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I’ve spent a lot of my adult life defending the state of Texas, where I’m from (as opposed to where I’m “from-from”), especially during the last eight years with W. in office. I usually begin with the refrain, “There are good people there,” before espousing the virtues of the things from home that I still hold dear: big sky, late afternoon thunderstorms that rattle the house and offer a thrilling, momentary reprieve from the summer heat, Tex-Mex, barbeque, and chicken fried steak, not necessarily in that order, the saying of please, thank you, and yes ma’am, football season, the wildflowers that spring up alongside the road, those days spent doing nothing besides drinking iced tea and sitting in the shade, which, in the middle of July, feels something like receiving the universe’s only tender mercy.
I’m not completely sentimental about where I grew up, however, and I also know that that big sky is now choked with the country’s worst pollution, the humid Texas heat is only being made more intolerable and dangerous in every respect by global warming, some of the same people who say please and thank you religiously also believe gays are going to hell (or that there is a hell, for that matter), places where large groups of people gather like football games are often the same places where drunk, hateful idiots feel emboldened enough to openly call someone a gook, spic, nigger, or fag, and there are parts of the state where you still get the feeling that people would like to kill you simply because you look different.
But I don’t want to think that is a significant portion of the population. I know–I’m in a certain amount of denial. But I’m already drowning in my own cynicism on a daily basis, this election has put me and everybody else in an Us vs. Them frame of mind, my parents live in Texas and they are adorable, and it’s too easy to blame certain parts of the country, like Texas, or the South, or the Middle, for all of America’s shameful, small-minded, stupid behavior.
So it was with great dismay that I learned this week that, according to a UT poll, 23% of Texas voters believe Obama is a Muslim. (It goes without saying that I, like so many other people, am first and foremost dumbfounded that “Muslim” has become a slur in this election, but so it has.) A Forbes writer spun this incredible number as less of a mark of ignorance than of the limited way in which polls can be interpreted.
There’s another possibility: McCain supporters using badly conceived polls as political weapons. If you ask people in a hardcore McCain state, a good number of them will says “Yes, Obama is a Muslim” whether they believe it or not, just to get the idea that Obama is a Muslim out there. All’s fair in war and politics, after all.
And I’m willing to believe that. No, amend that. I do believe it. I need to believe it. Because the alternative, that a quarter of Texas voters are actually that small-minded and stupid, hits far too close to home, to my home and how I want to think of it, and, more generally, how I want to think of our greater home, the country we live in.