Why this old lady blogs

“Blog about a day in the life of an author,” a site on marketing books suggests. Okay. I get up, do a Sudoku, read the newspaper, go sit at my computer for several hours.

“Blog about the writing process,” another site recommends. Okay. I compose a sentence, go get a snack, return to my computer, delete the sentence, go to the bathroom, return to my computer, write another sentence.

“Avoid blogging about politics.” Oh-oh.

My new book, Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987), is due out soon. It’s time to promote it through blogging and tweeting, leave politics to the real pundits.

I doubt that I’ll be able to.

In 2007 I started blogging for the fun of it. I wrote about finding an old photo at a garage sale and having my Sunday afternoon nap interrupted by evangelizing teenagers.

Then came the 2008 election primary. Herman Cain, the pizza guy, promoted his 9-9-9-Plan. Michele Bachmann owned a Christian counseling center claiming to transform gay clients into heterosexuals. Rick Santorum, Senator-in-a-Sweater-Vest, promoted teaching intelligent design along with evolution in schools. I felt compelled to bring an older woman’s wisdom to the political discussion. A dose of common sense, I’d like to think.

In the current political climate, which is even more frightening than the 2008 Republican primary, I probably won’t write much that is unrelated to what our government is doing.

I am a grandmother. I am a woman who pays attention to what is happening beyond my home. I feel an urgency to be in conversation about the potential erosion of our democracy, the reality of global warming, the danger of a blustering, confrontational foreign policy, and the marginalization of groups because of race, religion, sexual orientation, or developmental difference.

I can’t be superficial. Neither, I guess, do I want readers who are.

Advertisements

Donald Trump, the Republicans’ idea of a strong leader

In the final assembly of ninth grade I received a leadership award. The recognition was probably based on my saying hi to everyone I passed in school hallways. After that, at each educational level, my understanding of effective leadership evolved. During my senior year of college the student government president was an intelligent young man of gentle spirit who had earned the trust of his peers. He didn’t thrust himself into the limelight but quietly carried out each task his role required. Later he was awarded a scholarship to Harvard for graduate studies and eventually became a superintendent of schools, a leader in his community. A strong leader, no doubt.

The New York Times (12/11/15) has reported, “More than four in 10 Republican primary voters say the quality most important to them in a candidate is strong leadership, and those voters heavily favor Mr. Trump.”

Which leaves me wondering about the qualities of leadership. Here’s my list: An effective leader is one who 1) serves a higher cause than self; 2) is trusted by the majority of the group to whom s/he is responsible; 3) has a deep understanding of the constituencies s/he serves; 4) doesn’t exert power over the group but empowers others; 5) demonstrates an openness to those of opposing viewpoints, with repeated efforts to draw them into the sphere of influence; 6) appeals to and calls upon the higher instincts of the group; and 7) can successfully navigate relationships with other groups/nations.

In recent months, as the country has faced one crisis after another, I’ve watched President Obama speak to the American public. His posture erect, with no grandiose swinging of the arms, he has shown his respect for the office of President, a cause, a position, greater than himself. His speeches, calming in tone, have not been self-serving; rather they have demonstrated his understanding of his responsibility to keep the country safe. He has chosen words carefully, not from a sense of “political correctness” but from a respect for the country’s various constituencies, including Muslims.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump tosses out words as if they are confetti, labeling an opponent as “weak,” intended to make Trump appear strong by contrast. His reactions are reflexive, rather than reflective. Bomb ‘em, keep ‘em out, execute ‘em.

May the American people choose women and men who will lead us with strength grounded in wisdom rather than fear.

 

Republican debates: for love of a good fight

My daughter’s adolescence gave me two insights into human behavior: we love a good fight, and in our weakest moments we go on the offensive. Both truths were clearly demonstrated in Wednesday evening’s Republican debate.

During our daughter’s middle school years the family lived in Southern California. Over her lunch hour, when gangs were sure to get into fights, she’d follow them around. She didn’t want to miss the excitement.

Americans like the drama of a good fight. From John Wayne westerns and Audie Murphy war stories to today’s crime shows and intergalactic battles, we find pleasure in watching the survival of the fittest. We bet on cock fights, boxing matches, football games.

Donald Trump’s no fool. Right away he set the campaign tone. Like the school yard bully he strutted around, tossing out insults. We’ve followed him, itching to see who’ll take him on. Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and Carly Fiorina seem up to the challenge. Interestingly, Ben Carson’s contrasting calm demeanor seems to be serving him well. Jeb Bush’s isn’t.

