November 19

Christmas Ambush

I was doing my regular weekly grocery shopping in my regular superstore. My list in one hand, my phone in the other, I was walking my usual route from the grocery side to the department store side because, of course, all the shampoo and aspirin is nowhere near the apples and Pop-Tarts. I was checking my list against my calendar on my phone, making sure I had all the necessaries for this week’s upcoming events, not even paying attention to where I was going because it was a Thursday morning, and I know exactly where I was going as usual.

I looked up from my list.

My heart began to pound.

I felt dizzy and slightly nauseous.

I thought I might pass out.

I had stumbled into the Christmas section.

Oh.

My.

God.

Really? Already? Why does it always start so EARLY? It’s not Thanksgiving yet, doggone it! Why do we have to pole-vault over my favorite holiday, the best holiday, the least controversial, most inclusive, most relaxing holiday and skip right to Christmas, the most hectic, fraught, restricted, disappointing holiday on the calendar.

Yet there it was in its gaudy, green-and-gold glory – the Christmas section, complete with trees, ornaments, wrapping paper, stockings, toys, candy, snowmen, reindeer, Santa Claus, and the sweet baby Jesus.

Sigh.

As a Christian, I know I should love Christmas, but I seem to like it less and less every year. My fellow Christians insist on dragging out the moth-eaten “War on Christmas” and flogging it for all its worth. (What is it worth anyway? Ugh.)

Our family’s December calendar is already completely full. My family will be running from one event to the next, feeling guilty because we are late, or worse, had to turn down an invitation or two to attend the other three or four that weekend. There’s cooking, shopping, wrapping, and mailing to do. Not to mention all the family traditions we’ve accumulated through the years that are now more obligations than anything else.

Most of the activities I would like to do – the Cantata at the local Catholic church, the performance of “White Christmas” at the community theater, cozy nights by the fire – will be neglected because we’ll be so busy running to events, getting items checked off the to-do list, trying not to quash anyone’s Christmas wishes.

And then there is the rush of sheer panic I feel whenever I think of all the STUFF we’ll be bringing into our home. My children are the only grandchildren on both sides of the family; my parents, my in-laws and my sister insist on buying them stuff they can unwrap. They don’t need anything, of course, and my son would actually be much happier with digital media. My husband and I certainly don’t need anything, but we will get things. And we will have to find places for this stuff in a house already overrun with stuff. I can’t help thinking that, in five years when my son starts college, I will be quite bitter about all the money wasted on stuff he didn’t need when we could’ve saved it for his tuition.

So I have been feeling very Grinch-y these past few days, wishing there were a way to just skip “this whole Christmas thing,” and knowing, of course, it will come “just the same.”

Until then, though, I’m going to look forward to Thanksgiving, refuse to shop that day or Black Friday, and try to come up with a strategy for converting to Judaism.

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October 20

My Colts-Manning-Irsay Rant

Just for a moment, let’s pretend that football is about human beings. Not teams, logos, merchandise, playbooks, win-loss records or MONEY.

The game is about PEOPLE. Players, coaches, staff, owners, and fans.

I’d like to introduce you to three human characters. First, the exiled veteran. A talented leader, smart and well-spoken, he has led his team to many victories and won the hearts of his fellow citizens.

Second, the new kid in town. The young man has potential; the people are becoming attached to him, though he’s a little awkward and inconsistent. He is an innocent bystander to the unfolding drama.

Third, the emperor. He has all the power and all the money. When he wants something from the people, he tells them his empire is theirs, but in the end, he makes whatever decisions he likes. Having inherited his empire from a father who also held no loyalty for the citizens, he makes it clear that his word is law, even though he has never gone to war himself.

For many years the veteran brought joy to the empire. As he got older, though, he was unable to recover from his injuries as quickly, and the emperor grew impatient. He threw the veteran out of the empire and recruited the new kid. The new kid is doing fine, and the citizens are learning to love him, but many remember the veteran. They have followed him in his new kingdom; they wish him well.

And now the day has come for the veteran to return to his old stomping ground.

