Like you do.
Got an e-mail from someone who’s apparently been reading my archives to figure out my political views. It was a hostile e-mail, but at the heart of the e-mail is a legitimate question, which I will paraphrase as such:
You say you’re politically independent but you vote like a Democrat. Why don’t you just admit you’re a Democrat?
The answer is: Well, because I’m not.
Three points here:
1. Being a Democrat, in the most obvious sense, would mean being a member of the Democratic Party here in the United States. I am not a member of the Democratic Party currently, nor have I ever been, unless you count the five minutes in 2008 when I checked the “Democrat” checkbox so I could vote in the the 2008 Ohio presidential primary. By that standard I may have been a member of the Republican Party as well at one point, since I believe I voted in a GOP primary once in Virginia (I can’t remember if that required a statement about my party; suffice to say I think closed primaries are silly). From the first time I could vote, I have registered as an independent.
Reasons for this: One, on a practical level, it cuts way the hell down on the amount of political junk mail I get. I find most political mailings obnoxious and insulting to my intelligence, not to mention a waste of trees, so the less that I have to see, the better. Two, on a philosophical level, I think political parties are a bit of a menace. I don’t know if I would actually be happier with our political system if political parties didn’t exist and all political candidates had to fend for themselves without a national organization riding herd on them, but I do know that I would be willing to live in the universe where that was the case, to see how it worked out.
2. I don’t have a party, but I do have political views. If I lived in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England or most of what used to be called Western Europe, those political views would probably get me tagged as a member of the major local conservative party. Here in the US, they currently align most frequently with the Democratic party, our ostensibly “liberal” major political party. But 40 years ago, they probably would have gotten me tagged as a moderate Republican. This to my mind suggests there is wisdom in not aligning with actual political parties, and instead establishing one’s own political ideals and then finding which candidates most closely align with the one ideals, and political goals.
3. I have (and do) vote for political candidates other than Democrats, and don’t automatically vote for Democratic candidates. I’ve noted before that when I lived in Virginia’s 10th District, I regularly voted for Frank Wolf, a conservative Republican; he had many positions I didn’t like (including his abortion stance) but he also was the head of the House’s Transportation committee (i.e., nice smooth roads in Northern Virginia), had a principled stance on human rights, and even his positions that I opposed were based on his moral and philosophical beliefs rather than mere political expediency. In the end the positives for me outweighed the negatives, and I could vote for him over his opponents in each cycle.
Here in OH-8, I’ve not voted for John Boehner, but there have been times when I didn’t vote for his Democratic opponent, either, because I didn’t like their positions, or thought that the advantages of giving him my vote would outweigh the advantages of keep Boehner, who is, after all, Speaker of the House, and was House Minority Leader prior to that (this election cycle there’s no Democrat running against Boehner, so I don’t have the option of voting for a Democrat in any event). Beyond that, in state and local elections, I’ve voted for Republicans candidates in most election cycles, when I believed that they were the most qualified candidates for that position and/or that they were running for a post where the more nutty aspects of the current Republican Party orthodoxy would not be a problem.
So, to recap: Philosophically aligned against political parties in a general sense, never registered for any political party, which party my personal politics align with depends on geography and temporality in any event, and I’ve never voted a straight ticket in my life, so far as I know. So there you are.
This is not to say, mind you, that I am neutral as regards my opinions on the US political parties are they are currently ideologically and practically constituted; I don’t think it’ll be a huge surprise to anyone that I am not at all a fan of the Republican Party in its most recent iteration. I would be delighted for the party to swing back toward people who have foundations based in a coherent political philosophy, rather than “whatever Obama is for, I am against, and rich people can do no wrong ever,” which is what it seems to boil down to these days for the GOP. The Democratic Party is no prize, but it’s at the very least not nearly as far down the slope of truculent irrationality. “Not as truculently irrational,” however, is not a sterling inducement for me to join the Democratic Party. Or any party, to be honest about it.