Sadly the media have been lured into the love of fight. Wednesday night Cruz rightly criticized the inane nature of the questions. He pointed out that the Democratic debate was different, attributing differences to the media giving the Democrats an easy ride. No, the CNN moderators were professionals. Rather than encourage a fight, they asked policy questions allowing candidates to show their differences. It was a debate for grown-ups. Republicans deserve the same kind of forum.

This brings me to my second observation about human behavior: in our weakest moments we go on the offensive. When our daughter knew she was in trouble, she’d attack us first: “How dare you wake up my friends’ parents in the middle of the night to ask if I was there.” “You are the worst parents…”

Wednesday, as soon as Cruz blamed “the mainstream media,” other candidates joined in, referring to “the liberal media.” This worked for Republicans in George W. Bush’s campaign. Cowed by accusations, journalists quit asking the difficult questions. This, in turn, has led many liberals to conclude that the press is conservative.

I’m not suggesting that Republicans bear sole responsibility for the direction their debates have taken. Rather that the public’s lust for blood and our tendency toward offensive posturing have brought us to this point. As far as the media is concerned, we’re getting what we want.

 

Nancy Werking Poling is author of Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman and Out of the Pumpkin Shell.

For those thinking it’s better not to vote at all than to cast an ignorant ballot

In 1986 I was a young working mother too overwhelmed by responsibility to keep up with politics. But I felt an obligation to vote. In the Illinois primary election I entered the booth knowing nothing about the candidates. Afterward, I discovered that out of ignorance I had cast my ballot for a man running for lieutenant governor whose extremist views were abhorrent to me. Fortunately, though he won in the primary, he lost in the general election.

Since the 2014 election doesn’t include a candidate for President, a lot of people haven’t been paying much attention to politics. They’re thinking, like one young woman I recently spoke with, “It’s better not to vote at all than to cast an ignorant ballot.”

Instead of choosing between not voting or casting an ignorant ballot, consider a third possibility: Take some shortcuts to getting the information you need for making an informed vote.

  1. Check the website of an organization whose opinion you trust. During election time many special interest groups post endorsements. If the environment is the issue that most concerns you, seek out the guidance of an organization such as the Sierra Club (http://content.sierraclub.org/voterguide/endorsements) or a local environmental group. If you’re particularly concerned about equal pay for equal work, check the National Women’s Political Caucus (http://www.nwpc.org/2014endorsements) or see if your area has a Women’s Chamber of Commerce. State Bar associations often evaluate candidates for judicial positions.
  2. Get a sample ballot ahead of time and fill it out. One is usually available online, at a party precinct office, or at the poll. Have your choices recorded on that ballot, so that all you have to do is transfer them. And yes, it is better to leave some blanks than make an uninformed guess.
  3. When you get to the voting booth, take along the sample ballot.

Whoever wins the 2014 elections will make laws related to the environment, the workplace, reproductive rights (accessibility to contraception as well as abortion), education, college loans, and immigration.

It’s your life—your future, your children’s future—that’s being determined. Vote.

Why the November election is important for young women, part 2

You’ve just changed jobs, and this one’s really demanding. You recently moved. Maybe you struggle just to get by financially: work, sleep, work, maybe socialize on weekends. A romantic breakup has you tied up emotionally. In any of these scenarios you feel too stressed out to give much thought to voting in November. And you certainly don’t want to cast an uninformed ballot.

But the November, 2014, elections are especially important to women. While we won’t be electing a President, we will elect women and men whose decisions impact our daily life.

Here are suggestions on how you can quickly find out which candidates best represent you:

1) Choose one or two issues that are most important to you: the environment, education, reproductive rights, income inequality, the national debt, immigration, racial justice, gay rights, taxes, health. There may be another issue that personally affects you.

2) Find out who’s running for office. You’ll need to know what district you’re in. votesmart.org is a helpful site, or Google your state’s name and “voting districts.”

Yes, there are a lot of positions to be filled, but don’t let yourself be overwhelmed. I suggest you pay particular attention to just five office holders: at the federal level, U.S. Senator and U.S. Representative from your district; in your state government, governor, your state senator, and your state representative. Your U.S. Senator has a six-year term so may not be running this year. Your governor might not be running either. In this case you only need to learn about candidates for three or four positions.

3) Now begin matching the issues you’re concerned about to the person. Again, votesmart.org is a helpful site, though it does seem to give the person currently holding the office more prominence. Also, it can be a little confusing in that it identifies individuals who already lost in primary elections.

4) Go to candidates’ websites. Check them out in social media, Facebook in particular.