Peyton Manning has returned to Indianapolis.

The citizens are divided, but the emperor’s position is unquestionable. Jim Irsay, true to form, opened his big mouth to ungratefully pronounce that Manning was let go because he won only one Super Bowl. Irsay is a prat.

Manning extended the Colts’ seasons 11 of 14 years.

He took us to two Super Bowls.

He turned Indianapolis into a viable football market.

He gave us a representative we could be proud of in all those goofy TV commercials and Youtube videos and on Saturday Night Live.

He gave back to the community through his foundation and the children’s hospital which bears his name.

Obviously, none of that matters to Jim Irsay who loves hearing himself talk almost as much as he loves lining his pockets with the money of Indianapolis taxpayers and Colts fans. For him, it’s all about the ring. Guess he values that more than all the dollars that we paid for tickets to those Manning-earned playoff games.

And the new kid is stuck in the middle. Poor Andrew Luck has huge shoes to fill. Maybe he will. Who knows? But I’ll tell you that if some Time Traveler returned from the future and told me that Andrew Luck will win eventually one of two Super Bowls with the Colts, I’d be thrilled. Sounds great!

Of course, no one knows the future. Maybe Luck will never even get to a Super Bowl. Maybe he’ll take the Colts to three and lose them all. Maybe he’ll go to five and win them all. Know what? We can only enjoy them one at a time, and the fact that Manning won one for us still makes me happy and proud. I will never be disappointed that we didn’t get more out of him. In fact, I hope he gets more Super Bowl victories.

Yep. My hope this year is that Manning wins the Super Bowl with his new team. If he can achieve an undefeated season at the same time, good for him. He’s a great guy. I’m grateful for what he did for my team and my city.

And I’d love to watch Jim Irsay writhe.

Does it make me a bad Colts fan if I’m okay with a loss tonight? I’m not a violent person, but I might hit you if you questioned my loyalty. I’ve been a Colts fan since they moved to Indy when I was 12 years old. I watched the Mayflower trucks roll into town. I remember the NFL sportscasters freaking out over the move, bashing Bob Irsay for being disloyal to Baltimore. I remember the Baltimore mayor almost crying on the national news. I remember Mayor Hudnut proudly shaking hands with Irsay on local TV. I remember an Indy business sold t-shirts that read, “Indianapolis Orioles.” (It was funny at the time.)

I survived multiple losing seasons, the Jeff George debacle, the heartbreaker loss to the Steelers in the ’96 playoffs, a succession of coaches and running backs. I still have my Harbaugh jersey.

Don’t question my loyalty to the Colts.

But if the Colts lose tonight, Irsay loses. Manning wins. On a human level, that makes me happy. No matter what jersey he’s wearing, Manning deserves a win, and Irsay does not. I will be disappointed for the Colts and for Andrew Luck, who deserves a chance to earn the city’s love. Irsay is making that harder for him. If Irsay wants the people of Indianapolis to stop hating on him for cutting #18 (not to mention #63, #44 and other beloved players in that one shattering move), he should take a tip from class act Manning and keep his mouth shut.

Win or lose, Denver or Indianapolis, Manning or Irsay, tonight around midnight this game will be over. The teams will finish their respective seasons. Manning will likely play in the NFL for a couple more years. Luck could play for a decade or more. And God forgive me, but if Irsay’s bad habits catch up him before his Colts win another Super Bowl, I’d be okay with that too.

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August 17

Matthew 26:52

I have arachnophobia. Spiders scare me to death. They are ugly, creepy, crawly things that can sneak into your bed at night and lay eggs in your ear. GAH! I hate them. Of course, I live with them every day. I live on this planet, and this planet has lots of spiders, and theres nothing I can do about it. And anyway, they eat a lot of insects that are far more threatening than the spiders themselves. So theyve got that going for them. I always try to emphasize that point with my daughter when shes confronted by one of the eight-legged monsters. Shes inherited my phobia, but I try very hard not to set a bad example for her. If the spiders inside, I kill it with as calm a demeanor as possible. Outside, I encourage the kids to leave it alone. Its not hurting you, I tell them. Leave it alone.

