Well I just got back from voting. Super Tuesday. A big deal.
I live in a voting district so politically lopsided that only candidates from one party (and not mine) run for national and state office. Usually my vote is so irrelevant that I have been known to write in “Anyone But…” on more than one occasion. So, as depressing as this political season has been, I felt a little twinge of excitement knowing that for a change my vote will actually matter.
I asked Ralph if he’d like to vote. After all, he listens to Public Radio every morning and watches the news every night. At various times he has declared Candidate X is definitely his candidate, or sometimes Candidate Y until I remind him he is for Candidate X (whom I am backing). He has laughed at stupid campaign ads and made astute comments about various candidates’ stupid statements. He has always voted.
Ralph said no, he didn’t feel like voting today. Then he asked what the issue was. I said the presidential primary. He still wasn’t interested.
His answer depressed me incredibly. In so many ways politics has defined our relationship from the start and now it is defining us in a different way.
When we met in the early 1970s, as the Nixon presidency and the Vietnam War were both unraveling, our romance centered on our shared political values. Or rather me sharing Ralph’s. We worked in the alternative press, and Ralph was passionate about his views. I remember sitting beside him on a couch as he went on and on about some theory or other while all I wanted was for him to shut up and kiss me.
Cut to the 1980s. Married with kids, and arguing a lot—a lot!!—mostly about decision-making; I found him controlling and he found me unsupportive. What we did not argue about was politics. We were both part of the small minority that voted for John Anderson in 1980 (although I had to look on the Internet just now to remember his name) and we both thought Reagan was not all there (little did we know, ironically enough). Our political agreement was important; I told myself that I could never be married to someone if I didn’t share his political beliefs
In the 1990s came the big shift. We moved to the country (another big argument that lasted for years) and midway through Clinton’s second term Ralph began to call himself a libertarian. “I’m not a Republican. I am Libertarian,” became his mantra. He was as passionate as a Libertarian as he had been when he was a socialist. I did not become a Libertarian, however, and was no longer susceptible to being swayed by any man.
In the first year of the new century, politics turned out to be a wonderful vehicle for arguments. We couldn’t watch the news together without fireworks, and the family dinner table became the set for great shouting matches, as our kids will attest. We railed against each other about taxes and the Mideast (although we still agreed on most social issues). Of course, under the political veneer our arguments were often about unspoken personal grudges and resentments we each nursed.
And now here we are in the most heated political atmosphere imaginable, and Ralph has gone lukewarm. He wants to be interested I think because he asks me frequently, “Who’s running again?” He cannot keep any of the candidates straight, although that may have more to do their deficiencies than with any cognitive deficiency on Ralph’s part.
The thing is, he would have voted today for whomever I suggested. While he listens to the news nonstop, very little of it sticks with him. This is not only a matter of memory. In part, his attention is turned more inward, but also he has a certainly mental hesitancy as if he doesn’t trust his own instincts. As a result I can easily convince him to agree with me, not only about the candidates, but also about any analysis of world events.
He now listens to me rail the way I used to listen when he railed. I admit I don’t mind being having an enthralled audience of one. I like being agreed with. I like being the one spouting righteous certainties. But this strange reversal is more bitter than sweet.