My Father, The Semi-Apathetic Former Democrat
It’s good to know where you stand, especially if you plan to stand there forever. My dad has lived half his life in the US and half in the UK, and his politics are pretty straightforward – when he gets it together to vote, he votes Democrat. He’s a “big fan” of Obama, but as an ex-pat and a guy chiefly preoccupied with cards and jazz, he hasn’t paid a great deal of attention to the 2012 US election campaign.
My dad is 71. He was born in San Francisco, and is registered to vote in California. He’s a professional bridge and poker player (you don’t have to declare gambling winnings in the UK, so he’s been much better off staying here). He was lecturing in English Lit at Berkeley when he decided to come to London for a sabbatical.
“The political situation was starting to get me down. There were riots on campus, and the kids were acting up, they broke a few windows, and they sent the fucking National Guard in, dropping pepper gas on my kids, and this is not conducive for beauty and truth as I saw it... So I came over here for the summer, and I said man it’s really neat here, it’s cultured and so on. So I schlepped over and I’ve been here ever since.”
He gets a UK pension and a US one, along with “some kind of disability. You know the song by Billy Joel, ‘Piano Man’? They ask how you are and put bread in your jar... that’s about how it is. They ask how I am and they give me the jam, I don’t know.”
Healthcare would be a major issue for him if he lived in the US. He was treated for cancer of the larynx four years ago and has another few months before he gets the all-clear. He’s also had two hip replacements. “Oh man, if you were to add up what the NHS has spent on me, it’s phenomenal.” He’s fortunate to live in one of the wealthiest boroughs in the country. Westminster is a better place than most to be sick. He considers US health insurance to be “absolutely unmanageable”.
He “prizes" his US citzenship, though he’s looked into getting dual citizenship and suggests I should do the same. It’s something I’ve thought about. I’ll look into it, then, shall I? “Are you kidding? This is my theory – when they push the button, which they eventually will do, the only place to be will be in some small town backwoods thing in the States, preferably California, but any old place – when they push the button, baby, that’s where you wanna be.”
I am touched by this parental concern for my well-being in the event of armageddon.
He thought the idea of voting in the first black president was “neat!” but he still needed a little nudging in 2008. It was the forms. He hates the forms. “[My first ex-wife] ragged me about it, she sent me all the forms, she filled them out. I signed it and sent it off. When you mention the word form, I become aphasic... I’m entitled for example to this free taxi service, but you have to fill out a form. I’ve lost my driver’s licence, for which I had to fill out a form...”
Just fill out the goddamn form. Fill it out! Actually, though, if you’re in Britain, you fill a form in. A crucial distinction. Anyway, he’s always been a Democrat. He deplores voter apathy, although he’s not above it himself.
“Americans are by nature pretty apathetic, but in recent years they’ve become ridiculous. To my mind, the last election, the most significantly political thing was the vast enfranchising that they had. I mean, everybody voted, 75, 80 percent [it was 64 percent, but with increased turnout from black and Hispanic voters], and I thought that was very very rewarding.”
He hasn’t been following the campaign, and doesn’t know much about Mitt Romney. “He’d be a suitable guy,” he shrugs. I’m nonplussed by this watery assessment, as I had expected to be treated to some exotic new permutations of the notion of the asshole. Hey ho.
How much does he really care about what’s happening in the country of his birth these days? “I suppose I care in a sense about the political and mainly economic pulse of things as they’re going, because as the States goes, so goes more or less everybody else... The other concerns are things like... I’m very worried about the oppression and the paranoia which I feel has come in. We’ve had it before, during the Vietnam war. It’s periodical. It’s a very fine line between trampling on people’s rights and looking out after [yourself], and the States, well everybody really leans more towards the oppressive, and I worry about that constantly.”
It should be noted that at this point we’re swimming against a tide of house wine, self-absorption and general transatlantic ignorance. But there’s still hope. I prod him again about voting. If I had a vote in this election, I’d vote against Romney even if I felt I couldn’t wholeheartedly vote for Obama. I wouldn’t not vote. You’re not planning to vote?
“No. But I don’t think he’s a shoo-in this time. That sort of encourages me to move my ass.”
He read about Obama’s recent lacklustre debate performance and thinks it could hurt his chances. “He fluffed it... it might be a harbinger of a lessening of energy or something. If you go down to vote and you’re a little dubious, you might reflect back to this. It’s not a big effect but it’s disappointing.”
Do you think your vote counts?
“I do think it counts.... it’s a firmly held belief, to fight injustice anywhere is to fight injustice everywhere. I should exercise it. Other things get in the way, but theoretically I firmly believe this is an inalienable right and it should be exercised...”
So if I helped you with the forms you’d vote?
I’ll look into it, then, shall I.