Sunday, September 28, 2008

The 19%

Bush's approval ratings are below 20% now. Like watching a fish out of water slowly gasping for oxygen, this worst of the worst administrations is finally making a not-so-glamorous exit.

Yet, incredibly, 19% of Americans polled still approve of this President, who got us into debt, war and economic crisis. Yeah yeah, I know you can't blame everything on him, but if you applied the same standards of a corporate CEO to the Presidency, one would say that the buck stops there. You'd think there would be a least a few substantial accomplishments that supporters could point out to support their support. "Spreading democracy" or "protecting us from terrorism" just don't cut it as accomplishments to me, especially with no specifics to back it up.

So, I find myself wondering about these 19% of die hards. What motivates them? How could they be so blind to the facts? Are they in denial? or just sadistic and cruel? Uninformed or with "issues" from childhood?

I used to be a die hard Democrat, voting party line above all else. I understand the process of identification with a party or a group so strongly that I feel accepted and a part of a whole.

Growing up gay in the South left me feeling so different, so isolated and so lonely in my formative years, I spent much of my twenties searching for a sense of belonging. It felt so good to walk into my first Carolina Gay Association meeting as a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill. Although it was a patchwork group of people, mostly leftover hippies, cultural bohemians and grad students in their 30's and 40's, I finally felt like I could be myself with these people even if I was 19, a redneck and a bit naive about the world still.

Going to my first gay bar, the Capital Corral (or CC's) in Raleigh (, was one of the most amazing experiences in my life. It still ranks up there in terms of life changing moments when I entered a room full of men who loved men. Watching men dancing together, holding hands and even sneaking kisses held for me an awakening of a spirit of community. I remember being so nervous and excited, I was shocked and awed that such a place existed.

My new found community carried both fascination and excitement. I wanted to go back over and over again. I wanted to experience that excitement and that freedom as much as possible. I could hardly concentrate on my classes or my homework, I just wanted more of that experience.

Everytime I went, I focused on what people were wearing, how they acted, what they talked about and learning the "gay" code language. Back then, it was all about "Mary" and switching pronouns, and "friend of Dorothy". I wanted to belong so badly, I adopted almost every mannerism I could find. I had been rejected by my fundamentalist family and church so I just couldn't risk rejection by my newfound friends. I was at CC's or the other club in Durham two, sometimes three nights a week dancing until dawn and hanging out with my new friends.

Reality hit me at the end of my freshman year. For the first time in my life, I failed a course at UNC and barely passed most of the rest. With a 1.4 GPA at the end of the year, I was staring at academic probation and the possibility of having to go back to my hometown and live with the parents. NOTHING could have been more frightening. After screaming out of the closet, I couldn't imagine sealing back up the suppression that it took to survive my gay teen years in that little town. I had to buckle down. I had to pull back a bit and learn to find some balance. I allowed myself to continue my social learning experiments, but I made myself study and I never looked back. It took me the rest of my college career to overcome that first year deficit and it created a somewhat more difficult and circuitous path to my career now as a psychologist. I entered my Master's program on probation, not because of my more than adequate GRE score, but because of my GPA. Although I started weak, I finished strong thank goodness.

So, I get the notion of holding on to what you have no matter what. I understand the desire to belong to a group that symbolizes the "right way" for you. I sympathize with the inner need to ignore the evidence to the contrary, to fiercely protect an alliance that fuels a sense of personal power and to suffer the consequences of that membership.

I just hope that the 19% who continue to believe that George W. Bush is on the right path don't have to fall too far. And I certainly hope that at some point, they can see the real truth of his disasterous Presidency so that we can make real change in the country. Hanging on to something beyond it's time has consequences.

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