A Brief History of My Presidential Politics as Inspired by Barack Obama’s Speech in Portland ME (1987-2010)

02Apr10

I remember I was in kindergarten. It was 1992, and I was vaguely aware of the world around me. I had been for a while; in pre-school I remember my parents talking about Sadd-am Husein (pronounced exactly that way). We were at war, and being but a small child, this deeply concerned me. I heard about missiles, and I thought my house might get bombed. My parents re-assured me that was not the case.

But back to 1992. It was the night of the election, and my parents were Bush supporters. I was too; remember, this man had just stopped Sadd-am from bombing my house. I went to bed confident George Bush would still be my president. I woke up the next morning, and Bill Clinton had won. I discussed the victory with my classmates, and was shocked to learn that many of their parents had voted for Clinton, who again, had not done anything to stop my house from being bombed. My parents were clearly disappointed, but didn’t talk much about it. I decided I didn’t like Bill Clinton for a while, but soon politics faded from my consciousness.

When Clinton won again in 1996, I think I was happy. I appreciated the continuity, not to mention that Bob Dole’s last name was, in fact, Dole, and as one who did not like bananas, he nearly lost my vote right there. He also didn’t seem to be as nice as Clinton was. But in truth, these are all very vague impressions. Once again, I forgot about politics for a while soon afterward.

Then came the impeachment. I couldn’t really understand why Clinton seemed to have no control over his behavior. I think this was my first exposure to real-life infidelity. Clinton also lied, which I didn’t think presidents did. I still sort of liked him, as Ken Starr seemed very unappealing, but I knew what Clinton did was wrong. Shameful even. Indeed, the man would end his presidency by pardoning his criminal friend. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Clinton bombed Saddam, which won him points he did not earn in 1992, when the man he defeated bombed Saddam (whose name was now being widely pronounced correctly). I still felt very ambivalent about him. Then I found out George Bush’s son was running.

I had vaguely positive impressions of my first president (technically second, but then again, Bush was likely unofficially my first by that time). My mom got behind W. because she thought he was very similar to his centrist father. He did seem a bit stupid even to a middle schooler; I was fortunate enough to start watching SNL around that time, and Ferrell’s impersonation loomed more powerful than the image of Bush himself (in my mind). Still, Hammond’s Gore did as well. I didn’t like Al Gore. Didn’t feel presidential. His politics felt closer to where mine were at the time, but surely Bush would compromise and be able to achieve similar ends. Around this time, there was also a rhetorical undercurrent that “Republicans and Democrats were the same thing.”

I was pretty much split, though. My mom pushed heavily for Bush during the Florida debacle; “those people should have been able to figure out those ballots.” At first glance, I actually would have accidentally voted for Buchanan, a secret I’ve never revealed until just now. And then something very strange happened. I saw Dan Abrams on television.

He was railing against the Bush campaign and Kathleen Harris. He said something about the scene on the ground being insanity. The idea that there wouldn’t be a recount was akin to fraud. I decided I did not like this man and that George W. Bush should be president. Abrams was a journalist, and journalists aren’t supposed to be biased. This all fit right into what my mother told me about the media having a liberal bias. Abrams was being dishonest. I may not  have been thrilled to have Bush as my president, but he did win that election.

And so for the first time, I was able to sustain an interest in politics. That summer, I picked up an issue of Rolling Stone magazine before my trip to Spain. Kirsten Dunst was on the cover, and they published an expected release date for Chinese Democracy. There was also a lengthy profile of Staind, which embarrassingly, I quite enjoyed. But most relevant to my political transformation was a piece on Sen. Jim Jeffords, who left the Republican Party to become an independent. As I was in culture shock for the first two days of my trip, I ended up reading it several times.

Basically, Jeffords left the party because he realized the Bush administration was not centrist. I did have some vague concerns that this was liberal bias again, but Rolling Stone and Jeffords provided the evidence to back their claims. I had also been listening to ultra-liberals, Pearl Jam, who had become a huge influence in my life. I felt tied to them personally, so why not politically? But Jeffords story rang incredibly true. This was the first time I could call myself a liberal. I even managed to get into a fight with a certain commenter here over the necessity of war (although I would probably take his side on much of that argument now).

I returned to the States cultured and liberal. I drunk alcohol for the first time in Spain, in the form of wine and Asturian cider. I had eaten roast suckling pig and jamon serrano. I realized that Fanta was much better in Europe, and that my American friends simply must try it. I was that liberal. Then 9/11 happened.

There’s a joke in the US version of The Office where Ryan Howard apologizes to his ex, Kelly, and tries to use the excuse “I never really processed 9/11.” That’s not too far off from how I felt about it, and in a way, still do. My country was finally being attacked by people in Middle East. Innocent people were finally dying; it was a childhood vision come to life. It was made up. Why did Congress know to organize and sing “God Bless America” together? Why are people so nice to each other now? Why was it never like this? When do people decide to go back to normal? What country do we bomb?

