Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Politics, part 1

Though it has never been stated quite this clearly, I can't shake the feeling that the reason everyone else in my family supports Hillary is because she's a woman.

I feel like that's not supposed to be said, that it feels like I'm impugning their judgment, but that's what I think the case is. No matter how much Anne tries to talk about how she watched all the debates, and she clearly and rationally saw that Hillary was just the most ready capable and the best speaker of the bunch, I just don't buy it. Because at almost a drop of the hat she will start talking about how it is harder for a (white) woman to elected president than a black guy. And when Mary said that voted for Clinton because felt like it was her duty, I was pretty sure she wasn't talking about how devoted to Clinton's policies she was.

I can kind of understand where they are coming from. I can understand that emotional connection to a candidate. I think I actually have something similar with Barack Obama. It's not really a identity thing, although we are both lefties. I feel an emotional connection to Barack Obama because of his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention.

That speech was the first time in as long as I could remember that I had felt proud of my country.

I actually remember the day pretty well. I was at the Zeiger's house. Dave and Colleen were home. It was the summer that I was taking off from work to try my hand at writing. I remember talking to them about how I wasn't writing much at the time, but I was reading a lot. Specifically, I was reading a lot of Kurt Vonnegut, who Anne had suggested to me. We were talking about the election then, and the seemingly awesome Senator we were about to elect, and he was speaking at the Convention, tonight you know, and then we were downstairs, and we watched the speech on PBS. I think it was just by luck that we ended up catching it. But I got to see it live.

I remember being reticent at first, as I am about just about everything concerning politics, I didn't want to give this guy the benefit of the doubt. I never want to give politicians the benefit of the doubt. I don't trust them. I didn't trust them then, I don't trust them now. It's like I freeze up, like there are nails on a chalkboard, whenever I hear them about to speak. That's how I was at first with Obama: prepared to distrust him.

But as the speech went, I started to get wrapped up in it. I was following him. Not just the rhythm of his speech, but the things he was saying. The substance. There were some parts I kind of thought, "eh." The whole red state/blue state comparison sticks out to me, for some reason. But the part that got to me was the part where, after talking about his father, how he grew up in Kenya and raised goats and all that, and walked through his family history, was the bit where he said (something like) "This is the only country in the world where a story like mine is possible."

It was like a light dawning on me. Because it was true. I mean, there are countries that have economic systems that are better. There was ways in which America is like a third world country. And there is all sorts of racial divisions and ugly sectarianism and really really ugly sentiments crawling all over this place.

But no other country has that kind of promise. It's the only country that you can come here, and make a home for yourself, and you belong. Anyone can be American, and no one can take that from you. America is the only country that is not a nation. What is a nation? A set group of people living in a set geographic location, sharing a common language, religion, and culture. There is no set group of Americans; most of our ancestors didn't live here when the country was founded. Sure almost everyone speaks here speaks English, but it's not official, and it's more a lingua franca than a official part of our culture. Just check out some parts of downtown Chicago to get a sense of just how unofficial it is. Some might argue that Christianity is the American religion, that America is a Christian Nation. Are Jews less American than everyone else? Are Buddhists? Muslims? Atheists? And a common culture? Don't get me started. I experience culture shock in different parts of my state.

When I was watching Barack speak, I have spent the last four years feeling abandoned. It was mostly because of dad's passing, but part of it was politics. It was the republicans. It was conservatism. It was Bush. The way they talked, the way he talked, about America? It wasn't my America. It wasn't the America I had learned about it school. It wasn't the America that I had taught that I was a part of. It was something narrow and set, Judeo-Christian and conservative. That's what it was to be a real American, and I didn't belong. And as I didn't belong, I kept on learning about the ways that the America I had been taught about in school, that America that I had been told I was living in, had never existed, how it had always been flawed, and had never lived up to it's promise, not even now, and with these people in power, they would try their hardest to make sure it never would.

But Barack Obama, standing up there on that stage, with all those people cheering, hanging on his word, words that he himself had written, going out on television all over the country, he was describing my America. He was telling me that there were other people out there that felt the same way, enough to make it allowable for him to get up and describe it too us. And if we all saw that that America could be there, than it could be there, we could make it be there, even if it wasn't now. And I felt connected to all those people that felt like me. that were cheering, or sitting next to me on a couch. It wasn't so much that Barack Obama created that America, it's that he presented it to us.

And I took it. And I was proud to be a part of it. And I felt grateful to him, for giving me the chance to have it.

As soon as that speech was done, the commenter on TV was talking about people were not just talking "Senator Obama" but "President Obama." Which elated me, because I had already arrived at that conclusion. I didn't want him to be in the Senate. I wanted him to be President now. Because shouldn't the president be the person who makes you feel like that?

And so ever since, I have had an emotional connection to Barack Obama, rooted in gratefulness for the way he made me feel about my country.

This was, I recognized, a big problem.

To be continued.