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Revelations from a Former Republican

During a recent conversation, I shocked a friend when I mentioned that, when I turned 18, I had registered to vote as a Republican.

“You were NOT a Republican,” she stated.  “There is just no way.”

“Not just a Republican,” I replied.  “I was actually heartbroken that, because of my age, I missed voting for Ronald Reagan by only three months in the 1984 election.”

Since I was talking to my friend on the phone, I can’t confirm that her mouth was actually hanging open, but I’m pretty sure it was.

“What happened?” she finally asked.

“I don’t know exactly,”  I replied.  “But by the time I graduated from college, I’d changed political parties.”

In all honesty, I do know what happened. I’d identified the core values that would guide the rest of my life, and they simply just didn’t align with the Republican Party.

I don’t think my friend, or anyone else, really cares about how I arrived at my decision. And, until this past week, I didn’t feel any need to explain.

But after witnessing one too many debates about how people who receive SNAP (more commonly known as food stamps) may be eligible for additional benefits if they were affected by the derecho (http://www.catholiccharitieswv.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=300%3Awv-long-term-disaster-recovery-derecho-storm-a-power-outage-disaster&catid=45%3Aannouncements&limitstart=1), I felt the need to say something.

On the surface, the gist of the conservatives’ argument against the additional benefits was that the government was once again frivolously spending taxpayers dollars.

But, as the arguments continued, a different, more self-centered concern actually emerged.  Several people were  turning the discussion into a conversation about fairness, or more particularly unfairness,  in regards to their own lives:  ” I lost all my food when the power went out, and no one is paying me to replace it.” “I have a lot of  health care bills, and the government isn’t stepping in to help me.”  “Basically, I’m being punished for having a job. ”

Sadly, I could relate to their complaints. That kind of thinking was the reason I had originally registered a Republican.

At the age of 18, I really did believe that everyone had an equal opportunity in this country, and if a person worked hard and persevered, they should be able to meet their own needs. If they couldn’t make ends meet, they needed to work harder or get a better education to get a better job. I believed in responsibility:  if people made bad decisions then they, not I,  should have to pay for those decisions. And I believed that our leaders had our, not their own, best interests at heart.

I held onto those beliefs because I was surrounded by people who believed the same thing. Then I went to college, and I was surrounded by people who didn’t.

I met too many people who had been denied equal opportunity through no fault of their own. I met too many people who had made poor decision after poor decision only to be bailed out by family while others fell into bad luck and had no one who could help. I learned more and more about greed, inequality and political corruption.  And I learned  more about myself.

At some point, I was confronted with the ultimate question: is life about what I can do for myself or is it about providing  unconditional support for others, even when it sometimes costs me?

I chose the latter.

Don’t get me wrong.  I can be very self-centered, and I know a lot of Republicans who are anything but selfish.

I just don’t think the core of my political beliefs should be about what makes my, or my family’s, life better or easier. I think public policy should be about ensuring the safety and well-being of all Americans, particularly those who haven’t had the same privileges that I’ve had:  good parents, a good education, a decent I.Q.  and a lack of any significant health problems.

When I look back on 18-year-old me, I still understand where I was coming from.

I still think people should do their best and be responsible for their behavior. I also think corporations and millionaires should do the same.

I still believe in hard work and self discipline. I also believe that too many people work very hard and still don’t get paid a fair wage so they can’t make ends meet.

I still wish life were fair. I also realize that making life more fair for everyone requires public policies that provide additional support for those who need it.

The difference between 18 year-old me and 45 year-old me is I don’t think the world owes me anything. Instead, I think I owe the world. The difference is I know some people put their own interests  above the interests of others, even when it comes to the environment or safety or health. And I know that the most effective way to ensure such people do minimal damage is to implement and enforce regulation.The difference is that even though I don’t agree with  wasteful spending, the wasteful spending I’ve seen isn’t for the programs intended to make the lives of most Americans better.

The difference is that I  have enough life experience to know that life isn’t about being fair.

And that’s why I got so frustrated with the debate about additional SNAP/food stamp assistance.  The debate wasn’t about whether people needed the assistance. Instead, it was a debate about fairness. I’m pretty sure if you asked the majority of people who were eligible to receive the help, they would be the first to tell you life isn’t fair.  If it were, they’d be fortunate enough to afford to replace their own groceries while complaining about those who couldn’t.

The Dog, the Derecho and Me

The fence around the pool where we had been swimming minutes before the derecho hit. It literally looks like a whole section was just lifted up.