I also have a gun phobia. Guns scare me to death. They are ugly, metallic things that can take a life in an instant. GAH! I hate them. Of course, I live with them every day. I live in the United States, and this country has LOTS of guns, and theres nothing I can do about it. Anyway, they do provide some food for people who actually hunt for food and not just sport. So theyve got that going for them. I always try to remind myself of that when Im confronted by one of the killing machines. My kids have not inherited my phobia, and I try not to let them see the panic I feel when a gun is near me. Its not hurting you, I tell myself. Leave it alone.

But there are some big differences between spiders and guns that you just cant deny. First, spiders have NEVER hurt me. Ive lived 40 years without having a dangerous spider bite or eggs in my ear. Guns, on the other hand, have cost me four friends and a great-grandfather. Ive also seen four students deal with tragic gun violence. Spiders are a natural phenomenon; guns are man-made. Spiders kill about two people per year worldwide. Guns killed over 30,000 people in the United States alone in one year (CDC, 2007). And 2012 looks like its gearing up to be a red-letter year for gun violence too.

Almost every single day this summer, Ive opened up my online home page to see at least one shooting in the headlines: Aurora, the Sikh temple in Louisiana, 3 people shot near Texas A&M, a local boy suspected of robbery killed by a felon. Just one day, Id like to open up that page without seeing a headline about another American, or group thereof, getting killed by a gun.

This morning, the story was about two police officers killed in Louisiana. No motive yet, but the first officer was shot while he was just directing traffic. The most recent reader comment? Fat, stupid cops got what they deserved. Lets see them oppress people now. I felt nauseous. I bet that commenter has a whole arsenal. (The comments been taken down by Yahoo!.)

Despite my personal experiences and visceral reaction to guns, I know and love many gun owners. One of my husbands friends has many guns. They go shooting together at various ranges. My best friends husband is an avid hunter with many guns. Hes a great guy. They are both responsible gun owners, and I dont want to take their guns from them.

Even my two children own guns.

My heart just started pounding in my chest from simply typing that sentence. Yep. BB guns. The children of the woman who wouldnt even allow a toy gun into her house for the first two years of her sons life: both of these kids have their own BB guns. My son has had his for a couple years. Christmas present from Santa. Cant you just picture it? It was just like A Christmas Story, with me playing the part of the very nervous mom, repeating Youll shoot your eye out!

My daughter got hers the other day. Surprise! Evidently, Daddy okayed this purchase without asking me. So I managed to paste a smile on my face and just didnt watch while my 7-year-old (the gun box has a big warning that its for 10 years and older) shot the heck out of a cardboard box with her cute little pink gun. I tried to be a good sport, but by the end of the day, Id completely lost it. My husband and I were in a late-night argument that wound up being almost comically nonsensical, with him spouting a bunch of scientific mumbo-jumbo about technology and war and me crying and blubbering about my friends whod committed suicide or been victims of gun homicide.

And it struck me that our argument was representative of how arguments about guns typically go in this country: both sides screaming logical fallacies at cross purposes. So now that Im calmer, Im going to try to look at some of the points I hear a lot.

1. Guns keep us safer: Anecdotally, I could argue that while Ive seen LOTS of news stories about people being murdered or accidentally killed by guns, I rarely see any stories in which a victim has successfully defended himself with a gun. You could argue thats a media bias and that Im extrapolating; however, several studies by the Brady Center and the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery indicate that people who own guns are MORE likely to be injured or killed by a gun. Im also offended by the implication that follows this argument: if you get shot and youre not carrying a gun to defend yourself, youre partly responsible for your own violent death. I heard this crap a lot after the Aurora shooting: Wasnt anyone in there carrying concealed? Why didnt they take this guy down? Three of the victims were military or ex-military. They were trained in combat, and in that dark theater, taken by surprise by a gunman in Kevlar who had thrown a tear gas grenade, these military veterans realized the best thing to do was hit the ground and try to get their loved ones out of harms way. Even if theyd been carrying weapons, theyd likely have done the same. It was dark, crowded, confusing, and the gunman had body armor. Idiots who throw out this helpful argument in discussing Aurora should be handed a paint gun, unsuspectingly thrown in a dark room, tear gassed, and pelted with paint until they hit someone given a Plexiglas shield. Good luck.

