I was raised in a very conservative family in a very conservative part of Virginia, a place where there still isn’t a strip club within at least 100 miles but there’s a church on almost every corner. This is old Dixiecrat country, not far from the snake handling and moonshine country that covers both sides of the Virginia/West Virginia state line. Kudzu vines cover old mom and pop gas stations that were put out of business by Wal-Mart at least a decade ago.
There are very few decent jobs here unless you work for the state or were lucky enough to get a management position at one of the local factories. Teen pregnancy, poverty and meth labs are the norm, not the exception. The factory jobs which allowed for single income households just a couple of decades back–they’re just a distant memory now.
But if you ask what went wrong, most people won’t blame corporations and the endless search for cheap and unregulated labor. They’ll point their calloused fingers at liberals, labor unions, immigrants, regulations and the government. They’ll blame just about anything other than the companies and their lobbyists who moved the jobs to China or somewhere else they could get away with paying a few cents an hour.
I watched the family owned hardware stores shutter up and the weeds grow through the cracks of the textile mill parking lots. The few factory jobs that were left, they usually started just north of the minimum wage and we were told we should be happy to have that.
All this time, I voted Republican and worked on state and national campaigns for them from an early age. After all, it was the way I was raised. We were told that Democrats had sold us out, that they were for the illegals who were “stealing” our jobs, that they were “fag lovers” and perverts who were out to indoctrinate kids and take away our guns. The “re-education camps” and black helicopters conspiracy rhetoric you hear from the lunatic fringe today? It’s nothing new, it comes out with a new spin and a fresh coat of paint every time a Republican isn’t in office.
I’m not sure when the switch flipped–when I chose the red pill over the blue pill, so to speak. I do know one major factor was the cutthroat tactics used by the Bush camp in 2000 to shoot down the McCain campaign. Another was the jingoistic, drum-beating way we were sucked into Iraq post-9/11, or the “Freedom Fries” gimmick, or the time I had my vehicle vandalized for having an anti-Bush sticker on it, and the list goes on.
The thing is, to be a member of the GOP base, you have to be afraid. Afraid of minorities having the same rights as you, worried that some government boogeyman is going to come and take your shotgun away or force your child into gay marriage.
As I got older, I found that everything and everyone I was supposed to be afraid of wasn’t a threat at all. I lived in a 99% poor, black community, worked 2 or 3 jobs to make it in college and realized I had more in common with the people the GOP liked to demonize, instead of the GOP itself.
I believe a real tipping point was the Iraq War. Watching your military friends come back suffering from PTSD (one killed himself) from a needless war we were lied into, that’s a hard thing to deal with.
These days, I’m registered NPA (No Party Affiliation). I don’t like any party to think they can automatically count on me for a vote in an election. Usually, my vote goes for a Democrat, so long as they’re a good choice. Democrats aren’t perfect in my book, not by a long shot, but their policies tend to work for me a lot better.
I’ll sometimes cringe when people like Harry Reid or Joe Biden say something dumb. I voted for President Obama both times and he has disappointed me on some things, but all I need to do is turn on Rush Limbaugh or Fox News to remember why I’ll never again be a member of the Republican Party.
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