5) Ask someone whose opinion you value who they’re voting for and why. Then go to the candidates’ websites to make sure their stance on issues agrees with yours.

Only a hundred years ago women fought hard for the right to vote. Some went to jail, many were publicly humiliated. (My grandmother was among the first generation of women to cast a ballot.) When they did finally get the right, many relied on their husband to tell them who to vote for.

As a woman today, you have more education and experience “out in the world.” You can decide for yourself who supports your values, what candidates will work to ensure the best future for you, your children, our country, and our world.

Don’t let a few individuals determine the future for you.

Politics—who cares?

I’ve been trying not to care. It just makes me worry, deprives me of sleep, interferes with writing fiction. Reading the newspaper and watching the news on TV make things worse.

In my stop-caring campaign, I remind myself that retirement benefits, while not allowing luxury, do provide my shelter, food, and clothing. So it doesn’t matter to me when funds are cut to food stamps and programs that feed the indigent. My older neighbors who lack basic necessities should go live with their kids. If young enough to work let them get a job like I did. (Forget that my parents sacrificed for my college education so I could earn an adequate income.)

I no longer need a job, so why should I care if minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and a single mother would have to work 15 hours a day/7 days a week to earn $40,000? It’s probably her fault she’s single anyway.

I have health insurance that supplements Medicare. If my back aches I call for a doctor’s appointment. Others in the country have no health insurance at all. Not my problem.

I’m white, registered to vote, and have a drivers license. The older lady down the street—her friend regularly drives her to the library, which does not require a birth certificate for a card. In fact she long ago misplaced hers. What do I care? She’d probably vote for candidates I don’t like anyway.

The planet’s getting warmer, bringing draught to farmlands, flooding to shorelines. By the time things get really bad I’ll be long gone.

So what if a woman at age 45, who already has three young adult children, gets pregnant and isn’t allowed, even upon her doctor’s recommendation, to have an abortion? I’m past child-bearing years. Her crisis has nothing to do with me.

Yes, I’ve been trying not to care about these things.

But in my Bible I read, “Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall hunger” (Luke 6:24-5).

And my grandchildren say “I love you” as they hug me. I want fresh air and water to be in their future. Adequate shelter, food, clothing. Freedom from debilitating illness and financial ruin. As I want for all children.

I dare not quit caring.

Reunions, politics, and a liberal arts education, OR how I came to respect Republican classmates

I didn’t particularly want to attend the fifty-year reunion of my college class. I’d have to compete with truckers for an eight-by-fifteen foot space on Interstate 81. I would miss several mornings of doing the Chicago Tribune Sudoku while eating my bran cereal. Most distasteful of all, I’d have to spend thirty-six hours with Republicans.

I reasoned that those who live near an institution are more likely to attend events such as a reunion. Since Bridgewater College is located in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, far from liberal urban centers of the state, the majority of those in attendance would probably be Republicans. Could I help maintain the peace by not talking about politics? Sometimes I can’t help myself.

At issue was my identity, the woman I’ve become in these intervening years, the things I care about. I care about the poor having food, heat in the winter, medical resources. I care about water safety, air safety, product safety, gun safety. I care about the rights of LGBTQ members of our society. These concerns, often labeled liberal values, are at the core of who I’ve become. I doubted I could suppress my political leanings for a whole weekend.

But I attended the event. I mostly held my tongue, asked people about their vocations, how many kids and grandkids they have, things like that. I listened for clues indicating openness to issues I consider important. Then I’d say something like, “I blog some, mostly political, sort of on the liberal side.” So it was that in small clusters we touched on topics of dissension but tread gently, respectfully.

The class of 1963 turned out to be a reasonable group.

I have a few clues as to why. We received a liberal arts education; that is, no matter our major, we were required to study science, math, literature, the social sciences, religion, and history. Many of us took electives in art and music. A paper in nearly every course and debates about issues in the various fields forced us to think critically. In his reunion profile statement one former student mentioned a philosophy teacher who “influenced my current and strong Socratic thinking.” We also learned to respect others’ opinions.

My classmates have traveled widely: Thailand, Japan, Peru, European countries. Perhaps that too explains the reasonable nature of our conversations: an openness that accompanies viewing the rich histories of other lands, witnessing firsthand how people of other cultures thrive and/or struggle.

I left the reunion trusting that members of the class of ’63—some conservative, some liberal in their views—have brought critical thinking skills they learned in college to the political process. Yes, we are reasonable people who have reached different conclusions.

But then we didn’t try to solve any of the country’s problems.