2. Guns are our Constitutional right: Yes. “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. As an English teacher, I LOVE the introductory dependent clause here. The WHY comes before the WHAT. Our forefathers believed their citizens should have the ability to rise up against foreign or domestic enemies and protect themselves. A quaint, 18-century notion nowadays. I suppose guns might be useful if Mexico or Canada launches a ground assault. Other than that, privately owned guns arent going to protect Americans from ANY kind of organized invasion, nor will they protect us if we elect a totalitarian regime. (Yeah, yeah, insert snide We already have! here. Then go read a history book about REAL dictatorships.) I mentioned the other day that we have over 300 million guns in our country, enough to arm every American man, woman and child. My father-in-law kept insisting Its not enough! Enough for what? Enough to protect us from foreign powers with fighter jets and missiles? Enough to protect us from our own government which has more nuclear weapons than every other nation on the planet combined? Did the victims of 9/11 fail to protect themselves from the terrorist-hijacked passenger jets because the people in the Twin Towers weren’t carrying enough guns? Guns dont seem very effective against real enemies. I dont deny its our Constitutional right to own them, but why in Jesus name, do we need SO MANY?!

3. If we make guns illegal, only criminals will have guns: This is a logical fallacy, and not worth my time. Most advocates of gun regulation (including me) do NOT want to make all guns illegal. It might be nice, however, to have some restrictions in place so we dont have schizophrenics purchasing AR-15 rifles with 100-round magazines over the internet. Anyway, its just, for want of a better term, a pissing contest. I have a 22. Well, you have a 45. Okay, then, Ill buy a Glock. So you buy an AR-15. And on and on it goes. And in the end, its just chance anyway. When the time comes, whos got the bigger gun, the faster gun, the element of surprise, the better reflexes, the Kevlar, the cover, the training, the better “killer instinct?”

4. Guns are the only thing standing between us and a government dictatorship: Really? Tell that to the Venezuelans. They own plenty of guns, but they still have to put up with Chavez. He has more guns and bigger guns and more troops who know how to handle guns. (See #2.) Youve got 25 guns in your house to protect you and yours? Well, the governments got a lot more than that, dude. And if you do something stupid or if the government decides to put us under military rule, your little arsenal wont make an iota of difference.

Ive already said too much. And none of it matters because this is America land of the free, home of the armed. Its still just the Wild West with fewer horses and more computers.

But I mean it when I say, I dont want to take your guns. Believe me, I dont want them. Its your right to have them. And its my right to hate them.

And I will pray for you. Pray that you dont have a nervous breakdown one day and kill yourself like my great-grandfather and my friends, Carl and Jerry. Pray that your collection never gets stolen and used by a bunch of gang bangers to kill an innocent bystander. Pray that you NEVER go out and party and have one too many and forget to put your gun away so your kid finds it and accidentally kills his little brother with it like my students nephew did. Pray that your teenager never sneaks out and then wakes you up sneaking back in so that you think hes a burglar and shoot him like another students dad did.

My husband says humanity advances through war and violence; guns are part of our technological advancement. Yes. We have killing each other down to a science. We can kill each other by moving one finger. We can kill each other from yards away. We can kill each other without even touching each other. Without even thinking. Thats our right.

God help us.

