Naif or Cynic29 October, 2008
I am (compared to some) fairly young. I turn 43 early next year. My experience with Presidential politics includes Ford versus Carter; Reagan versus Carter; Mondale versus Reagan; Dukakis versus Bush; Bush versus Clinton; Clinton versus Dole; Gore versus Bush; Bush versus Kerry. These are the elections of which I was concurrently aware. Well, Ford versus Carter I don’t remember all that well, being all of ten at the time.
During each of these elections, I felt detached. Reagan seemed like a nice guy, but I disagreed with what he planned to do to me! Each candidate, of both parties, left me with the same feeling. This is what I, Clinton, plan to do to you! This is what I, Bush, plan to do to you! Whether I agreed or disagreed with the political positions of each politician, the planks in their platform, their philosophy of government, I felt like an observer rather than a participant.
I am, for a middle-aged man, jaded. I suspect that my jadedness is normal for a Gen-Xer. After all, we missed out on the radical sixties. We missed out on the weirdness of the seventies. We came of age in the ‘me’ eighties and the dissociative growth of the nineties. Our political life has been one of disconnectedness, a feeling that I as an American, am an observer of politics and government.
I remember listening to my parents talk about the inclusiveness, the challenge, of Jack Kennedy. I remember hearing them talk about the loss of Bobby. Of Martin. Of John. I thought the older generations unrealistically idealistic. Their belief that one politician can change the course of a nation seemed naive. I knew, or thought that I knew, the reality of politics — politicians do things to us, not with us.
During this campaign, I have been forced to change candidates. I was an early supporter of Edwards: his progressive politics were still to my right, but he came close. His inability to connect worried me and was his downfall (of course, I later learned that he was boffing his aide while his wife was battling cancer and my cynicism was rewarded (and I know my time line is off there, but this is an emotional, rather than a strictly factual, post and that’s how I remember it emotionally)).
I was reticent when I looked at Hillary and Obama. Hillary seemed an invitation to right-wing insanity. Her politics, social policy, government philosophy were too far to the right. Obama intrigued me and, though I liked his health-care ideas, I just knew that he would be chewed up and spit out by McCain and the press in a general election.
Then, during the summer, glimmers of hope, twinges of optimism began to stir. I watched Obama parry the attacks with humour, grace, and a sense of timing that pierced the attacks in a way that turned them back on McCain. I watched McCain and his sycophants bounce from clumsy attack to clumsy attack. But I looked at Obama as simply a liberal McCain, a Democratic politician, another politician who will do things to me, not with me.
While at a forest fire out in Oregon, while working 16-hour days (actually, 17-hours but with two 30-minute breaks), I began reading one of the Oregon papers. I don’t remember which one. We were near Medford, but I don’t think it was the Medford paper. The paper printed long excerpts from McCain’s and Obama’s speeches. My sense of optimism was reinforced. My intrigue was piqued. McCain sounded like the typical sound-bite politician a la Bush, Clinton, Gore, Kerry and Dole. Obama’s speeches, though, with time to read carefully, showed a man with an incisive mind, able to construct an argument in a coherent and logical manner.
When I got home, I began actually listening to Obama’s speeches. Thanks to the newspapers in Oregon, I realized that his eloquence had actually been hiding the content. He is not only well-spoken, but also a good thinker. Not only that, his speeches hit me in ways unfamiliar. He inspires.
Barack Obama is not a normal politician. Oh, no question, he really is a politician. His actions are carefully thought out. He deals and makes compromises. But, for the first time in my life, I see and hear a politician who speaks of sacrifice and means it. Who talks of what we can do together and means it. A man who can actually inspire.
I don’t agree with much of Barack Obama’s politics. His faith-based initiatives are, from both a constitutional and atheistic perspective, wrong. His determination to fault Russia for all that has happened in Georgia is shallow and confusing. His lack of support for federal land agencies is disappointing. His unwillingness to stand up for civil rights for gays is annoying. On the other hand, his tax policies make fiscal and economic sense. His willingness to view government as a positive force in business and finance is refreshing. And his willingness to challenge Americans — on health care, taxation, regulation — shows a willingness to trust America that is surprising.
My parents talk of the promise of Jack and Bobby Kennedy. A promise shot down in Dallas and Los Angeles. Many of the men and women of my grandparent’s generation (not my grandparents — both sides were conservative) spoke of Franklin Roosevelt in terms analogous to those used to describe Jesus. I used to think that the naivete was laughable.
It appears that I have found my naivete. I knowthat I will be disappointed in some, or even much, of Obama’s Presidency. I know that the radical right and much of the media will do its worst to destroy him. I know that, thanks to the fiscal irresponsibility of Reagan and the Bushes, he will be forced into unpleasant compromises.
I will be voting for Barack Obama and Joseph Biden next week. And I will be voting, for the first time, with a sense of challenge, a sense of belonging, a sense of actual hope. It is a disconcerting and confusing feeling. My cynical self is trying desperately to dissuade me. Not from the vote. Under no circumstance would I vote for the Bushite race-baiting McCarthyite panderer formerly known as the honourable John McCain. No, my cynical self is trying to say that Obama is just another politician out to use me and my vote.
I don’t know which of me is right — the naif or the cynic. And I, at the moment, don’t care. Barack Obama has inspired me, given me hope, and, more important, given me a sense of challenge that I am a part of making America a better place.
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