I know this all sounds like I was very confused about it, but that was not quite the case. I felt most that I just had to go along with it. Most of the country did too, in that a presidency that nearly divided the country in its conception, now had a 90% approval rating.

There’s not too much else to say about that era–the axis of evil, the rise of the neoconservative. That era essentially gave birth to the blogosphere , which is where I am now. This is telling. I remember questioning why and when we were going to invade Iraq. Literally; a high-ranking Republican guy came to my school in 2002 and I asked him when he thought we were going to bomb Iraq. He laughed. It was weird. I decided that North Korea posed the same threat Iraq did, that Iraq probably was not aiding Bin Ladin, and we still hadn’t caught Bin Ladin, and war was wrong.

Somewhere along the line I became an agnostic–I think it was Voltaire that sealed the deal for me. And in the same class I read Candide, I watched my Humanities teacher, a brilliant man in his own right, draw a map of Iraq, separating it by Sunni, Shi’a, and Kurd territory. He explained the tensions that were likely to arise without Saddam in power. He questioned the “greeted as liberators” idea, and I remember the day we pulled an American flag up over Baghdad, and my teacher with an “I told you so” look in his eye as he re-ignited the discussion. The insurgency would only intensify during summer vacation, which is a shame for obvious reasons.

I was right about the war, although it’s quite possible I was just lucky. I supported Dennis Kucinich and told my history class get some knowledge. This dude was the truth. I wrote a thesis essay on the 1992 elections and the rise of alternative music and gangster rap.

The next two years would only solidify my cynicism about Bush. I’d known how incompetent he was for quite some time (especially in the wake of Katrina), and in college, I’d learn just how he engineered his appeal. I learned how Republicans win elections, even though in my time, they seemed to perform quite poorly in office. I became yet more cynical, but I learned the game myself. It was possible for Democrats to message better, to appeal to the centrist voters they were losing.

I started out supporting Edwards in 2008. Yeah I said it. So when I went to see Barack Obama speak in the Boston Common, I was quite skeptical. After all, the conservative charges of inexperience do bear some weight; at the time, it looked like Obama was only there based on a speech. I was talking to a professor, a veteran of the Carter administration, and she was skeptical as well. At the time, I found Obama to be a bit uninspired. Yes, he took a nice couple shots at Bush, but he didn’t seem very…powerfully liberal. He spoke in platitudes, yet made them beautiful. This was how W. wished he could speak, but of course the similarities only made me more on guard.

But as autumn fell into winter, Edwards began to lose steam. He seemed aloof, perhaps we now know why. Hillary was the front-runner. I knew this was disaster; while Obama seemed too optimistic, Hillary was too divisive. And Obama got smarter. The same overestimations of American character that I originally rolled my eyes at, was actually how he got such a strong following. He kept his messaging simple–always a winner. And he got cerebral guys like me with his sophisticated policy measures.

The rest of that chapter of my life is well-documented on the first year of this blog’s existence.

Let’s skip ahead to health care reform. I began to feel something I hadn’t felt since I was a child: I was proud of my president. He had passed something historic, and he invited Jay-Z to the White House. In the same month. He had reformed a subject near to my heart: the student loan industry. But my personal favorite has to be this. Obama gets real Jon Stewart on the press.

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3 Responses to “A Brief History of My Presidential Politics as Inspired by Barack Obama’s Speech in Portland ME (1987-2010)”

  1. 1 silentbeep

    That Dole anecdote is just too cute 😉 I remember watching election night with my parents in ’84 (when I was 7) and feeling totally depressed about Reagan because my parents couldn’t stand him. All these years later my political tendencies haven’t changed all that much. I loved that above clip too when I saw it.

  2. 2 Andy

    I keep meaning to type out something like this, but you’ve got more patience and self control than I. It sounds like we had a similar transition – from right leaning children, through and out of religion and into the lefthood – although I’m a few years ahead of you. My kindergarten and pre-high school memories are of Reagan and the Cold War. The Russian beast was always waiting for us to slip up… then we’d be nuked into oblivion! I don’t remember much, just a general sense of uber paranoia.

    One of my (potentially embarrassing) moments of political development: I was two weeks too young to vote for Perot, or I would have done that. Not so much that I specifically liked him, but I liked that he was different, and already had a shitload of money (less beholden to lobbyists? Who knows what I was thinking.). I thought it would be hilarious to see him as president because he had his own ideas and wouldn’t roll over for the special interests.

  3. 3 poliology

    It was really supposed to be a short post, believe it or not, but I just ran with it. My takeaway was that I am really not as politically nuanced as I’d like to think I am. Basically, liberals/Democrats have done very well during my years, the Clinton peace and prosperity and whatnot. And the Bush years made it very easy to hate conservatism/Republicans.

    I didn’t really get into some of how my cultural history informs me, but for one, the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church hit and kind of a make or break time in terms of if I was going to be religious or not. It almost seems accidental at times.


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