Bullshit Philosophy

Half-assed political and religious commentary from a cynical left-winger

BLAST FROM THE PAST: Race, Obama, and My Family: Part 2

Posted by Kevin on December 20, 2008

[originally posted 9/5/08]

So, I mentioned in my last post on this subject that “I’ve started firing back at my relatives with forwards of my own in an attempt to push them towards Obama and/or away from John McCain,” and that “It’s anyone’s guess as to whether I’m having an effect…” Well, I’m pretty sure it’s having little or no effect. At times it feels a bit like Whack-a-Mole; every time I knock down one objection, they just pop up with another.

For instance, when I was visiting my dad and grandparents in Peoria a month ago, they were cheesed off about Obama supposedly snubbing wounded troops in Germany. A few days later, I got an email forward from my dad about Obama blowing off troops in Afghanistan. As you can see through the links (which I sent to them in response), both stories are totally false. I doubt it made a difference to them. I don’t even know if they read any of the stuff I send. If they do, they definitely don’t take it seriously.

I still get stuff from them about Obama being a Muslim. And I know I’m not alone. From Marty Kaplan at the Huffington Post:

…depending on which poll you read, somewhere between 10 percent and 15 percent of American voters thought that Obama is a Muslim. A Newsweek poll found that 26 percent thought he was raised as a Muslim (untrue), and 39 percent thought he grew up going to an Islamic school in Indonesia (also untrue).

I don’t remember where I read it, but I remember hearing that the number of people who think Obama’s a Muslim has actually gone up in recent months. And nothing seems able to get through to them.

The question I’ve been asking myself is why I’m having such a hard time dissuading my family of this and other absurdities. I suspect that there are two primary reasons, the first being that, due to my own ambivalence on Obama, most of the articles I’ve sent have been less pro-Obama than anti-McCain. Even though I’m not from the South, Newsweek’s Christopher Dickey provides a good example of my family’s thinking in his article on how the election is playing out in that region:

“…a 12-year-old… told me what he’d heard tell in school about the elections. Next to nothing about McCain. But Obama? ‘There are too many chances we would take if he became president, you know what I mean?’ I said I wasn’t sure I did. ‘I don’t know if it’s a myth or it’s true,’ said the boy, ‘but they say that they caught him trying to sneak Iraqi soldiers into the United States.'”

I could probably tell my family scary stuff about McCain until I’m blue in the face and it wouldn’t do any good, because it’s not really about him. They don’t necessarily like McCain all that much; they probably don’t even know where he stands on most issues. But in response to my arguments, I know what I’d hear if I talked to them about it in person: “Yeah… but we can’t afford to take a chance on Obama.”

In their defense, though, this attitude isn’t totally about race. My dad said pretty much the same thing in 2004 about John Kerry. “At least I know what to expect from Bush,” he said. I’ve noticed that politically many people, particularly old folks, are scared to death of change and therefore tend to go with the devil they know rather than the one they don’t. And I’m sure that goes double when the candidate in question is a black guy with a foreign name.

As to the second reason why I seem to be fighting a losing battle, I can’t help but wonder whether the messenger might have something to do with it. Especially with my dad, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the fact that I’m the one making these arguments might be undermining my case. “That silly naive kid, what the hell does he know? He only has a degree in political science, what makes him more credible than an unsourced chain email?” He’s never actually said that to me before, but I do regularly get some version of the “you’ll understand when you’re older” defense when he doesn’t have a rational response to something I said.

Let’s just say that it’s pretty frustrating arguing with them. I spend a fair amount of time and effort trying to put together rational arguments, and I get bullshit in return. It’s not that I think they’re stupid, or that I’m right at all times; the problem is that they’re definitely not intellectuals, nor are they very well informed. To paraphrase Bill Maher, 99% of their politics is how they feel about something from the get-go, from the gut, and if something I say conflicts with that, it tends to get disregarded.

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