Thursday, October 30, 2008

Waking Up From History?

God, can it really be true? After eight years, are we really about to wake up from this collective nightmare? Don't misunderstand me--that knot in my stomach ain't going away until the race is called, and the spectre of President Palin will haunt my Halloween weekend, but I'm starting to feel confident. I don't see any way McCain could take Pennsylvania, and without that, the odds of him winning are sub-atomic. And after last night's rally with Bill Clinton, I could see those numbers getting even firmer. If you didn't see it, watch it here. Bill makes the case for Obama as clearly as possible, and Obama takes the next step from saying that McCain would be a third term for Bush. He basically says that Obama will be a third term for Bill Clinton. And it's amazing how much things have changed that I see that as an unqualified good thing.

But before I get into that, I want to add that Obama last night did what I have been waiting to see a Democratic candidate do: took the time to lay out a case for liberal economic policy. It's something that has frustrated me for years. But it's more and more clear that this guy just knows what he's doing. No, I don't think he's some kind of liberal messiah. Hell, he's already pissed me off with his cave on the FISA bill. But I guess I'm really sick of this attitude I hear from a lot of people that they are just above politics. "They're all liars." Or "I won't vote for the lesser of two evils." It's an attitude that has more to do with making yourself look cool and independent than with the political reality. And of course, it's the attitude I had eight years ago, when I cast my vote for Ralph Nader.

I was pretty dissatisfied with Bill Clinton's administration. I was a radical liberal, and it frustrated me that Clinton leaned so far right, to my mind. He started out well, lifting the "gag rule" on doctors, trying to lift the ban on gays in the military (which ended up in a wishy-washy compromise), trying to pass some sort of universal health care bill (which ended up in such a disaster that it probably set the cause back several years, although under the circumstances it's hard to say). After that, he pretty much laid low, kept the economy on track, and ran as unconrtovercial an administration as possible (which didn't keep Republicans from declaring war on him, of course). I felt like the liberals in the Democratic party weren't being listened to, and until we made a stand we wouldn't be. So we would vote for Nader, cost Al Gore the election, and in 4 years, have a much more liberal candidate.

Remember two things. First, Al Gore was not running as the guy we know from An Inconvenient Truth. He was a boring, middle of the road Democrat who never mentioned the environment. Second, Bush was also running as a moderate. He would be a "compassionate conservative." He was "a uniter, not a divider." It's not like the other choice was Pat Buchannan or someone. I didn't agree with his philosophy, but he didn't seem like he'd be a disaster, either.

I even remember trying to give the guy a chance once he got elected. I hated the tax cuts, but hey, it was what he ran on. Can't really expect any different. Then 9/11 happened. And America went a bit crazy. And the next thing we know, we're in Iraq. And you know, I wasn't in favor of Iraq, but I do recall being further to the right than most liberals I knew on the issue. I didn't think there was anything morally wrong with invading Iraq, it just seemed like a bad idea. And I assumed that Hussein probably did have WMD's. Mostly, by this time, I was getting sick of George W. Bush. It wasn't that invading Iraq seemed like a horrible thing to do, it was the fact that this guy who had barely won the election (and lost the popular vote), after campaigning on being a uniter, was running the most active, go-it-alone administration in recent history. What the hell gave him the right?

Well, by 2004, it was obvious that Iraq had been a disastrous decision, and that we had been lied to in order to get us to go along with it. The choice seemed clear: Bush had to be fired. But he wasn't. I will spend the rest of my life trying to figure out what happened on November 4, 2004. I know John Kerry ran a horrible campaign. He never attacked Bush's incompetence, he was way to long-winded and wishy washy, and I suppose a lot of people just thought he seemed too much like the Rich Snob from some 80's comedy. But still...Bush should have been fired. This should have been obvious. A dead opossum from the side of the road would be a better pick than Bush. Maybe the rest of the country was still a little crazy from 9/11. By the next year, after Katrina, most Americans had come over to our side, but it was too late.

And this is why, I think, so many liberals still don't believe Obama's going to win. They say it's because they're afraid of voter supression, or hacked voting machines, but the real issue is that we just honestly don't know how the fuck he won last time. It's a mystery to us, and probably always will be. And the thing is, he actually got worse! It's almost funny how bad a president he's been, this bizarre funhouse nightmare. But no matter how far down you go, there always seems to be another floor below you. President Palin. A charicature of a charicature.

But seriously, after that fuck up, I don't think I'll ever say "I refuse to vote for the lesser evil" again. There is always a lesser evil. And it's usually the democrat. After 2004, I re-registered. I had been registered as an Independent (or actually, it was something like "decline to state"). After that election, I changed my affilliation to Democrat. What I was rejecting was the idea that your political party defines you, and that by rejecting political parties you are defining yourself as a non-conformist free-thinker. Who you vote for isn't a self-defining act of purity. It's a pragmatic choice between the options presented. If you want the Democratic Party to look more like Ralph Nader, work from inside it to make it so. Ditto if you want the Republican Party to look more like Ron Paul or whomever.

At the same time, in almost the opposite direction, Bush galvanized my loyalty to the Democratic Party. After 8 years of Bush, who can argue with Bill Clinton? He ran the country well, and part of that was probably his moderacy. It's going to be a hard process to back off from the radicalism that Bush injected me with, but I think it's important to remember that there is a legitimate disagreement between right and left on economic policy, and on foriegn policy. (I do think that running the country on debt, as Bush did, was an objectively bad policy, and I think we can agree that the Iraq war did not work out well.) Now, the anti-gay, anti-science, anti-choice crowd can fuck off, but on economics and foriegn policy, there's room for different views. I know what my views are, but I'm open to hearing others. After all, we have to share this country with people who hold very different views, and if we're going to end up with a compromise that everyone can live with, there needs to be a dialogue. Which maybe is why Obama will make a damn good president. And I really believe he will. He won't be anything like my ideal candidate, but he's the guy we need to...OMG! I just realized that the Cowboy's dialogue from the beginning of Lebowski is totally about Obama. "Sometimes there's a man...I won't say a hero, cuz what's a hero?...but sometimes there's a man who just fits in with his place and time." Yeah, that's exactly what I wanted to say.

(One more thought: I used to split with the Democrats on several key issues. I thought their attitude toward guns was rather hysterical, I was pro-death penalty, I generally like the idea of more local autonomy for schools, and I never liked the way they went after cigarette manufacturers. Well, the cigarette thing is over, so why worry about it, and even the liberals who still don't like guns have figured out that strict gun control is a losing issue that costs us too much political capital, and reading about The Innocence Project has pretty much reversed my take on the death penalty, and No Child Left Behind basically scrapped the GOP's allegience to local autonomy in education, at least as I understand it. So there's really not much holding me back from being a Democrat now.)


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