During the run-up to the 1960 Presidential election, I remember walking home from kindergarten with my friends, chanting: “Nixon’s in the White House, waiting to be elected, Kennedy’s in the garbage can, waiting to be collected.”
When I got home and proudly recited this verse for my mom, she broke the news. “Your friends may be from families who vote Republican,” she told me. “But your dad and I won’t be voting for Nixon in November. We’ll be voting for Kennedy.”
Wait a minute—we were Democrats?
“What’s the difference between a Democrat and a Republican?” I asked my dad that night as he tucked me in.
“Democrats care about people,” he said. “Republicans care about money.”
I became a Democrat that day. Five decades later, I’m still a Democrat. As are all my friends and family. From the time my son was a baby, I always brought him into the voting booth with me. Tom grew up watching me vote the straight Democratic ticket.
Four years ago, my son brought the girl he loved home to meet his family. My sister and her family joined us for dinner that night. We were all sitting around the table, and, it being the run-up to the 2008 Presidential election, we were cheerfully trashing the Republican candidates, Republican politics, and the GOP in general.
I noticed that Amy has suddenly become rather quiet.
“Amy?” I asked. “Are you by any chance a Republican?”
I apologized. It hadn’t occurred to any of us that Amy could possibly be a Republican. She was dear and smart and crazy about my son. Of course she was a Democrat—weren’t all good people?
Tom’s father and I believed that we’d raised our son right. We encouraged Tom to be independent, to meet life’s challenges head on, and to think for himself. ”We trust your judgment” we told him often. We knew that we’d raised him not only with love, but with good values.
We never once said, “Don’t fall in love with a Republican.”
We didn’t think we had to.
Loving a Republican was the one thing our son could have done to profoundly shock both his parents.
As it turns out, Amy’s dad is a real right-winger. The kind of guy who dotes on Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. Amy adores her charismatic father. She was raised to be a Republican in the same way I was raised to be a Democrat. Like me, she not only accepted but embraced her father’s political outlook. It’s part of who she is. And Tom loves her that way.
A year ago, Tom and Amy were married. My friends assure me that after the two have been together for a while, Amy will, of course, see the light and become a Democrat.
“Isn’t it just as likely,” I respond, “that my son will start voting Republican?”
If I could wave a magic wand and turn my daughter-in-law into a Democrat, would I? It’s a tempting thought. But then she wouldn’t be Amy. It’s something I’ve struggled to wrap my head around: Could Amy be a great match for my son, not in spite of being a Republican, but because of it?
Welcoming Amy into the family, I’ve had to rethink a number of things I’d taken for granted. The political landscape is rather more complicated than the world Dad described when I was 5. There are good Republicans. (Amy!) And there are bad Democrats. (John Edwards!) When the Republican-bashing starts, I can no longer join in the way I used to. Now I love a Republican too.
This November, my daughter-in-law will vote for Mitt Romney. I think I can cope. But what if my son doesn’t vote for Obama? I’ll have to forgive him. After all, I care about Tom and Amy even more than I care about my identity as a Democrat. But that won’t stop me from cutting a generous check to the Obama campaign today. I care too much about the world that Tom and Amy’s kids will inherit not to.
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