Living in West Virginia, I’ve been fortunate to escape dealing with any significant natural disaster.  That’s probably because floods are the most common disasters in the Mountain State, and since I’ve never lived in a floodplain, I’ve never had to experience one.

But over the past few years, I’ve had warning signs that my time was up.

In 2010, about four feet of snow fell in four days. I spent that week shoveling snow while my husband spent that week in a hotel in D.C. at the courtesy of his employer.

Last October, we were hit with an abnormal autumn snow that knocked down 2 1/2 trees in my yard.  While I was listening to the cracking of limbs and the thump of trees, my husband was in D.C.  working.

With these warning signs, you’d think I’d have been preparing to handle a real disaster on my own. Instead, I chose to ignore the signs.  That’s probably because I’m a complete wimp when it comes to any kind of danger I can’t control.  At such times, I always grab my dog and hold on tight.

Last Friday night, I almost suffocated my poor dog.

My neighbors had gone out for the evening, so I was at their house keeping an eye on our ten year-old daughters and our dogs… my German Shepherd and their Golden Retriever. Since it was extremely hot, all of us spent at least some time in their  pool.

My neighbor is worried about letting her dog run in the backyard since there is now a big hole in her fence.

At some point, I commented that the sky had gotten unusually dark. I probably shouldn’t have listened to a ten year-old who told me that was normal, but I hadn’t heard that we were in for any severe weather.

So, when lightning began to flash in the distance, all activities moved to the “pool room.” I worked on my blog, the girls flipped through television channels, the dogs romped and the wind blew. And then the rain came and the wind blew harder… a lot harder.  Then it began to howl.

Being a weather geek, I checked the radar and saw a dark red mass moving towards my town. Being a naive weather geek, I didn’t get too concerned since I hadn’t heard any sirens or warnings.

My warning came with a roar when the wind blew open the pool room door and raged around the room.  The next few minutes are a blur. I remember telling the girls to move into the hall. I remember trying to shut the door. I remember grabbing my laptop, and I remember grabbing both the dogs.

And then the power flickered and went out.

I was surprised at how many trees missed houses and cars… but many landed on roads and utility lines.

We sought refuge in the room of a ten-year old girl.  And while I did worry about the girls, I have to say it was the dogs that I held fast. The neighbors’ dog sat in my lap, and my dog stood guard. The girls screamed, lightning flashed and the storm raged. And then, my neighbors’ son and his friend came home. Ever protective, my German Shepherd decided that his barking would be a great addition to Mother Nature’s  latest composition.

It wasn’t.

I eventually convinced my daughter that we could dash across the yard to go home, and we spent the remainder of our night in the basement.

By the time my husband went to work shortly after midnight, all the remained of the derecho (also known as a land hurricane) were downed trees, downed power lines and a woman who wouldn’t sleep for days.

This car was entirely covered….

The next morning, my dog and I took our normal walk.  Neighbors were already up removing debris from their yards and their roofs.

A common site for the first couple days.

Highway workers had already blocked roads, and Potomac Edison crews were already out trying to repair the damage.  And the homeless guy at the park was eating his breakfast in his normal spot.

But nothing seemed normal to me except that my favorite dog was on the end of his leash walking happily over broken branches.  He was even willing to pause while I used my Blackberry to document the impact of the derecho on my little corner of the world. He obliged for the next couple days as well.

In retrospect, we were lucky. We were only without power for a couple of days. My parents, who live nearly six hours away but experienced the same storm, still don’t have power. And, even with all the damage, what I’ve noted most is how many tall trees are still standing. For every tree that went down, hundreds more didn’t.  To me, that’s nature’s way of reminding us all of how resilient we can be.

And, for the most part, I know I am.  As long as I have my dog by my side.

My giant German Shepherd, Rodney, looked so small compared to some of the downed trees.

One of many beautiful trees the derecho claimed as victims.

This once beautiful Pine has now been entirely removed from the neighborhood. 

The City of Martinsburg is helping out by collecting all the debris residents drag to the curb. Here, Rodney surveys one street in our neighborhood.

Everyone I know was very appreciative of how hard Potomac Edison worked to restore power. The biggest complaint I heard was how much we all lost when we had to throw away the contents of our freezers and refrigerators.

Rodney was very happy when power and air conditioning were restored. He took a break from all the walking around the neighborhood to sleep on the cool vent.