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June 26

An Open Letter to Child Abusers, One in Particular

I grew up as the daughter of an abused child. My grandfather, and his father before that, were the villains of our family. I grew up recognizing the symptoms of child abuse in my mother, and I learned how to handle their manifestations which often shocked or overwhelmed people who were not familiar with them. When I was about 9, I watched my mother yank a truck driver out of the cab of his semi. He had been speeding, tail-gating and menacing us on the road, and his threatening behavior flipped the little switch in my mother’s brain which had developed after years of abuse. Her rational brain shut off; she was on auto-pilot, reacting solely to what she perceived as a bully using his position to frighten and endanger her and her children. When she came to a stop sign, she got out of the car, stalked back to his truck and hauled him out. He practically fell on top of her as she was screaming at him. Luckily for her, he was a small man, and he was so taken aback by her fury, he just stammered something about her being “crazy,” scrambled back into his cab and sped away.

Despite her occasional scary outbursts, my mom never abused me or my sister. She was one of those amazing victims who was able to stop the cycle of violence, and for that, she will always be a hero to me. But I did have to learn to watch for “the signs” that the switch was about to flip. In any situation where she saw bullying, where someone bigger and stronger was threatening someone smaller and weaker, particularly if the bully was a man, and the victim was a woman, child or animal, I could see my mom’s back stiffen, her jaw would set, and something would come into her eyes that eventually became familiar to me, although I cannot name it. On more than one occasion, I have had to physically restrain her from going after a complete stranger who was behaving badly.

That’s my mom. She’s the champion of the little guy, and I love that about her, but it can be frightening. On a handful of occasions, she’s turned that fury on people she loved, though never in a violent way. Years of tangling with my grandfather – a very intelligent, ex-military, professional boxer – have turned my mom into a formidable fighter. She can argue with you for days! She will pull out all the stops too. If she feels threatened, that switch will flip, and you’re in for a long, nasty haul. As I said, I can recognize the signs and avoid the marathon arguments. Growing up with my mom taught me some very useful things about adult victims of child abuse.

Which brings me to the real reason for writing this blog entry. In 1996, I met the man who would become my husband. An ex-boyfriend of mine called me up and said he wanted to introduce me to his new roommate, Sean. (Yes, I know it’s unusual – I had a pattern of breaking up with guys without alienating them.) I walked into their quintessential bachelor pad – all high-end wi-fi stereo, big screen TV, video game systems, wires everywhere, a few mismatched sticks of ancient furniture, empty pizza boxes and beer cans and overflowing ash trays. My guy was standing in the middle of the room with an electric guitar slung around his shoulders and a lit cigarette tucked between the strings at the top of the guitar. It was love at first sight.

More than that, though, we were a perfect match, if there is such a thing. Partly because Sean is an adult victim of child abuse like my mom. I’ve always said that God sent him to me because there aren’t many women in the world who have been raised by an abused parent without having been abused themselves. Sean could not have married an abused person; he could not have married someone without the learned strategies for dealing with the symptoms. It had to be someone like me. Someone who had the knowledge without the baggage.

So let me tell you about that baggage. Like my mother, Sean has a switch. On a few occasions, I’ve had to restrain him from going after strangers as well. In fact, on one family vacation, I was sitting between my mom and my husband when a little girl came flying out of the restaurant in whose terrace we were dining. The little girl was about 3 or 4, and she was crying frantically. A split-second behind her came her mother, who looked like hell on wheels. She was furiously stalking her child out into the plaza, and when she caught up with her, she yanked that little girl right out of her shoes. Sean and Mom were on their feet in an instant, and I was clinging to their arms when the little girl’s father came to rescue his daughter from his overwrought wife.

Another odd and annoying bit of baggage from abuse has to do with food. Like my mom, Sean has myriad food “issues.” His abusive stepmother made chicken a lot. So chicken is a problem. If you’re a cook, you recognize what a major complication that is. Sean and my mom are both incredibly picky eaters. My 9-year-old is easier to cook for than either of them. I read an article that indicated many victims of child abuse have eating disorders because of the control factor. What they put into their mouths is one of the few things an abused child can control. They use it as a defensive weapon just as abusers will use it to punish them. Sean won’t eat peach-flavored foods, stewed tomatoes, cooked carrots and several other foods that he associates with his abuser.

