Fitting that my last post on this blog was about the Olympics - when they ended last Sunday night, I had but less than one day to wait for yet another uber-hyped, televised event that would hold my attention for the week. Of course, I am talking about the Democratic National Convention, normally an event I would pay little-to-some attention to with sparingly doled-out enthusiasm.
Not. This. Year.
This year reminds me of November 3, 1992, my senior year at Knox and my first eligible presidential election. I had voted by absentee ballot already as my voter registration resided in California; but I went with my friends Mel and Peter to vote that day near school. It had been a first for them as well.
That night, we gathered in Mel's apartment (perhaps in our PJs, my memory is fuzzy there) and we danced along to Fleetwood Mac's Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow as the Reagan-Bush years came to an end and a new era stood onstage, arm-in-arm, smiling ear-to-ear. Bill Clinton engendered idealistic visions with an unstoppable imagination for what America, and we by extension, could be. Gone were the days of the rich getting richer and faulty-thinking trickle-down economics and on the horizon would be the days of Progress and Equality and an end to Poverty and all things bad. Or so we thought. Those were my younger, greener years, before I realized that all successful politicians are intrinsically the same but with different talking point priorities, though the talking points always seem to be, also, intrinsically the same.
The night of November the 3rd, 1992 was the first time that I felt I could actually use my vote to better my life as well as the lives of other Americans. I didn't have the cynicism I have now, I didn't read as much as I read now and I hadn't yet entered the real world so I hadn't yet realized that national elections don't have much of an effect on middle-class day-to-day life. Rooting for a favored politician is little different than rooting for a favored football team. You are elated when your favored politician/team wins but a few days later, after the enthusiasm has abated, life goes on as normal. Perhaps if our lives were able to be viewed as a curve on a grid, we could see the effect varying policies and laws and environments have upon our lives as a whole but, while we can do that for historical figures, we do not have that ability for our own selves.
My first lesson in political cynicism was taught to me not very much later by President Bill Clinton, himself, when he signed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law, making it perfectly clear that equality still had no place in American legislation. After that, I tucked November 3, 1992 away. I thought it would be nice to take out every now and again and look at it and remember it fondly. Perhaps I could take it out and display it again once more. Clinton didn’t turn out to be what he promised he would be but maybe someone else would. I made sure to keep the memory safe, just in case.
* * * * * * * * *
Fast-forward to today, August 30, 2008. Nearly 16 years have passed, I have by now entered the real world. And while I've done everything in my power to avoid wholly committing to this part of life, the full strength of my power is nothing in comparison to the almighty dollar and the conveniences and necessities it affords me. I have become a real world-er now. I, along with the rest of the world, have endured the leadership of a former C student, which we all know means merely competent, and come to find out, he's not even that.
While my day-to-day life is little-affected by the whims and vagaries of the highest position in the country, I have nonetheless felt the bite of the housing crash, the recession and the invasion they call a war. I have been enraged for days on end by this administration and drank away my sorrows on the night they got re-elected with the lowest approval rating in an election year. I have entertained thoughts of leaving America but the reality is, American education is so abysmal, I am limited in the countries I could move to because English is the only language you need to sufficiently know to graduate high school. (I did well in both high school and college Spanish but not nearly well enough to just up and move to a Spanish-speaking country and expect to be able to communicate efficiently from Day One.)
I have looked forward to this election year for the last 4 years but with the caveat that I do now understand that all successful politicians are intrinsically the same and that the best I can hope for is a successor with a better mastery of the English language, a little more compassion for people not yet burdened with an official presidential nickname and the knowledge that diplomacy can sometimes be a solution in and of itself and not just a necessary step to be accomplished by whining and kicking and screaming.
In walks Barack Obama.
As a current Illinoisian, I know Obama. He's my senator, along with Dick Durbin. They're both Democrats and generally, vote the way I want them to vote. Which is good. I, along with all the other Illinoisians, am their boss.
But I am especially proud of Obama. He speaks the English language rather well - he uses big words properly. He carries himself with dignity and manages to show a general respect for all those around him. And he appears to know much about this country, its ideals and the hopes and dreams of its people. In fact, Hope and Dream are two catchphrases he uses often and with great effect.
He has been my candidate from the day he declared his intent to run. I don't give my vote easily. I researched him and the other candidates, both announced and expected to soon give intent. I appreciated many more of his views and stances than the others and I was bowled over by his speaking ability. Speeches have more power in policy that many candidates (generally those who don't speak well) want to believe. The ability to effortlessly speak can often change stubborn minds and get things done without anger or tension or war. A great speaker could provide us the diplomacy these last 8 years sorely needed. Thus, he passed the test where others failed. And I have been an enthusiastic supporter from that day onward.
He had a tough primary season. He was up against Fate. Hillary Clinton - in my opinion, the lesser of the two Clintons - wanted to, was fated to, put another Clinton in the White House. Before Bill's last term was up, she quote-unquote moved to New York in order to be qualified to run for the open senator seat coming up in 2000. This practice is known as carpetbagging and put my first checkmark in the negative column for Hillary. As I've said, I understand that all successful politicians are intrinsically the same but sometimes, some of them forget that some of us understand that fact. This move was completely transparent and I am one of those voters who prefers to be blindsided by political motive. At least then, I have a few exultant days of hopes and dreams before reality crashes down.
