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Bernie Bros and Bloomberg Dads: Obies and Their Parents on Politics

by Fionna Farrell

[originally published spring 2020]


Even before the “Ok Boomer” era, there’s never really been a clear end to the assortment of things that divide generations. For the most part, us young folk are bound to occupy our time with far less “sensible” prospects than our elders. Instead of getting beaten to a pulp for wearing a KISS shirt while playing a barbaric iteration of baseball in the 102-degree street, we lose ourselves in the void of our screens. And this is just the biggie: the list of what keeps us apart writhes all around us, without reason or end.

Yet, in the fine art of bridging generational gaps, there seems to be one particular force that reigns supreme: this is the mighty force of politics.

It is no secret that, across the country, scores of fiery-hearted young people tend to lean more to the left than their older counterparts (of course, there is an infinite array of exceptions to this rule). But does this “rule” apply everywhere? How might it affect historical bulwarks of liberalism like Oberlin, where the spirit of radical change has haunted our campus for over a century?

Unsurprisingly, it means that, politically speaking, the divisions that exist between us and our parents appear to be a bit less fraught, a bit less polarizing. In a recent poll conducted over Obies’ parents political affiliations, a total of 72% of participants claimed that one or both of their parents supports either Sanders or Warren. This was followed by Buttigieg at 9%, Bloomberg at 7%, Biden at 6%, Klobuchar at 4%, and, finally, Trump at 2%. This was a public Facebook poll, and only around one hundred votes were collected, so this information can only serve as a very rough approximation of who, in fact, Obie parents do or will end up supporting. Nevertheless, its results, if only tentative, demonstrate one thing for certain: that our parents are almost just as liberal as we are - at least, according to us.

This is, perhaps, a remarkably positive feature of Oberlin’s political framework. If we remain united on certain critical fronts with those who peer at the world through a different lens than our own, then we will feel less of a need to participate in the perpetual yelling match that has become modern politics. We will, instead, work with those who live by a common creed to enact real, structural change.

Alas, if only it were so easy. Even if numbers indicate that, yes, a majority of Oberlin parents support the most progressive candidates in some way, this is not to say that the exceptions to this trend do not have a voice, and that they will only let it exist as an echo.

While reflecting on my own parents’ political affiliations and discussing the topic with fellow classmates, another interesting trend became evident: one that reaches beyond the aforementioned unity on the progressive front. It became apparent that, while talking to fellow students about both their parents’ and their own personal politics, it might not just be the spirit of liberalism that runs through Obie blood. Rather, it appears to be something much more broad: the political zeal itself. This zeal adapts to radicality in various forms - not always the progressive one.

While radicality equates to progressivism for many, for others, it means libertarianism. I communicated with one student - who I, admittedly, thought to be joking at first - that informed me of his father’s pledged support of libertarian candidate Vermin Supreme, a performance artist/activist-turned presidential candidate who, if elected, promises to pass a law requiring people to brush their teeth. The student also informed me that he himself would pledge his own support for Supreme if Sanders is not the Democratic candidate.

On a more serious note, also on the libertarian front, classmate Jess Melvin informed me that “My dad is a libertarian, and if there were a feasible libertarian running like Gary Johnson did in 2016 he would vote for them...My dad would rather have someone who’s for small government, so he won’t be voting Democrat.” In either of these instances, there appears to be a certain commonality: this is the expression of zeal, which some observers might interpret as intransigence. To support or vote for, in varying degrees of seriousness, a libertarian candidate is often to express a system of core beliefs that one feels are not being attended to elsewhere. This could be what’s really holding us all together, in beautiful (dis?)harmony: not necessarily a set system of values themselves, but an unconquerable desire to preserve and avenge what the majority of the country refuses to see as a real threat. We all have different interpretations of what this might be.

As I have learned recently, political zealotry knows another curious manifestation among Obie parents: these are passionate treatise-texts from Dad in support of Mike Bloomberg. I received one of these from my own father not long ago. Full of brusque incisiveness, it reads: “Ran a complex city well form12 years. But also learned from mistakes. Aggressive sensible gun control intelligent. Huge company built from scratch. I don’t hold that against him.” Fellow Grape staffer Clio Schwartz, who initially observed the presence of this unnerving phenomenon, has been subjected to a similar inflamed barrage, which you can read for yourself below.

Again, this time with Mr. Bloomberg serving as its spark, we see that the fire in Obies’ parents’ hearts shines ever-so brightly. One’s got to tilt their head, then: do Obies really get all of their unrelenting political fervor from their parents? If so, is this truth insufferable in its lameness?

Although Obies do, indeed, possess a common fervor, that is rarely compromised by any intercepting outside force, our fervor only acts as a beginning, not an end. And, although our sight may be pointed in the same general direction as many of those who preceded us, it glimpses a multitude of different things along the way. What results is a world of novelty and nuance, rich, albeit, sometimes burdensome, in its complexity.

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