Then there is the hypochondria. I read an article about this too. Abused children often develop it as a defense mechanism because many abusers will not be as violent if they believe their victim is already weakened from another source. I guess it takes the fun out of hitting the child. Nice, huh? Well, that hypochondria doesn’t go away when the child grows up and escapes the abuse. If you ask my mom or my husband how they’re feeling, they’ll give you a laundry list of ailments; their hair is falling out, their right earlobes are sore, their pancreas is twitchy, and their left toenails are loose – stuff like that. I try to be patient with that because sometimes, I swear I can see the 9-year-old version of my husband in his eyes when he is whining about not feeling good, and I remember that it’s not a character flaw. It’s a defense mechanism.

And that brings me to the elephant in the room, the person I have seen only once for about 5 seconds from a distance in the dark. The person I would most like to believe is reading this blog, but she won’t – my husband’s ex-step-mother. My letter to her:

Mrs. Whatever-Your-Last-Name-Is-Now (since you can’t get a husband to stay with you for long),

I’ve been dealing with the consequences of your cruelty for several years longer than you actually had the victim in your power. I believe your abuse of my husband lasted about seven years; I’ve been with him for over 14.

If you’ve actually read the preceding paragraphs, you can see some of the results of your abuse. In addition to having a hair-trigger reaction to bullies, difficult food phobias, and mild hypochondria, my husband is an agnostic. It’s a tribute to his logical mind and strength of character that he’s not a simple atheist. I understand that one of your excuses for beating him was that you believed God wanted you to, but you were such a devout Christian, such an active church member, such a religious woman, no one would believe Sean’s stories. You told him he was evil and deserved the beatings you inflicted. Did you know that little boy used to pray every night, begging God to make him good so you’d stop hitting him? And when God didn’t answer in the way Sean expected, Sean decided He probably didn’t exist. Thanks for that, lady. I’m working every day to undo that bit of damage. Occasionally, I’ll feel like I’m making a tiny bit of progress, then Sean will hear Pat Robertson or some other televangelist make some ridiculously unkind pronouncement against an unfortunate bunch of people who obviously deserve their pain, and we’re right back. In those cases, he always mentions you. And when Sarah Palin was running for Vice President, he was reminded of you because of her illogical, holier-than-thou demeanor. I have to run interference, trying to live as a better example of a loving, forgiving CHRISTian than you or those other angry, paranoid posers so that Sean will perhaps, one day, forgive God for leaving him in your clutches for so long.

For all those reasons, your existence is often cursed in our home – by me, by my husband, sometimes even by our son, who is now old enough to understand the damage you did. In fact, your name is a code word in our family for “villain.” You are THE evil stepmother, the ogre, the wicked witch of all our bedtime stories. To speak your name, however, is to cast a pall over our home, so we don’t say it often. You’re the “Voldemort” of our family.

Yet, Sean, like my mom, is such a remarkable individual that he has chosen not to continue the cycle of abuse. He never touches our children in anger; he gets upset with me if I occasionally swat their behinds. Spanking is not a punishment in our home. He is a magnificent father, in spite of you. His children adore him. I know you cannot say the same of your children.

Sean has a great life. He has a good job that pays enough for me to work only part-time so I can stay home with our young kids. He has some terrific friends who think he’s brilliant and fun. He has two beautiful, healthy, smart, well-behaved children who think he hung the moon just for them. And he’s got me, his wife of 12 years. I believe that’s longer than any of your marriages have lasted, and we’re still going strong. I think he’s amazing. He’s a genius, did you know that? He’s smarter than I am, and I’m a National Merit Scholar, a college lecturer with 3 degrees, a published author. Sean blows me away intellectually. His family and friends continue to be impressed by his intelligence.

He’s kind too. Like the other men in the Mahoney family, he loves animals and has some weird cat attraction that brings every feline within a mile radius to our door. Like my mom, he won’t let any harm come to an animal or child if he can help it. His kindness is accompanied by bravery; for that reason, he’s the type of person bullies fear. Maybe that’s why my grandfather kept his distance on the three occasions he met Sean.

