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Ex-political Junkie in OS Rehab

June 26, 2010

When I started blogging a few months ago, I swore on a stack of Bibles (well OK, old New Yorkers) that I would never write about politics. And here I am. I make excuses, like this has material from my memoir. True.  That it’s meta-political blogging. Still doesn’t make it OK.

You see, I have a problem. I’m addicted to politics. It’s bad for me, my family, and friends.  And there’s no 12-step program to help. Hey, where the harm in a couple of sips…

Political addiction goes back at least several generations in my family. My Grandfather on my mother’s side was a scientist at Johns Hopkins, who my parents never tired of telling me “saved millions of lives” by helping invent sulfa drugs. Away from his lab he was a profoundly shy man who cowered in a deep leather armchair safe from his fearsome wife.  The only time I remember him ever speaking was one day when I found him out of his chair, crouched in front of a big old radio, shouting at it. I was surprised that his voice was so strong, and horrified yet amused to find him arguing with the guy on the radio.

My mother continued what she’d learned watching how her mother treated her father. She cowed my father to silence until he, who was even more prominent than my grandfather, also sat mute in his chair in a pitiful reenactment of his father-in-law’s role.

My parents agreed on nothing. Except politics. They had been Roosevelt Democrats, then Kennedy Democrats. The happiest times I ever saw them have was when they sat glued to the TV during Watergate, shouting with enraged glee at each new revelation about Nixon and crew. It was the final proof they needed for what they’d believed all along:  Republicans were actually horned, fire breathing devils.

What they were doing only became apparent to me much later. In a family where expressions of emotion came out at most in strangled whispers and sidelong glares, politics was the one safe arena to express what we felt. And in my family, most of what we felt was anger.

I learned well from observing this growing up. By the ‘80s I’d picked up my father’s habit of buying the Times every morning and scanning the headlines for red meat to get me going.  I was living in New Hampshire at the time, and by circumstance had to make the long drive across snowy Rt. 9 to Albany once a week. I was often drowsy on the way home. The only radio station I could get had at that time of day a fellow named Rush who wasn’t yet famous.  I told myself I was just keeping myself awake, or that I was “checking on the opposition.” But really I was just stoking my rage. And I found that the radio was stronger medicine than the newspaper.

I didn’t start mainlining until a few years later, when the internet got cranked up. Now I could navigate instantly to sites that confirmed my views, that had sifted through the mass of stories to put the juiciest slices of red meat on my plate every morning.  And if I wanted, I could perform my “opposition research,” visiting neighborhoods even seedier than Rush’s AIB Network. Circles of hell like the fever swamp of Free Republic.

I offered the poisoned fruits of my labor to family and friends, my voice rising to a shout as I’d learned from my parents and grandfather. Though they shared my political views, they didn’t want to play. First it was, “You know, I don’t think all that junk is good for you.” Soon they were changing the subject, and finally leaving the room or hanging up the phone.

When I started blogging, I knew there would be links between my blogs and my website, which licenses music to clients with a wide range of political views. It would not do for me to be googled and found foaming at the mouth about politics. That was the initial impulse behind my moratorium on political blogging.  But a funny thing happened.

As I acquainted myself with Open Salon, I found myself more attracted to people’s life stories than to their views on politics. As I started forming partnerships with other music bloggers over at my wordpress blog, I found myself not only reading their stuff, but discovering great musicians I’d been unaware of. All this took up a lot of time, the time I’d once spent over at Talking Points Memo, or Balloon Juice.

Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t totally put my head in the sand. I know there’s an awful oil spill, and that a lot of people are outraged that Obama hasn’t gone down there, free-dived down 500 feet to plug the spill with his bare hands or that magic wand we elected him to wield. I know that just yesterday a number of pundits were saying that if he didn’t fire General what’s-his-name, his Presidency was over, he might as well just resign. With the next breath these same guys said that if he did fire him, the same thing would happen. Wonder how they would feel if their boss came into the studio and said, “If you don’t say something right now, you’re fired. If you do, you’re still fired.” But there I go again, and honestly what can I do about any of this foolishness, aside from vote, which last time I checked is months away. Speaking of which, yes, I know the coming elections are going to be a bloodbath (unless they aren’t). Republicans are going to sweep Congress, impeach Obama, start unrolling the barbwire on their own re-education camps, and with my long hair they’ll come for me first. But just as the coward dies a million deaths and the hero but one, there’s no need to suffer this calamity over and over before it even happens, if it ever does.

If Republicans do sweep congress, and then take the Presidency, I will be keeping the occasional eye out to make sure the Talabangical sex police aren’t snooping in the bedroom, that an army of triumphant teabaggers aren’t marching down my road to brag that they don’t pay any taxes now that they’re in power.

But for the moment, through sheer luck, I’ve lost my taste for my daily fix of outrage. Blogging is also addictive, but it’s harmless, like methadone to the heroin of hard-core political lurking. In fact this is better than methadone. I’m no longer destroying my mood and that of those around me, one rant at a time, but am creating writing, nourishing myself and others’ creations, part of a community.

But John Lennon said it all, long ago:  “You say you want a revolution, you better change your mind instead.”


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