Several years ago, author Lara Zielin took a trip to watch tornadoes. She was expecting storms, and she got them. Just not the ones she was expecting. Here she is to explain how that fateful, stormy trip relates to her latest book, The Waiting Sky.
I’ve told people part of what inspired The Waiting Sky —but not all of it. I booked a tornado chase in 2004, I tell them, to see amazing weather and crazy storms. I paid an experienced guide to get me close to extreme weather, spending hours and hours on the road with strangers in the process. All of us were folded into a stale-smelling van, waiting until the moment the sky opened and the twister descended.
Only that never happened. Our group never saw an actual bona fide tornado. Some bad weather, sure. Never a twister, though.
But all that time on the road, all those miles between storms—that provided the inspiration for my main character, Jane, who leaves her alcoholic mom in Minnesota to chase tornadoes with her brother, a Ph.D. student studying meteorology at the University of Oklahoma. Jane winds up having to face her own internal storms, thanks to all the quiet moments storm chasing ironically provides. I mean, what else are you going to do besides look inside at your messed up life when you’re crossing from Kansas into Oklahoma?
What I’ve neglected to say in every version of this story—until now—is what storm I had to face when I went to Tornado Alley. Because, you see, none of us storm chasers are really chasing literal storms. Not in my experience, anyway. All of us are running from something. All of us are looking for chaos in the clouds because better it’s there than in our own lives.
If I’m honest, I’ll tell you that I was running from an unhappy marriage.
I was married right out of college to a good guy, a decent, hard-working guy, who just wasn’t…THE guy. And this truth—this unavoidable storm of honesty—descended on me in Tornado Alley. I think, when I went on that chase by myself in 2004, I still thought things were fine, just fine. I’m a Midwesterner, after all, and we are prone to impractical optimism.
And I probably could have eschewed the truth that I was unhappy—daily, hour after hour, week after week—if it wasn’t for Bradley. His name has been changed to protect…something. The last shred of dignity you have before you fall for someone in Tornado Alley, perhaps.
Because I did fall. Hard. Bradley was British and attractive and rich and, would you even believe it, into me. ME. The overweight, Midwestern, married girl who was on this trip alone—no friends, no husband, no tethers to the things that keep us from thinking that romances forged among storms last.
Bradley was the thing that made me realize that I went someplace hoping to see what would happen when the world was turned topsy-turvey—when twisters rip through barns and tear up hay fields—and found out instead that everything was already upside down. I was already in a tornado. I was already spinning. Bradley just made me see how far over the rainbow I’d already come.
When the chase ended, I knew I had to click my ruby-red slippers together and get home. However, suddenly I didn’t really want to go back. Because if I did, then I knew I had to bring the storm with me. Which is scary for about six thousand reasons. Does any woman want to go back to her normal, mundane life after admitting feeling insane attraction for someone who isn’t her husband?
But I did it. Except, I went back and created an EF-5-sized tornado of my own. I acknowledged how completely unhappy I was. I forced myself to admit that the magnetic attraction I felt for Bradley was less about him and more about me being desperate to find someone who would just—I don’t know, think I was cool or something. When was the last time my spouse and I had thought the other was a badass? Not in a long while, that’s for sure.
Not that this is a quick, easy thing, mind you. It took a while. And all that time, storms brewed and faded across the plains. Other chase teams caught tornadoes. They took pictures and posted them to websites. Me, I was chasing the most dangerous storm of my life and I had no pictures to show for it. No viral videos. Just lonely nights sleeping beside someone I no longer really knew.
So, look. This was my storm—and I found it because I went to go see funnel clouds and instead I encountered stillness. The quiet miles between storms forced me to really acknowledge what was going on in my life, as messed up as it was. Storms are funny things that way. My protagonist in The Waiting Sky goes through something similar. Though, if you ask me, you don’t need a tornado chase to acknowledge what’s really eating at you, what’s really tearing up your cornfields and ripping the siding off your house. Everyone has storms. It’s whether you face them that matters.