Tuesday, May 6, 2008
The End of the Primary Process
Barack Obama and Me
Originally uploaded by BlackenedBoy
I'm just posting this now so that later I can say I called it before they did. I'll add more later, I promise. Tonight's contests have been very exciting!
I had originally planned to write tonight about a game my brothers and I played during our childhood (one that twelve-year-old Thomas and our younger cousins still engage in), but the primaries took over and diverted my attention from that fond memory, so the lighter post will have to wait until tomorrow.
It occurs to me that none of you, not even the ones with whom I’ve been in slightly more intimate contact, really know me, and so wouldn’t be privy to the fact that I am and have for some time been an unapologetic political junkie.
I was too young to participate or really be engaged in any way in the 2000 election (I was in seventh grade at the time), but beginning with the 2004 race have followed developments in the Washington scene with a fanaticism that belies my age.
I didn’t have much a feeling at all about George W. Bush during the first nine months of his presidency, though my father, with his uncanny ability to accurately predict political waves before they’ve become so much as faint ripples on the seashore, was already calling him “the idiot.”
Even then, at a very early juncture, he had extremely negative feelings toward our new president.
“His father was horrible,” he told me of the man who’d occupied the White House during my toddler years. “And he’ll be a disaster. Just wait and see.”
I should point out that Native State is Democratic in the extreme, and has been since long before any member of my family, grandparents included, was even alive. George W. Bush lost in a landslide in 2000 and 2004, both of our U.S. Senators and a sizeable majority of our U.S. House members are Democrats, and Democrats hold supermajorities in both chambers of our state legislature.
During the 2004 race, when President Bush was considering campaigning here, our governor literally told him to spend his time and money in a state where he actually had a chance at winning.
Add to that, Native City is as great a bastion of the Democratic Party as ever existed, and every generation of my family has been sired there for roughly the last century. My great-great grandfather immigrated from Germany at some point in the late 19th or early 20th Century (we’re not sure of the exact date), following which my great-grandfather, grandmother, father, and my brother and I were all born there.
With the exception of today’s young people (i.e., my cousins, siblings, and I), we all grew up within that metropolis.
That being said, it could be argued that my father has an inborn bias against the Bush Administration or anyone remotely connected to it. I don’t think that’s true, though; his decidedly middle class background, among other things, made him almost completely apathetic to that sport of gentlemen whose developments he’s always been able to foretell with such eerie exactness.
I suppose that, if anything, he carried the unarticulated and largely unconscious anti-Republican sentiment typical of his class and area without ever actually identifying it.
In any case, his pronouncements have always been strangely on-target.
Immediately after September 11th, I was, in my thirteen-year-old mine, dead set in where I was placing my loyalties. Surprising as it would seem to my friends now, I was for a period of about two years one of the biggest George W. Bush supporters I knew. In fact, my father and I regularly got into arguments about the Commander-in-Chief, whom I idolized the way that most teen boys idolize guitar-toting, chest-haired rock stars.
“He’d better get reelected,” I said after 9/11. “No president has ever been through what he’s been through.”
I truly felt, I realize in looking back, sorry for this man, as if the events in New York and Washington, D.C. were some deep personal tragedy hoisted upon him, as if he’d suffered for all the death and destruction in our nation’s major urban centers.
I had this image of him, in the White House on a winter day, sitting with his shoulders hunched and his head in his hands. I thought that he laid awake in bed worried over terrorists, the way many of us did. I thought that his mind was constantly preoccupied with the families of the dead. I thought that he must have been the saddest man, with the most difficult tasks, in the entire world.
I prayed for him.
Amongst the covers and pillows at night, I prayed for that man.
Now, of course, it’s unspeakably sweet to me, the efforts of my misguided innocence, the simple and beautiful act of an oblivious young boy on behalf of a truly awful man.
Unfortunately, no one knew that then. My father suspected it, though.
In the time period immediately following the terrorist attacks, once our schools had been evacuated and closed and we’d rushed home to sit huddled around the television watching the horror unfolding, he briefly relented.
We sat in silence as President Bush addressed the country on the night of September 11th, just hours after the towers had fallen. It was eight o’clock.