Sean has an amazing gift for sizing people up. He will meet someone new, and later in the evening, I’ll ask him, “What do you think of So-and-So?” And I always take his judgment to heart because he is always right. The people for whom he gets a bad first impression inevitably turn out to be unworthy of our friendship. If he doesn’t trust someone, we keep our children away them. Needless to say, you will never come near Sean’s kids.

Together, we have created the kind of rich life you can only envy from afar because people like you cannot manage it. We have a nice house full of love and laughter and happy memories. We take crazy family vacations to wonderful places like Disney World, the Black Hills, the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon. We drive for hours together, and we enjoy each others’ company.

So the damage you inflicted on Sean, the damage my deceased grandfather inflicted on my mom, and the damage so many other abusers inflict on their victims has some lasting, annoying side effects. But the smart victims, the strong victims, the lucky victims get the last laugh. They get to choose the rest of their lives. I have been blessed to witness the lives of my husband and my mom, two remarkable people who are so much better than you, it seems a shame they have to share the same planet with you. You will never be as loved as they are.

May God have mercy on your twisted soul.

Jennifer Price Mahoney

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April 15

Gangsters, Guns, God and the GOP

I have to admit it: the Tea Party knows how to get attention.

It certainly has mine. They scare me to death!

I’ve been listening to their rhetoric since long before they “organized,” and it has always creeped me out. See, I’m surrounded by right-wing conservatives. I live in Indiana. My parents are Republicans, and many of their friends are even more right-leaning than they are. They are all concerned that I no longer share their views. They are certain I’ve been brain-washed, although by whom, they aren’t sure. Probably all those academic elitists I work with at the university, even though I actually started moving away from the GOP when I was working for a very conservative financial services company. Anyway, to counteract the scary liberal influences that have drawn me from the path of righteousness, they send me e-mails, talk down to me as directed by Ann Coulter and shake their heads at my responses.

I’ve shared a few of these e-mails on this blog before, but I don’t think I’ve ever documented the ridiculous phone “conversation” I had with a friend of my mother. I was at my parents’ house, and the phone rang. I picked it up and said hello. When my mom’s friend realized it was me, she proceeded to spend the next several minutes explaining to me that Hillary Clinton was a lesbian, Barack Obama was a secret Muslim terrorist, and all the media outlets except Fox are run by Muslims. Oh, and Obama is the anti-Christ. I called my mother to the phone.

So now, my mom’s crazy friend and thousands of other older, white, middle-class folks like her have put together these “tea parties.” Just the name annoys me. I have lovely little tea parties with my 4-year-old where we dress up and use my good wedding china and eat tiny sandwiches and drink tea. It’s very civilized and sweet. Nothing about today’s tea parties is civilized or sweet. I know that they are trying to make some vague connection to the Boston Tea Party of 1773, but their logic is not working for me.

The 1773 Boston Tea Party was a demonstration against an imperial power. The colonists were unhappy that the king, a monarch who was not elected by anyone, was taxing them from across an ocean without their having any representation in the British Parliament. Their rallying cry was “No Taxation Without Representation!” Well, aside from the fact that today’s Tea Partiers do not live in a colony ruled by a remote monarchy, there is also the problem that the taxes to which they are opposed were passed by duly elected representatives. This is taxation WITH representation. (Although, to be honest, I haven’t actually seen any of these taxes yet.)
But they don’t like it. They say THEY didn’t vote for the people passing these laws, so they haven’t been represented. Newsflash, Tea Party folk: just because it’s a representative democracy, doesn’t mean your side always wins. Thank goodness.

So they gather in public squares and parks and scream inflammatory rhetoric about God and guns and gangsters (“Tea Party Rally Upbraids ‘Gangster’ Government,” Associated Press, 4/15/10). “I’m clinging to my guns, my religion and my ammunition,” exclaims one Republican candidate at a recent protest. Really? God and guns? I’m sorry, but I must’ve missed that part of the New Testament where Jesus advocated violent overthrow of the Roman occupiers. Or where he told his followers NOT to pay taxes. What I remember is: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.” Which sounds a lot to me like: “Pay your taxes and quit complaining. You can’t take it with you to Heaven anyway!”