The other checkmarks in Hillary's negative column appeared one by one during the Primary season as she displayed what I consider to be True Colors once she realized Fate wasn't necessarily ironclad. I do realize that the never-objective media played a significant role in many of the negative aspects of the Democratic Primary season so not all the checkmarks belong to her but she and Bill played what I consider to be a nasty game brought about by desperation and that too was utterly transparent. I prefer to believe for at least a little while that my candidate is running for the good of the country and not for him/herself. With memories of carpetbagging dancing in my head, at no point did I believe that of her.
Eventually, Obama won through. Fate jumped ship and the Obama voters breathed a long-awaited sigh of relief. Hillary suspended her campaign - that was no less transparent. But for the time being, Obama remained alive and free from debilitating scandal and so long as that status quo remained, her campaign remained suspended.
The Democratic National Convention began Monday, August 25th. I tuned into only two speakers that night: Edward Kennedy, in the midst of a fight for his life and yet insistent that he add his thoughts to the proceedings, and Michelle Obama, speaking about her husband, at that point still referred to as the presumptive nominee. Personalizing Barack Obama to an audience acquainted with his abilities at lofty speech but not yet fully introduced to the man behind the words, Michelle Obama told the story of her completely normal upbringing, the achievements that both she and her brother sought and accomplished at the insistence of their parents and the man she met and fell in love with and what she saw in him that led her to believe that he is the right man to lead us. She is an easy person to like; unlike many actual and potential First Ladies, she is not drop-dead gorgeous (she leans more to girl-next-door pretty), she is intelligent but not snobbish and she is independent enough to cloud visions of Laura-Bush type First Ladies. Her story makes me feel like Obama actually fell in love with the woman and not the woman’s potential. I hope a lot of the fence-sitters walked away from Michelle’s speech with a more fully-drawn, positive picture of Barack Obama.
The next night, Tuesday, Hillary Clinton addressed the crowd. I know a lot of breaths were held for this night. Would she fall in line and be a good Democrat or would she come out bitter and resolved to walk a fine line in order to create her chance for the 2012 elections? I held my breath as well. My opinion, in the end, is that she spent the first half of her speech using the words I, Me, My and Mine a lot and mentioned Obama’s name not a lot. She spoke of her own campaign and her own campaign promises and the people who approached her campaign and told their stories to her in order for her to tell them to her supporters. Like that. She had some great lines, don’t get me wrong (“No way, No how, No McCain”, “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits”) and she did attack the McCain campaign plenty but it took her until the last 5 minutes, I’d say, before she turned the speech to Obama and to his campaign and to the need for a Democrat to win again. Once that happened, then she fell in line. She made comments that were clearly designed to pull her till-now reluctant supporters in line as well. All-in-all, I appreciate her efforts although I think she undercut them in the first several narcissistic minutes of her speech.
The next night, her husband spoke. November 3rd, 1992 all over again; I was giddy. I will always love Bill, no matter what. Despite Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, despite Lewinsky, despite Hillary’s campaign … when I think great Presidents, he will always come to mind because he was my first presidential vote and he was a great President, as Presidents go. And he is still a great speaker. When he compared Obama’s run and the critiques against Obama to his own run and the critiques against him, that’s when I felt the Clintons truly fell in line. He finally admitted that the experience argument had been brought up once before, against him, undercutting all of Hillary’s experience attacks against Obama. I cheered loudly once he closed the speech.
Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden ended the DNC that night with a rousing speech that took the fight straight to McCain’s doorstep. Biden’s role is clearly to be the attack dog for the Democrats this election which I think is a smart move. So far, Obama has played a high-road hand and the second he takes the low road, the media outcry will deafen any explanation he may have for doing so. The outspoken Biden will be the perfect vehicle for that undertaking.
Then, two days ago, Obama accepted the nomination and was crowned the champion of the Democrat party in a massive celebration at Mile High Stadium in Denver. Estimates from 70,000 to 85,000 people witnessed this particular History in the Making in person. Millions more witnessed it recorded live. I became a part of the couch as he spoke, my drink on the table beside me and my laptop on my lap. Through IM, my friend Danielle and I were able to comment to each other real-time without the hassle of having to shush ourselves to hear, though periodically, Jason would shush me for tap-tap-tapping on the keyboard.
Nevertheless, I listened intently to the entire speech and at the end, I felt a little November 3rd, 1992 surge through me - that this man just might be far enough removed from the Establishment that he can separate himself from the rest of the successful politicians long enough to fulfill some of his semi-utopian promises. That he also, is still thinking about tomorrow and hoping that he can be the driving force to returning a little glory and honor to a nation that has been fed on fear and incompetence for what seems like an eternity now. And, I know it won’t happen, but I kind of hope to hear a little Fleetwood Mac at his acceptance speech on November 4th, 2008. Not as a show of respect to the last great Democrat in office but rather as a reminder that progress means never stopping thinking about tomorrow.