My mother was watching the screen, stunned, overwhelmed by the intrusion of this incredible and terrible event into our mundane lives.
She never paid attention to politics or the news or anything beyond really what she needed to. I doubt that she’d ever thought something like this could happen.
“Hon, what do you think they’ll do?” she asked my father as the capital city of the United States blazed in front of us.
“They’ll probably declare martial law in D.C.,” he answered tightly, heavily, reflectively. He’s always been a strong man in some ways, and, for his many faults, has always had an inherent wisdom. While he gave President Bush the benefit of the doubt in the weeks of soaring national unity that followed 9/11, he knew that something was wrong.
By the time we moved to Beautiful Town in December of 2001, his conviction was definite.
“He’s an idiot,” he was saying confidently again by early 2002, even when no one else was. “He’s an absolute idiot.”
In 2003, at fourteen, I was one of many convinced by our President’s Sixteen Words, which alleged that Iraq was working to purchase uranium from Africa. All of it patently untrue.
From the beginning, my father despised the Iraqi incursion, warned that it would lead to disaster, and lambasted the entire policy at a time when most Americans were still following it like blind sheep.
I’ll never forget a conversation we had one late night in 2003. It was a weekend, which for me meant staying up late to watch Saturday Night Live and discuss things with him over popcorn.
“This war will still be going on four years from now,” he said with a certainty that now unnerves me. “And it’ll be worse.”
“Dad,” I said incredulously. “How can you think that? Do you really think this will still be happening in four years?”
“Wait and see,” he said without the faintest glimmer of doubt in his voice.
Of course, 2007 seemed like forever away from the perspective of a 9th-grader, but it came so incredibly fast.
In 2004 we moved to Deep South State, mere months before the presidential election that both sides agreed could likely be determined by our new locale. Deep South State was and is an extremely valuable swing state, and at sixteen years old I campaigned vigorously for John Kerry.
I’d been turned, in the year since Iraq had begun, to the Democratic side. The Republicans would have my support no longer.
My father voted early, and on that day he took me to the polls with him. The hour and forty-five minutes that we waited in line seemed to fly by, and before I knew it we were inside the building where he would cast his first ballot ever in a U.S. presidential election.
He knew how much the contest meant to me and how I adored John Kerry, and so he pretended to be visually impaired so that I could accompany him into the booth itself.
For all his drawbacks, he has done some very cool things in his time.
He allowed me to mark one half of the ballot for John Kerry, while he marked the other. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything else with such a sense of tremendous honor. When Kerry conceded, I sat on my couch and cried.
After his loss I turned by attention to the 2006 and 2008 elections, and, up until fairly recently, was an avid Hillary Clinton supporter. I actually went to the Senate and saw her (though we did not meet) in 2005, at which point I was seventeen years old. The incredible Democratic victory of 2006 brought me out of my demoralization, and made me look forward to the current campaign with even more zeal.
At first, I was a rabid Hillary Clinton backer. I even wrote her a letter in 2005 (though I never sent it) urging her to enter the presidential race.
Now I’d give a great deal to see her gracefully back out of it, but she seems determined to stay in at all costs, no matter that she’ll drag her country and party down in a futile struggle. She simply cannot win, a fact she refuses to acknowledge.
This, of course, brings me to the subject of Barack Obama and my support for him.
Senator Clinton’s experience had kept my on her side for a very long time, but, like many in my demographic, I was eventually persuaded to switch my loyalties. Of course, most of my fellow students did this because of Obama’s inspirational speeches, because of his wonderful ideas, because he made us aware for the first time in our lives of our generation’s power and what we could do to the world if we banded together.
Then we gave him Iowa.
We, the young, we, the marginalized, we, who never participated and could never be counted upon, were the ones responsible for advancing a candidate radically different from any other. The shock of that has yet to wear off. People of my age group went to the polls, cast their ballots, and had an unfathomably huge impact on the political dynamic of a national presidential race. It’s awesome, which I mean in the sense of wide-eyed, open-mouthed disbelief, to think of that.
I am in awe of what we have done.
Most of my peers were turned initially by the same sense of welling hopefulness that now envelops me, but it was Hillary Clinton herself who determined my vote.
