During Watergate and up until President Richard Nixon’s resignation from office in 1974, my mother was crazy. Really. She was obsessed with every detail of the scandal and talked of nothing else. Her hatred of Nixon was palpable. And this is the crazy part: It was also visible. She made a voodoo doll of Nixon and everyday stuck pins in different body parts as she lit candles and murmured incantations she made up on the spot.
I admit that I thought it was over the top, even for my mother who was known for skirting the edge of sanity. She could be like a dog with a bone once she got an idea in her head. I first noticed this obsessive quality about her when we were kids and she spent lots of time in the principal’s office of our schools complaining about teachers and methods and rules or the lack of them all.
But then she began tilting toward a more dangerous kind of fixation, the kind that got Nixon in trouble, the kind that’s probably defined somewhere in the DSM. When she felt she was being abused in a business deal with friends of the family, all hell broke loose. There were rambling letters and “secret” meetings with a lawyer. She thought the phones were tapped. She suspected someone was intercepting the mail.
With Nixon, though, it wasn’t just the voodoo doll that made her crazy; it was her consuming hate. It was scary. There was a ferocity with which she thrust needles into the doll that seemed to me even then (I was a high school student) a tad out of proportion.
I follow national politics, read the news. I stopped watching television news when we cut our cable service as a cost saving measure when I left my job three years ago and wasn’t able to find another. I consider myself a responsible citizen, vote when I’m given the opportunity, and pay my taxes. And, yes, over the years I’ve gotten myself heated up over some political rhetoric, issue, or candidate. I’ve disagreed with a President or two. And I’ve done my share of protesting. I put signs in my front yard and stickers on my car declaring to anyone who cares to know what my position is on a candidate or issue.
But that’s about as far as it’s gone. Until the debt ceiling debacle. In the past few weeks I’ve found myself screaming at the radio and hurtling invectives at politicians (in the privacy of my home or car – windows rolled up). I’m enraged by the arrogance of the Speaker of the House, the tunnel vision of the Tea Partiers, and the general herd mentality of Republicans in and out of public office. I teach a couple of classes in a middle and high school and on a bad day those kids have a lot more discipline and maturity than anyone in Congress, and a better grasp of what should be done about the country’s debt.
But my frustration with the Republican handling of the debt ceiling issue and the cut-versus-tax dichotomy has spurred me to action. I’ve been making calls, leaving messages with the Speaker of House and my state representatives telling them what I think. I mention things like conceit and self-righteousness. I say I don’t like being held hostage by a Republican Congress that is more interested in face time on Fox News (how can I know – I don’t even watch the program?) than in getting anything substantive done to actually help the country. I put the numbers on speed dial.
I didn’t see this as obsessive.
And then after President Obama’s speech the other night and Speaker Boehner’s response, I grabbed my computer and started sending emails. Even when internet servers were overloaded and I couldn’t get through, I just kept hitting the refresh button until sometime before dawn when I was finally able to tell the Speaker what I thought. Then I started sending other emails to my representatives. When that didn’t seem satisfying, I just went down the list of every Republican Senator and Representative. I tried to keep my letters relatively civil. No bad language. I didn’t want whatever Congressional drone reads these things to dismiss what I had to say. I make good points. I did notice, however, that I like to put certain words all in capitals (COMPROMISE, YOU FOOL) and I didn’t spare the exclamation point. It seems the only way to show the depth of my emotion!!
The “send a message” email form usually asks if you’d like a response. I dare you, I say through gritted teeth, as I punch the “yes” box. Then, bang! I hit the send button. Hit is the operative word here.
No one has written back.
At some point during this tirade I caught a glimpse of myself reflected in my computer screen and it was a little scary. I was wild-eyed, my jaw rigid and face set in a menacing scowl. I had seen that look before. It was my mother during her Watergate years! All I needed was a cigarette hanging from my lips.
So maybe my mother wasn’t so loony after all. Or maybe I’m just as crazy. After all, as my husband likes to remind me, the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree.
But I think I do understand my mother’s frustration in a way that I hadn’t before. I understand the lack of control over what’s happening in our world, our lives, even while we know that control is illusory.
I walked into the kitchen for another cup of coffee, and there – and this is true -- hanging on the wall by the sink is a voodoo doll my husband and I bought many years ago as a souvenir from a trip to New Orleans. It’s been there so long I’ve stopped seeing it. For just a second I considered taking it down and trying my mother’s method of political action. It seemed to work for her. Nixon did resign.
But then I thought better of it. There is a difference between sticking pins in a voodoo doll (even if we all agree that it's only symbolic) and writing a letter of complaint. And besides, my rage need would need more than one doll.