Ross Perot, the 68th richest man in America, was duking it out with Clinton and Bush on TV in 1992, and ten year old me sat close to the TV monitor, watching carefully. Six hours away in St. Louis, the debate unfolded, with Perot airing a long dirty list of domestic gripes: the deficit, the economy, jobs, trade, and education reform.
My parents audibly gasped when it became Perot’s time to answer the Moderator’s question: “How do you respond to the President on the question of experience? He says that is what distinguishes him from the other two of you.” Perot responded:
Well, they’ve got a point. I don’t have any experience in running up a $4 trillion debt. (Laughter) I don’t have any experience in gridlock government where nobody takes responsibility for anything and everybody blames everybody else. I don’t have any experience in creating the worst public school system in the industrialized world, but I do have a lot of experience in getting things done. So, if we’re at a point in history where we want to stop talking about it and do it, I’ve got a lot of experience in figuring out how to solve problems, making the solutions work, and then moving on to the next one. I’ve got a lot of experience in not taking 10 years to solve a 10-minute problem. So, if it’s time for action, I think I have experience that counts. If there’s more time for gridlock and talk and finger pointing, I’m the wrong man (YouTube of the debate)
Perot’s answer, in my opinion, won him the debate. Sitting there with my parents, I felt proud to be an American. When it came time to vote, my parents drove the three miles to town to cast their votes: my Dad was a die-hard business Republican. My mom, an independent, was forced to register as a Republican in order to vote in our county. They both voted for Perot.
My Dad recently told me there are two divisions of Republicans: the crazy Religious Right, and then the Business Republicans. While he is a devoted and devout Christian, he refuses to vote on single moral issues, such as gays and lesbians or abortion. My family’s roots spawn from a church that started in 1800s America. It has since then grown into a mega force for religious liberty throughout the nation, pushing that while they may disagree on religious grounds with many groups, they stand for freedom and equality (mainly because they are afraid of having their own freedoms taken away in a similar fashion.) So, most Seventh-Day Adventists are Business Republicans, not Religious Republicans.
Business Republicans stand for small businesses, throwing out invasive big government, tearing down regulations, fiscal responsibility, and instituting free trade and free market institutions. My Dad, however, was highly against Clinton’s NAFTA, and his utter dislike of Clinton persisted until he felt justified in his dislike with the Lewinsky scandal. When I asked him why he also hated Hillary “The Snake” Clinton, he never gave a clear cut answer, just going back to how much he disliked Billary’s 8-year term, and still feeling the prick of Perot losing the election.
The month of August 1992 horrified my family and I, when breaking news recorded the events of Ruby Ridge. Randy Weaver and his family were surrounded by federal agents for 12 days, in which his son and wife died. I sat, glued to ABC News during the ordeal, and afterward our community at large was horrified and angry at the government for such a violent exploitation of civil rights. Later, Weaver was acquitted of all charges except missing a court date and violating his bail conditions; he and his daughters won a lawsuit against the government where Randy received $100,000 for his “troubles,” while his daughters both received $1,000,000.
1993 became a pivotal moment for my family’s political culture, with the storming and burning of the Branch Dividian compound in Waco, Texas. David Koresh, a former member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church who had long left the folds, died April 19, 1993 when the compound burned to the ground. I was helping an elderly friend fold and stuff leaflets as I watched the flames lick the sky and consume everything, wondering what in the world had gone wrong with our country when the ATF and FBI could dare do such a thing without proper due process of law, no matter how fanatical a sect might be.
After these two events occurred, it convinced my family that religious prophecy was about to be fulfilled, and the end of the world was gearing to occur. The culture in the South is more conducive to such beliefs, as conspiracy theories float around and the soon coming of Jesus is emphasized; and someone always knows someone who knows someone in some militia somewhere in the area. A neighbor told my Dad to teach me how to shoot to kill. Another Baptist neighbor told us about hearing new torture methods intended to use on Americans. Another Methodist neighbor told us he had his pack ready to run in case a Ruby Ridge happened to him. It scared us—all of us, to be surrounded by people who believed this. If it could happen in Idaho, my birthplace, then surely it could happen in Oklahoma. The Sheriff, a friend of my Dad’s, said the FBI was poking around our place, wondering what was in our barn (Emu incubators.) This scared us even more. Suddenly, we’d have low-flying black helicopters swooping over our barn at 1 or 2 in the morning.
