For me, today isn’t a Black or White thing, although I acknowledge the importance of such.
For me, today is about the culmination of my young political experience. I remember watching the 1992 election, although I was rooting for Bush 1, since he was old and reminded me of my grandpa. In 1996 I started to understand the political ideologies at play, and watched Bill Clinton promise to build a bridge to the new millennium.
2000 was an awakening of more political awareness for me, as I realized I would be voting in the reelection of whichever candidate won, four years from then. I watched the debates actively, even though I didn’t quite understand all of the jargon. I saw Gore as confident but bland, unable to ignite much passion from within the Democratic party; a party which had become a little too arrogant and complacent after the Clinton years. I saw Bush as the everyman, the guy who spoke to the voters while Gore tended to speak at them. Bush appealed to everything that Republicans and Moderates had come to dislike about the Clintons. He was an outsider, a born-again Christian who lived the straight-and-narrow, and promised smaller and more responsible government.
All this being said, Gore still appeared significantly more qualified for the job. Gore’s campaign, however, was run atrociously – some of it bad luck, but plenty of it his doing. Gore wasn’t himself during the campaign (as we’d find out far too late), and Bush came off as the candidate most comfortable in his skin.
Bush impressed me with his leadership after 9/11, although he will forever be held responsible for his administration disregarding the “terrorist threat on US soil” memo. For me his administration’s downfall came after mid-term election in 2002. I fought hard for Kerry in 2004, and cast my first election ballot for him. I watched in disbelief from my Hofstra dorm room as the election results trickled in. ‘First the Yankees in the ALCS, and now this,’ I lamented. I could not understand why the country would reelect a President who, aside from a two-week war in Afghanistan, hadn’t accomplished anything he set out to do. I crossed my fingers that I would be wrong.
The country was bitterly divided down partisan lines, each side cynical, each side distrustful, neither side right. After 9/11 I was glued to CNN and MSNBC like I was once glued to ESPN. After 2004 I couldn’t watch anymore. No politician I saw on TV inspired me, no one gave me confidence. Republicans had a huge air of arrogance surrounding them, Democrats had no accountability…and visa versa.
I went to see Ralph Nader speak at Hofstra after the ’04 Election, and was inspired. He insisted that Washington was broken. He understood the crisis in Washington that I was currently feeling – that the Republicans and Democrats were no longer responsive to their electorate, and were engaged in so much partisanship that they were taking the nation down in order to pursue their selfish, stubborn pursuits. I bought his pamphlet that he was selling, which was modeled after Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”. His speech changed my outlook on politics forever, and I still have my notes from it.
Another thing happened late in 2004 that changed my political outlook – I came across a Newsweek cover-story on Barack Obama, a young Senate-candidate from Illinois. I was in class when he gave his famous speech at the ’04 Democratic Convention, never saw it, and never heard about it until I came across this article. The article detailed his radical political ideology – compromise, and bipartisanship. His radical stance sounded vaguely familiar – mostly because it was the major tenets that our country was once built upon, what we all learned in school growing up. This guy had the nerve to try and translate those ideals into practice. Didn’t he know that what we learned in school wasn’t how things actually worked? School teaches us what was, and we have to figure out for ourselves what is, since the two were mutually exclusive.
But here’s this Obama guy, and he’s trying to make it simple. Instead of appealing to the lowest common denominator – disagreement, he was appealing to something more. Instead of complicating things, going deep into rarely understood political jargon to find fault with one’s opponent, Obama was taking a step back in perspective, and realizing that the bickering, one-up-manship of contemporary politics was stalemating the entire country’s progress. Obama didn’t point his finger at Republicans, he said that both parties were responsible for this stalemate and gridlock. Finally, there was a charismatic, affable leader who was echoing the conflict of ideals that had been plaguing my view of politics.
From that point on I felt like I had a political ideology of my own, a voice. I surely would not have gotten involved in politics on any level if not for Nader’s speech and Newsweek’s article on Obama.
I deeply disagreed with the Bush Administration’s direction, but didn’t consider myself a Democrat. I had more moderate stances on some issues, and Obama taught me to embrace that, not to run from it.
And so today stands as further affirmation of that truth. It proves that people are skeptical, but ultimately yearn for someone to appeal to their prefrontal cortex, the best, most evolved version of themselves. Sure, Obama might have transcended the realm of politics and entered the realm of trend, but it is only because people embrace his appeal to a higher good, and such belief is contagious.
And now that today has come and gone, the Bush Administration is no more, and the Obama Administration is in its infancy, all that’s been is nothing but history. And that’s why we, as young Democrats, must continue to forge ahead to make sure that all of the progress of this campaign isn’t lost on the merits of Obama’s decisions as President. We must not forget this moment, when all seemed possible, because tomorrow will not be as perfect as today, and the cynics and skeptics will inevitably try to reclaim their supremacy. If we remember this moment and how it redefined what we thought was possible, then anything is.