You see, when you lean left in the South, there are several standard follow-up questions to practically every political conversation you have. As an example, here is my best recollection of a conversation I had with a very nice lady a year ago:
“So. Did you grow up around here?” she asked.
“Yes ma’am, born and raised in Walker County,” I told her.
“I see. Well, uh, are your parents real liberal then?”
“Not really. My mom is actually quite conservative. She even used to help cook at the Walker County Republican Party’s annual fish fry.”
The lady kept this perplexed look on her face until I finally smiled and said, “It can happen to even the best of families.”
I had a good laugh at both of the conversations, but, eventually, I started thinking seriously about the subject.
Becoming a liberal, whether it is viewed as a taking-the-red-pill type of epiphany or seen as some disease caught in a women’s studies course, is thought of by both sides as something foreign.
I’m sure it’s the same story in more progressive areas, too.
Actor Stephen Baldwin shared an anecdote on the Tonight Show that I love to repeat to anyone who will listen.
Stephen, who at the time had just started voicing his right-leaning ideas, told Jay Leno a story about his brother, Alec Baldwin.
He said Alec brought up a political topic during a family gathering and, after a short rant, told him something like “I know you will disagree with me because you’ve all the sudden turned into a conservative.”
Stephen told the audience that he replied to his brother, “I’m not a conservative.”
Stephen then performed a dead-on impersonation of his brother, who looked at him with a tinge of disgust and grumbled, “We all know you’re a conservative sympathizer.”
I can’t help but think that the alienation both Stephen Baldwin feels in Hollywood and liberals feel in the South is due in large part to what media researchers call the Spiral of Silence.
The theory is simple: Fearing isolation, people will not voice an opinion that opposes the majority. Then the belief only becomes more marginalized as fewer people speak out and the majority becomes larger and more voracious.
On Monday, I was lucky enough to hear Birmingham News columnist John Archibald speak at the East Walker Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet.
Overall, it seemed like the crowd enjoyed his speech. He poked fun at Larry Langford, the Jefferson County bankruptcy fiasco and talked about his time covering Walker County for the News.
When he focused his wit on the Republican party, however, the room grew uncomfortably quiet.
“They want to put the church in the state and the state into women’s underwear,” he said, waiting for the laughter.
Or at least it was silent until a handful of people started cackling. And yes I was one of them.
Though it was a great line, I think we laughed a little longer because it’s so rare in this county to hear our view come from a microphone.
I’m certainly not saying liberals are silenced or oppressed in any way here. In fact, if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that most conservatives like to talk politics with liberals. Rarely is anything accomplished, but it’s usually fun to debate for a while.
What I fear, though, is that there are a lot of people out there that don’t express their full opinion for fear of reprisal. That, or they water down their views or slide them slightly to the right to make them more agreeable to their Republican family and friends. Or they stop voicing their opinion because they don’t have the energy to defend it when they’re outnumbered by conservatives.
The more I learn about politics, though, the more I realize how aggressively misinformed some people are. And it’s sad to think that someone is keeping silent for fear of offending someone.
Daniel Gaddy is a staff reporter for the Daily Mountain Eagle and a Walker County native. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org