People who are aware that I used to be a registered Democrat often ask me if I’ve lost many friends once I became such an ardent Conservative. The truth is I don’t think I lost any. I suspect that most of them, including the most liberal, feel that I’ve been a tad eccentric all along, and that my political conversion is just one more thing they have chosen to overlook.
I’m sure that some of my chums think I’m a reactionary boor when I suggest that Ted Kennedy is proof positive that the good die young or that the Dixie Chicks look and sound like the kids from “Village of the Damned” grown up. But they seem to understand and accept that nobody’s perfect.
The most serious breach took place with my middle-aged niece, Susan. We had always gotten along well until I began writing about politics. She simply couldn’t bear to read my stuff. I guess her concern was that my right-wing rants suggested to her the very real possibility that there might be insanity in the family.
A couple of years ago, my wife and I drove up from L.A. while my niece and her family drove down from the Bay area to spend a weekend together in Carmel. Even though the 2004 election was looming on the horizon, Susan and I vowed to avoid discussing politics.
Once, when just he and I were walking back from the tennis court, her 12-year-old son reported that they’d held a mock election in his sixth grade classroom. Even though I knew that they lived in one of those chi-chi white wine and Brie communities north of San Francisco, I was a bit surprised when he reported that Kerry had garnered 27 votes, Nader got two, and Bush got only one. The lad proudly announced that he’d voted for Kerry. Big surprise! I told him that, political preference aside, I predicted big things for the kid who’d gone for Bush. When he asked why, I told him it proved he was willing to buck peer pressure and to spit, figuratively of course, in the teacher’s eye. (Heck, these days, you can’t even expect that kind of moxie in a college student almost twice that kid’s age.)
In any case, Susan and I managed to get through the entire weekend, neatly sidestepping all sorts of potential landmines, until a few minutes before our departure. We were all having a last cup of complimentary coffee in the hotel lobby. Because the place was owned by Doris Day, the walls were decorated with her movie posters. The one directly in front of my wife was for “The Winning Team,” the movie bio of Grover Cleveland Alexander, which happened to co-star Ms. Day and Ronald Reagan.
Because we live not too far away from the Reagan Museum and were very aware of the throngs that had been drawn to pay their respects to the recently deceased ex-president, my wife innocently mentioned what an impressive send-off he’d received from a grateful nation.
My niece replied, “Nothing more than President Carter will receive.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Before I’d even thought about it, I found myself saying, “Are you kidding? It’s bad enough that Carter was the worst president I can recall, with a legacy that includes ceding Iran to the Ayatollah Khomeini; bungling the hostage rescue; a 21% inflation rate and 10% unemployment; but, not one to rest on his laurels, he then became the worst ex-president in history.”
Between clenched teeth, my niece asked me what basis I had for that remark. I told her that, unlike every other ex-president, he hasn’t stopped meddling in foreign affairs since leaving office. What’s more, he accepted a Nobel Peace Prize even though the head of the awards committee admitted that it was intended as an insult to President Bush. Carter is so besotted with himself that he will go anywhere he can count on being treated royally, and it doesn’t matter in the least that those who love him the most are Castro, Chavez and anyone who hates Israel as much as he does. Speaking of which, he was Yasser Arafat’s greatest fan. He even insisted on attending Arafat’s funeral, not, like a normal person, to make certain the butcher was actually dead, but to pay his respects.”
In response to which, my niece informed me, “Jimmy Carter is a saint.”
Until that very moment, I had always thought that when people said that something had so astonished them that their jaw dropped to the floor it was just an expression. In my case, I had to get down on my knees and use both hands to pick it up.
All the way back to Los Angeles, I replayed the conversation in my head, and I finally came to the conclusion that there might very well be insanity in the family.