Tea Partiers insist they aren’t violent or extreme; they’re just good Christian Americans upholding their rights. Patrolling the perimeters of tea party rallies in camouflage, carrying AK-47s to defend the protest against “the left-wing nut jobs out there” (“Tea Party Rally Upbraids ‘Gangster’ Government,” Associated Press, 4/15/10). I’m sorry, who are the gangsters again?

These people frighten me because they are inordinately, illogically angry. And they have guns. Big guns that they like to wave in people’s faces. Not a good combination.

It doesn’t make sense that they are this angry NOW. If they really are upset about the federal debt, why didn’t they love Clinton? Why didn’t they demonstrate against George W. Bush who took Clinton’s $236 billion surplus and turned it into a trillion-dollar deficit by playing fast and loose with the accounting for the Iraq War.

If they’re angry about gun rights, why take it out on Obama who has not proposed a single gun control bill?

If they’re angry about their Constitutional rights, why didn’t have a hissy fit over Bush’s warrantless wiretapping or suspension of habeas corpus?

What really changed to make them so angry? Well, I’m just judging from my own experience with these folks, and that is a dangerous thing to do. Extrapolating from your own narrow experience can often lead to logical fallacies. Stupid stuff like: “It’s snowing here in Cincinnati in March, so global warming is a hoax.” So reader, beware, the following is just my opinion, but here are the changes I see.
First, the recession. I could blame it on George W. Bush or the Republican Congress, but it’s more complicated than that, and its causes don’t really matter here. It happened, and the recession changed a lot of things. It made people unhappy and anxious.

Second, the Democratic Congress. Most of the Tea Partiers are current or former GOP voters. They don’t trust Democrats in Congress, even if they haven’t done much with their power. A Democratic Congress makes these people upset.

Third, a Democratic president. Most of the Tea Partiers did not vote for Barack Obama. These people lost the election. They did not share our joy when he walked into Millennium Park on election night. Losing makes most people angry.

Finally, a black president. There’s just no getting around it. The first African-American president is a big change for our nation, and a lot of people are furious about it. Now you can make some pie-in-the-sky argument about how his race has nothing to do with the anger of the Tea Partiers, but before you do, take a look at Stormfront.org. If you’re not familiar with this group, consider yourself lucky. They are a white supremacist group that happens to own the domain rights to martinlutherking.org, a website I have used for years when teaching my students about information literacy and the dangers of believing everything you read on the Internet. Obviously, Stormfront hates President Obama. But they have of other things in common with the Tea Party – love of guns, distrust of the government in general, hatred of taxes.

Now my conservative and libertarian friends hate it when this race issue comes up, but the fact remains: I have yet to see a black person at a Tea Party rally. Show me three. Not just one token, but three separate people of color at a Tea Party function. Then maybe I’ll be less anxious about this situation.

According to one Tea Party activist, “”We don’t want to be misrepresented, whether it’s by someone who is not part of the group and has their own agenda, or whether it’s by some fringe extremist who may actually be a racist” (“Tea Party Leaders Anxious About Extremists,” Associated Press, 4/15/10). So the Tea Partiers are anxious? Good. I have a bit of advice for them: “Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation” – George Washington.

If your message appeals to racists and militias and crazy fringe groups, maybe the problem is the message itself. Stop using this frightening rhetoric. Stop waving your guns around. Stop threatening our duly elected officials and throwing rocks through their windows like a bunch of Nazi brownshirts during Kristellnacht (“Former militiaman unapologetic for calls to vandalize offices over healthcare,” Washington Post, 3/25/10). Engage in the democratic process established by the founding fathers you claim to revere. Follow their example. Go ahead. But not just by hanging tea bags to your hats and calling yourselves “modern Sons of Liberty.” Be really brave and engage in the dialogue. Civilly. And preferably, without an AK-47.

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