Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Family Feud

Intense race weekend time with my extended family. I won't delve into the emotional particulars (saving all that for my "Running with Scissors"-type book), but let's just say it gets jagged and drains you. Still, there were some bright creative moments and exchanges, and of course the obligatory late-night political squabble.

Not everyone in my family follows political events or world news, but those who do hold pretty strong opinions. For the most part, my family leans right, with a few centrist exceptions. Then there's my Aunt & Uncle who were and I suppose remain somewhat liberal. I haven't explored their every belief. But I do recall growing up with this general impression, which was reinforced by a photo they used to display on their mantle.

My Uncle attended Brown University in the late-60s (he was also the football team's QB) when anti-Vietnam War campus protest was at its height. At his 1969 graduation ceremony, Brown awarded Henry Kissinger an honorary degree. This inspired three-quarters of the graduating class and some faculty to rise and turn their backs to Kissinger, who at the time was soaked in the blood of Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians and Americans. I believe my Aunt snapped the photo of this protest, which for me was an early political inspiration.

Well, time does strange things to people, and today my Aunt & Uncle are staunchly pro-Bush and pro-Iraq War. And they seem to revel in this. When they arrived at the family BBQ on Sun, each wore a Bush/Cheney ballcap, knowing full well that this would be provocative not only to me, but to my father and his wife, who are against Bush's war aims.

I rolled my eyes, made a slight crack and left it at that. I was enjoying a bottle of fine Chilean Merlot, a very rich, creamy brand, nearly Cabernet but not quite, and was in no mood to argue the obvious. Hours passed, night fell, and as some of my relatives began chewing the backyard grass and howling at the stars, I moved to the front of the house where several of my cousins and their mother were discussing a variety of topics. My pro-Bush Aunt joined us, and soon the conversation turned to gay marriage, which my Aunt supports. I asked her how she reconciled this view with her pro-Bush stance, given the admin's utter hostility to same-sex rights. She replied that she didn't agree with everything Bush did, which is fair enough, but then she segued from this directly into Iraq. And then it was on.

Regular readers of this blog can imagine what my line of attack was, so there's no need to recount it. But what struck me about my Aunt's argument was her almost mystical belief that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was undertaken for democratic reasons. She's not alone in this, of course, but she is a lot smarter than many of those who buy the "freedom" line. And that's what killed me and angered me. My Aunt went on about how things were "getting better" in Iraq, that while Bush made many "mistakes," he was generally on the right track, and so on. Absolute liberal fantasy. I countered with a review of the West's regional designs on the Middle East, quoting intel-officials and the like, but none of this mattered. My Aunt's convinced that this bloody, criminal occupation is inspired by the highest ideals, and as seasoned debaters know, you can't dent ideals with facts.

Finally, one of my drunken relatives stumbled into the room and began bellowing about how Bush is a fascist killer, etc. I strongly doubt he knew what he was talking about, but I took his entrance as my exit cue and suggested that my Aunt debate him.

I went outside to get some sweet summer air. Lit a small fat cigar one of my cousins gave me and pondered the exchange. I was more upset than I expected to be, perhaps because my Aunt once represented something different to me. I thought back to that old photo and wondered what the point of it was now. Those liberals who supported the Vietnam War made many of the same arguments that my Aunt was making about Iraq. And while this war is a much different (and potentially far deadlier) imperial exercise, the domestic justifications for the US to pound and rob other countries remain unchanged.

At the end of the party, my Aunt and I embraced and kissed. I do love her, but as I said to her before she left, "You're so smart. Why?" She smiled and said something about the value of differences. Tragic thing is, she's in lockstep with those who despise that very concept.