This really happened: A new acquaintance looked me in the eye and said, “Are you a liberal?”
We’d gone out to dinner with some folks in a Tucson retirement community. She was a church friend of my sister-in-law. A conservative, she said. (I don’t know what gave me away. I think I look like most septuagenarian geezers in Fairbanks — bearded, dressed in Value Village casual. Maybe it was the Xtratufs in the Sonoran desert.)
“Sometimes,” I answered. “But other times I’m a staunch conservative: I’m a folk musician, for goodness sake!”
My mom always described herself as a conservative. She’d been raised as a teenager by a single mom during the Great Depression; my grandfather died when she was about 12. Those were not easy times. During World War II, she herself had been a single mom of sorts, raising an infant (me) while my dad was in the South Pacific getting shot at by Japanese teenagers. She’d had enough disruption in her life. She craved the stability conservatism promised.
For Mom, being a conservative was all about the Old Ways. She was a grammatical and orthographic tyrant. She believed people should pay their taxes and follow the Golden Rule. She believed that disruption is usually a bad idea. She heartily agreed with the ancient Mosaic laws about not lying to each other or stealing from each other or killing each other. She particularly favored the one about honoring thy mom.
But Mom had another side that always seemed a bit liberal to me. She was kind. She believed that we should love our neighbor. She had no fear of strangers; she welcomed the immigrant. Her maternal grandfather had been an immigrant from Austria. She believed that, in the richest country on Earth, no one should ever be homeless or go hungry or be refused medical care. She would never have condoned separating a child from her parents in the name of “national security.”
“Mom,” I would say, “for a conservative, some of your ideals sound suspiciously humane!”
I can still hear her Midwestern twang: “That’s just the thing, Knucklehead (Mom had a number of pet names for me, some saltier than others). I’m your mother: I get to be both ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ at the same time. Both concepts are useful, but they’re twins, not opposites. The conservative cautions the liberal to pay attention to the wisdom of the ages; the liberal reminds the conservative that change is inevitable.
“Listen, Bozo, what it all comes down to is spirit. Some people are mean-spirited and some are generous-spirited. All this stuff about ‘left wing’ and ‘right wing’ is just smoke.”
I had a nice chat with my new acquaintance. She turned out to be a retired social worker who spoke Spanish and showed considerable affection for the people whom she served on the Southern border. We talked at some length about our grandkids and how we hoped that the world would be a better place for them.
For some reason we never got into politics.
Lynn Basham lives in Fairbanks.