Post 2008 Election Thoughts

Saturday, July 18, 2009

It felt good to vote for Obama Tuesday. My absentee ballot never arrived (which required some explanation at the elementary school where I voted at 7:30 in the AM- also requiring explanation was why they had me listed at two different polling places in their records, meaning my days of voting multiple times for Democrats have apparently ended) so, for the first time since 2000, I actually went to the polls.

We neither had punch cards nor electronic ballot; I actually drew a line from Obama's name to the office of President of the United States.

And it felt good.

This embarrasses me.

It embarrasses me because I don't want to claim any element of the "we shall overcome" vibe that accompanied Obama's election. I'm a white guy and have never faced racial discrimination; I don't deserve any portion of the reflected glory in having an African-American elected President. I'm a good lefty, albeit not as sleeve wearing as was I two decades ago. It's funny, one of the reasons I became an educator was because I like the sharing of ideas, but despite all the prattle about lefty leaning college professors, every pressure at my job goes to minimizing the chances that anything which slides from my mouth offends anyone. It's the nature of living on the margins of corporate America, a slip up and I have no health insurance, if I bruise too many feelings I can't pay my mortgage.

Sure, if you're going to be a professor, it's good to profess something, but one does what one needs to do.

But as a kid, in the heart of the Reagan 80s in rural Ohio, I grew very accustomed to being a minority of one on a whole host of progressive issues, both racial and otherwise. Affirmative action, economic inequality, gender equity, the rights of the accused, gay and lesbian discrimination, the job of the media to tell truth to power -- If I stood alone once, I stood alone a thousand times, in high school, in undergraduate school, even in law school in the early 90s (in '87 16 year old Jividen gave a speech to the Lions Club in Marion, Ohio on the sociological importance of the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking the color barrier - my thesis was that 4 decades after Robinson, 3 after Brown v. Bd of Ed, two after I Have a Dream, and one after the Commodores recorded "Brickhouse" the economic metrics suggested that blacks in the US seemed to be sliding further away from the top of the mountain and I wondered why that was -- you have never seen a dude lose an audience more quickly than 16 year old Jividen in his blue suit telling a rural Ohio Lions club that he could not wait to vote for the first black President of the United States some day) I was just battered down by a mass of flag waving at every turn. Lee Greenwood always trumped whatever statistic I might have at my disposal.

But this victory isn't mine. The only thing I've had to overcome is a largely crummy education and my inclination to eat every carbohydrate in a 36 mile radius. To whatever extent Tuesday was a ratification of progressive principles, I'm pleased. The Republicans have wasted no time in ladeling on some demagoguery; 'member back, like a minute and a half ago when Obama was a crazy, radical pinko? Socialist, communist - evil redistributor of wealth Barack Obama?

360 electoral votes later - now Newt Gingrich says "no one campaigning as a general liberal has been elected since 1964." Now Brent Bozell says "Barack Obama won as a conservative." And now Newsweek's Evan Meachem called the US "still a center-right country."

Hard to have every Republican in full throat call Obama a socialist on Monday and then say the country is conservative on Wednesday.

I'm a bigger fan of the right wing noise machine than that. They're very good at campaining. I'd rather think they were successfully able to paint Obama as a liberal. That's what McCain thinks. Marc Salter said their internal polling was that 60% of voters identified Obama as a liberal.

And he got 360 electoral votes.

More than that - the world clearly, I mean, clearly, reacted with one approving voice about the results Tuesday. Europe. Asia. Africa (note to Governor Palin, that's the continent Africa as opposed to the country Africa. Or the Toto song.) Not since the aftermath of 9-11 has the global community looked upon the United States with such favor. Turns out Bush wasn't lying. He was a uniter and not a divider.

Just because everyone believes something but you doesn't make them right, my brother Republicans.

But at some point, when does it become incumbent upon you to explain why the rest of the world has lined up on one side while you remain on the other?

Just the thought that what anyone else has to say should matter, of course, inflames a certain subset of conservatives. They hate the UN. They hate Anthony Kennedy, a conservative Supreme Court justice, who talked about the way the world has rejected the death penalty in an opinion and faced the wrath of the America-only crowd for daring to notice there's a world beyond our shining seas (Kennedy's a swing vote on this court - if it were 30 years ago, he would have found himself buried on the ass end with Rehnquist on a lot of 7-2 decisions.)

But I've always thought it a good rhetorical device - explain to me why the rest of the western world has fewer homicides than we do, explain to me why the rest of the western world treats health care as a public good and not a business where insurance companies rake in profits while people can't afford prescription drugs, explain to me why the rest of the western world has stopped executing people - or has more permissive drug laws - or so much smaller prison populations - or vibrant left wing political parties - or actually believes in evolution and has for over a hundred freaking years?