It was very early on in the campaign, before even the Iowa caucus had been held. Hillary Clinton’s operatives were found to have planted questions in a crowd of college students, and hearing that was the thing that pushed me into Obama’s camp, which I’d been guiltily considering for some time.
I know that something as minor as a “planted question,” which sounds like a phrase coined from the Republican playbook of gaffe politics, seems a trifling issue to switch candidates over, but the dishonesty in that act boded ill with me.
It reminded me, chillingly, of our current president and his tactics, and afterward I was an Obama supporter. At various points throughout the primary process, I wondered whether I was making the right choice, whether I had staked my bets on a man who couldn’t win, whether I’d jumped the wrong historical ship.
As events progressed, however, I became more and more certain that my decision had been the right one.
The Jeremiah Wright scandal sickened me as few things in Democratic politics have. I was not dismayed, mind you, by Obama’s connection to this misdirected and hateful man, whose opinions are his and his alone; I have enough friends who are socialists or otherwise radical to know that what a man's associates think and what he himself actually thinks are two very different and often unrelated things. What upset me was the way that Senator Clinton pounced on the insignificant relationship, the way that she ran the sermons and Obama’s refusal to denounce and old family friend into the ground throughout the contest.
The North Carolina debate shortly before Pennsylvania’s primary was a study in political absurdity, its forty-five minutes of trivial character questions and sensationalism underscoring both the worst qualities of the illegitimate American media and Senator Clinton.
Obama’s response, or lack thereof, only deepened my convictions that I’d chosen the right man.
He left untouched Clinton’s ludicrous Bosnia story, the furor concerning which had reached its height at roughly the same time that Jeremiah Wright began making headlines across the country. Rather than jumping atop the outlandish but irrelevant Sarajevo tale, Obama expressed his disappointment and regret at Senator Clinton’s approach and then continued to fight on the issues.
I’d rather lose with him, I thought. Than win with anyone else.
As Clinton ad attacks on Obama became increasingly negative and increasingly untrue, Michelle Obama took to the national airwaves to say this about the war against her husband: “We expected that Bill Clinton would tout his record from the nineties and talk about Hillary’s role in his past success. That’s a fair approach and a challenge we are willing to face. What we didn’t expect, at least from our fellow Democrats, are the win-at-all-costs tactics we’ve been seeing recently. We didn’t expect misleading accusations that willfully distort Barack’s record.”
The CNN reporters covering her remarks seemed stunned, with the normally cantankerous Jack Cafferty declaring with almost boyish enthusiasm, “I think Michelle Obama is terrific.”
CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin called Mrs. Obama’s reproach an “understatement” while Cafferty added on that it was obvious she had “more dignity and class” than either of the Clintons.
I found it charming to watch them discussing the bizarre phenomenon of the Obamas in bewilderment. It was like they’d never seen something like this before. They probably haven’t.
Both Barack and Michelle Obama have demonstrated tremendous tact and grace in this campaign, even under the heaviest of fire. The more I see, the more I am enamored with them, and the more I truly believe that Barack Obama is the man to lead this country.
Now, with North Carolina in the Obama column by fourteen percentage points and Clinton barely hanging on in one of her supposed core states, Indiana (where, despite being heavily favored, she won by 51%-49%), it is time for the Senator from New York to step aside.
I did not believe this before tonight, but I believe it now.
And, to be frank, Mrs. Clinton’s conduct in the last several weeks has convinced me beyond anything her opponents have said that she should not be the next President of the United States. A woman who bristles viciously at criticism, who becomes rigid at the merest suggestion that she is wrong, who attempts to fool the American people through daring and uncivil personal attacks, and whose grip on reality is so slim that she continues to campaign in West Virginia at a time when her party is almost unanimously convinced she no longer has any chance of winning, shouldn’t have that kind of power.
We do not need a female version of George W. Bush in the White House. Her decision to go on with this farcical push at a as her opponent emerges as the clear choice for the nomination demonstrates an unconscionable selfishness and shows that neither the party nor the country mean as much to her as her personal ambitions.
We cannot afford that right now. It is time for this to end.