Political season is in full swing. Which is crazy, since we're still 14 months out from the actual Presidential election in 2016. But with a crowded GOP field and an interesting fight shaping up for the Democrats, we're being inundated with political news.
I'm not here to talk about that. Well, not entirely.
Most who know me, know my history. My father was a US Senator from the state of Montana from 1989 to 2006. He was in the Senate during a time of much more statesmanship and camaraderie. He routinely had to work with his colleagues across the aisle. One of the people he would often meet with for mentoring and advice was Mike Mansfield, a near legend among democrats, and US Senator from 1953 to 1977, and also the longest serving US Senate Majority Leader from 1961 to 1977. On his arrival to DC in 1989, my dad contacted Mansfield and asked him to have coffee. Mansfield told Dad that he was the first member of the Senate from Montana to have contacted him for advice, Republican or Democrat.
My dad was raised in northwestern Missouri by 2 dyed in the wool Truman democrats. On hearing that Dad was running for the Senate as a republican, my grandmother refused to speak to him for months. He had spent time evaluating the parties and where they fit with his value system, and he just didn't find that he fit in with the Democrats at the time. As former Montana governor, Marc Racicot's dad said to him (on his deathbed) when Marc explained to his own change in party from Democrat to Republican, "Well that's a hell of a way to make a decision."
I was raised in a home where hard work and individualism were encouraged. I was raised in a church that taught me about grace and mercy and the joy of God's love and forgiveness. I was raised to be part of the community, to participate in the world around me. I was told that I could be whatever it was that I wanted, but that in order to do that, I would have to work hard. I was taught that I might have opportunities that give me a leg up, but that didn't mean that I deserved them and that I damn well should not waste them. I was raised to be responsible for my actions, to admit when I did the wrong thing, to try to improve myself and my community with my work and my choices. I was taught that people were individuals, not groups. I was taught that individuals deserved fair treatment, that they should be expected to be responsible, that with enough work and effort, anyone could be successful.
It wasn't perfect and neither is he. My dad was born in 1935 in a border state that is more southern than one might realize. He was old school: children were to be seen and not heard, women did house work and were expected to be the nurturing parent. He has said some racist or sexist things. I'm just trying to point out that he's human. But he had an ethos that, at the time, was embodied by the GOP: hard work helped everyone. Rewarding success rewarded everyone. Everyone had a chance to make it if they just put that nose to the grindstone. His parents did it. He did it. Why couldn't everyone else do it? How could he make it so everyone else could do it?
That being said, I grew up a Republican. I believed that it was a party that valued me as an individual. It valued my hard work and my attempts at self and community betterment. It rewarded gumption, so to speak. Since that time, I've grown up, married, had my own family. I made it through college and medical school with the help of state funded schools, parents who could contribute, scholarships, and student loans. I have no doubt in my mind that being the daughter of a sitting US Senator helped me get into medical school. I also have no doubt that it did nothing to help get me out.
I'm not saying all of those things just to say why I was a republican. Or why I left the party (see: divisive GW Bush policies, Sarah Palin, homophobia, racism, hatespeech, etc). I've made it pretty clear that the animosity and the hate expressed by the party drove me out several years ago.
I'm telling you all of this so you'll understand that I didn't just leave. I struggled with the party for years before I left. I struggled to change the culture of the party from the inside. I watched this political community where I felt so included in my youth start to warp and change, and I felt like Christine Todd Whitman in her book It's My Party, Too. Finally, I just had to break away. This was not the Goldwater conservative party my dad appreciated and taught me to appreciate. This was the religious right taking over and dismantling the social safety net for everyone who didn't look and pray like they did. It's pretty much the opposite of everything I stood for politically, everything I'd been raised to believe politically.
The problem now isn't that I have no political party home (I'm registered "unaffiliated"), it's that when I now express a political view that may not fall in line for people who think they know me, they often respond with "are you sure you're your father's daughter?" or "what side of the aisle was your dad on?"
Pardon my language, but fuck that noise.
I get it, we often grow up to favor our parents. "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree" as the old saying goes. Well, given my upbringing, I'm pretty sure that's true for me. I was raised by a guy who didn't just accept his parents' party. He explored the platforms of each and chose the one that most jived with his principles. Do I not get to do the same thing? There's no doubt that the Democrats are no longer the party of Truman, but why do people refuse to see that the Republicans are no longer the party of Goldwater? Or even Reagan?
More importantly, a response like that to my political opinions or beliefs belittles me. It demeans me. It sends the very clear message that I only am an extension of my father. It says that I don't get to have my own thoughts, my own ideas, my own beliefs. It says that I'm only seen as an extension or a mouthpiece for someone else. That someone else is a man, more specifically, my father.
I'm not the only child of a politician who has broken with her previous party: Barry Goldwater's granddaughter was at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Meghan McCain, John McCain's daughter, is famously independent.
Stop telling people with whose parents you might be familiar what they should or shouldn't believe or say. I get it, believe me, that often those views are reflected back to our parents, particularly if they are still in the public eye. However, each person has the right to her own belief systems, her own opinions, her own views. You don't have to agree with those ideas or views. You don't even have to respect them. But you do have to respect another's right to hold them. And stop minimizing other humans to be a reflection of someone else, especially their parent. It demonstrates that you aren't listening.
My parents raised me to think for myself. They raised me to try to be well informed. They raised me to be skeptical, to be thoughtful, to be graceful, to be my own person. My father is very much his own person. I guess the apple really doesn't fall far from the tree.