It doesn't make them right. But tell me why, on so many issues, the world speaks with one voice - and its a far more liberal voice than has carried the day in the US? The world woke up Wednesday morning and celebrated the election of Barack Obama - those of you who voted for John McCain woke up on an island.

It doesn't make you wrong. But you probably need to explain.

And being on the side of the overwhelming majority is weird for me. To whatever extent it's true. Again, I go into the Obama administration without illusion, which is another reason for my embarrassment. I am not wrapped up in the "a change is gonna come" moment. This is a better result than if it had gone the other way. Better for me, and I believe better for most Americans. But I'm expecting Clinton's 3rd term, not the New Millennium Great Society. I'm expecting a shoring up of capitalism, which, as it does every couple of decades, is cracking hard at the seams. After September 11, the conservative version of American exceptionalism held sway with the majority of the country - "lets wave our flags now and give up some civil liberties and go bomb the fuck out of people because we need to be dominant" and now we see the liberal version "all those words in the Declaration of Independence have finally come true, we have finally overcome, we are leading the way and showing the world our tolerance and freedom and equality and being a beacon of all light." Everyone's got a version of Bill Pullman's speech from Independence Day that chokes them up and everyone's got a version that makes them queasy.

Neither version speaks to me, and it embarrasses me a little that liberals run to mythmaking as rapidly as do conservatives. Conservatives dream of an America where we all stand together and chant U-S-A; liberals dream of an America where we all stand together and sing "Imagine."

But they're both dreams. The United States is an empire, a wholly corporately controlled empire. My hope is that the machine gets a little friendlier, a little more fair, spreads a little more wealth, provides a little more justice and tranquility. I'd like to be able to pay for my groceries and marry my boyfriend.

Granted, that second part's unlikely to happen, 'cause I'm as gay as I am black, which is not at all, so when the day comes (and it will conservatives, it will) when we have gay marriage, and an out of the closet gay President, probably I'll feel good about casting those ballots too, but I'll also have to refrain from any of the credit.

You Shall Overcome. I'll argue on your behalf, vote for you every time I get the chance, and not take any ownership in your eventual victory. Just like Tuesday.

I'm glad Obama won. It felt good to cast the vote. It felt good to have been right, consistently so, for the last year (no fair bringing up my college football picks). It felt good to see the happy people. It felt good to see Jesse Jackson, for whom I cast my first vote two decades ago, weep unabashedly as he stood in the Chicago crowd. It felt good to see a Democratic President from above the Mason-Dixon line, which hasn't happened since they killed Kennedy 45 years ago. It felt good to see a young guy, only 6 years older than I am, bring some almost GenX-y flavor to the White House. It felt good to see a guy who, while not sharing my specific cultural sensibility, has almost certainly listened to my music, watched my shows, read my books, cried during my movies - all the things that don't matter at all in any adult type way - and embarrass me to whatever extent I suddenly care about them - they made me feel good.

And I liked voting for the black guy.

That's the wrong note in a postracial society, but there you go.

'Member when Rush Limbaugh worked for ESPN for a half second and got fired for saying that some writers were rooting for Donovan McNabb because he was black?

I really don't like Rush Limbaugh. Hypocrite pill-junkie Rush Limbaugh.

But I thought he was almost right (not right on McNabb being overrated, that part was nuts)

And I thought that was a good thing.

I've tended to root for the black guys. Give me a white boxer and a black boxer - probably I've cheered for the black guy. The first movie I ever saw was Rocky when I was 5. I cheered for Apollo Creed. He was the Count of Monte Fisto, after all. An inner city basketball team vs. a suburban team - I'm for the black guys. My 1980s were Patrick Ewing, Prince, and Public Enemy. Ain't none of my heroes appear on no stamp.

It's not a new phenomenon. I grew up reading about Thurgood Marshall. And Marcus Garvey. And WEB Dubois. I admired Jack Johnson. And Harriet Tubman. My favorite movie was Do the Right Thing,

and when Mookie threw the trash can through Sal's window, I cheered my white ass off.

I'm not entirely sure where it comes from, defiance and swaggwer being appealing to me, I guess - my disinclination to side with power, my dislike of oppression, or I'm just essentially shallow and look to be contrarian, feeling empowered from lining up in opposition to my all white conservative teen surroundings.

It might even be racist. It wouldn't be an unfair criticism. I've considered it.

I'm uncertain. But what I am certain of is this.

I was glad to vote for Obama. It felt good. Damn good.

And it was nice to win one.

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