I’ll never know what those occurrences were truly all about, but these events scared 12-year-old me. Randy Weaver’s son was about my age, and thinking about him being shot at from all sides made me cry. My parents voted for Bob Dole and Jack Kemp in 1996, but were soundly defeated by Clinton again. The fear grew. Rumors and whispers abounded in the area, such as some locals growing up with Clinton and saying he was a perpetual liar, you couldn’t trust him, or that martial law was being set up behind our backs. I watched and I listened and I was confused.
April 19, 1995 shook us yet again when breaking news told of the Oklahoma City Bombing, occurring just 3.5 hours away from where I lived. There were reports on the news that two bombs had gone off; later, the story changed to one. Some citizens came forward, saying they had been warned not to go to work that day. Rumors spread, and church people all over the area, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, and the like all felt the need to pray, pray that the government wouldn’t come and get them next.
My parents breathed the conspiracy theories, taking it in like unseen smoke that propelled them into religious fervor, along with many other communities in the Bible Belt of America. It wasn’t until I left for California that I moved out of the conspiracy circles and away from the paralyzing fear that haunted us all.
In a odd twist of fate, it was yet another form of conspiracy, except this one based more on fact, that spurred me into political action. In 2004, I watched Fahrenheit 9/11 on the big screen, and as the tears rolled down my cheeks in sadness and anger, I walked out of there a die-hard Democrat, ready to throw out Bush and vote anyone else in. That “anyone BUT Bush” turned out to be lousy Kerry; while I was sad Bush was re-elected, I was also relieved that I didn’t have to take responsibility for electing Kerry into office.
Now, I feel confused, sad and hopeless at the situation our country faces. My parents keep emailing me conspiracy theories, and usually after glancing at the title, I delete them. My mom keeps begging me to move out into the country in case the world does blow up (Waco and Ruby Ridge both happened in the country, I remind her), and I keep arguing with her to think about the fear statements she makes that are based off of Bush’s Code Orange, Code Red, and Code Rainbow to cow people into submission. Somewhere in the depths I still believe in hope, along with my parents, but it is just a shred of hope, that America can change—NOT go back to life as normal, but actually change into something better.
The economic outlook is bleak despite the largest rise in the stock market yesterday, but we are still told by financial analysts to expect worse. I am not so militant that I claim one party over the other these days, but I am definitely not of Bush’s ideals, nor have I ever been. I was just shy of my 18th birthday when Al Gore lost in 2000, and while family members celebrated W’s first victory, I sat silently, wondering what would happen next. I have worked on both sides of the political aisle, and I have taken the political tests that show me slightly on the liberal side of moderate. On my ballot I voted for both sides, and yet somehow I have this nagging fear that it won’t matter, since nothing much will change.
My political depression is definitely aligned with that of my parents and much of America, but I am still in the game, still connecting the line on my ballot, still hoping Obama’s promised change actually materializes.
So how am I like or not like my parents politically? I never was a Ron Paul supporter as they have been; I didn’t fall in love with Palin as my Dad did; we both get a kick out of Kucinich; I do share their same bleak outlook although I don’t think it is the dawn of the end like they do. I refuse to let the past democratic abuses by our government scare me. Yet, at the end of the day, I want what they want. Peace. Stability. A house paid off. A degree that gets me a decent job. Good will established with our global neighbors. The war in Iraq to end. We may be voting opposite party tickets this campaign season, but we both truly hope that our candidates will bring the change that they promise to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW and the rest of America, and that there will be no more War on Terrorism, no more Ruby Ridges, no more OKC and NYC terrorist acts, no more anthrax and other chemical scares, and no more financial meltdowns, but rather peace.
Jen Drake graduated from Walla Walla University with a bachelor in history, minor in English, and emphasis in economics. In 2005 she started an Amnesty International chapter, and in 2007 she organized events to raise over $60,000 in two months to buy a house and surrounding property for girls being groomed for the sex trade in Calcutta's Red Light district and to send a team of ten to India to create a portfolio on the project, now known as Project Red Light.
Jen has worked two Washington State legislative sessions as a Senator's aide, became the Development Coordinator at a local Dispute Resolution Center, is currently the Finance Director for Women of Washington (a project of the National Council of Women's Organizations) and this year developed Puyallup's first organized pea patch community garden with Puyallup's Park and Rec and Steering Committee.
This essay originally appeared on the Melon.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1166