s) in De Soto, Kansas -- a team town they competed against regularly. They've seen the world get better in the years they were married. They know the United States is better than it was when their parents were born. They believe that the United States doesn't get better just year to year, but day by day.
Their story is a young couple who believed in America, and taught their children to, as well. My father worked hard, served in the Coast Guard, and provided for his family, even when at one point he was laid off. My mother never finished her degree, but sobbed the Christmas I gave her a membership to my university's alumni association, because she felt like she was officially part of the Kansas State University family, and valued the education for what it had meant to our family. My mom made her life's work and legacy her children, and now her grandchildren. She believes that the best thing she can do is hope for a better tomorrow for us, and for my nieces and nephews (her grandchildren). They're incredible people -- and I'm biased, but I love them dearly.
So, when my mom says that, for the first time in her life, she's afraid of what will happen to the country for me, my brother, my sister, their families and their grandchildren, if the people who are masquerading as Republicans win election, it rattles me a bit. They've never been afraid of the future of America before, and they've seen a lot in their nearly six decades. When she's canvassing for Democrats because she believes that despite differences, she'd rather have them than the Republicans who at one point would have welcomed her as part of their team, I have to pause and reflect. She's a loyal, lifelong Republican who embodies what it means to be a good citizen, and while she believes that Republicans are good and would be proud to call herself one, she can't bring herself to agree with them anymore. In many ways, this year has been a farewell tour for her support to the party that excited her with Ronald Reagan and that she lovingly called the "party of Abraham Lincoln."
Now, when I tell her about an argument I had with a Tea Party member about cutting student loans that frustrated me, but which I thought ended in a respectful way, she says: "You must be in a forgiving mood. Let's hope he is a minority in thought and powerless to act."
My parents' story is the quintessential American story. Love of God, country, and family guide their every step, and has brought them success, happiness, and fulfillment that can't be measured in dollar signs. I'd love to say that my mom has transformed to view things like my dad and I do, but we still disagree on things. We still love other people, treat them well, and hope for a better America each day. She hasn't changed, but the party she loved has. My mom isn't liberal, she's just hurt. Hurt by the party she loyally supported all these years. And if she tells me that she no longer feels welcomed by Republicans... it makes me wonder who does feel welcomed by the Grand Old Party? It makes me ask, is feeling welcomed by Republicans a good thing to feel?
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