Congrats, Barack Obama, on winning re-election. Don’t let me, or our country down.
Let’s start with an admission: my political education (enlightenment?) came somewhat recently. There weren’t many (or any) political discussions around the dinner table when I was growing up, at least as far as I remember. My grandfather, who was the initial father figure in my life, was a proud immigrant and union leader, and I distinctly remember him making a big deal about voting in the 1981 mayoral election (I’m going to assume he voted for Ed Koch,) but everyone else in my family just voted and went on with their lives without talking very much about it. It could also be that when I was a kid, I didn’t care much about politics and wasn’t paying attention. I doubt it, though.
I’m not sure when the exact moment was that I realized it was important to actively taking part in the political process. Not to say that politics (in particular social issues) was something I knew nothing about, but I was definitely lacking on the active participation part. Some of it was due to laziness, and there was a part of me that was young and callow and didn’t think my voice mattered (in retrospect, this horrifies me and I cringe when I read/hear about young people who have the same attitude.) The opening of my eyes was probably due to a couple of events: 9/11 and its’ aftermath was certainly one. Coming of age during the explosion of the internet and having conversations with people more passionate and politically aware than myself (and having a desire to learn from/be like them) was another. The first presidential election I voted in was in 2004-and although the candidate I voted for lost, it was still an invigorating sensation to feel a part of the electoral process.
I like our President. I voted for him in 2008, and did so again this year, with only mild trepidation. I think he’s a fantastic speaker, and he has some good ideas. Despite some pretty major triumphs (after all, the man did helm the capture of Osama Bin Laden, he pulled troops out of the Middle East, and the economy is sloooooly recovering–plus, there was the repeal of DADT,) I’m a little disappointed that more progress hasn’t been made yet, which may not be a consequence of anything Obama has done or not done so much as it might be a consequence of my own impatience. Let’s not forget that the man inherited the worst American economic situation since the Great Depression and a country that was reeling from participating in a war that was started under false pretenses, among other things. While I don’t yet think he has obtained that authoritative, presidential air that, say, Bill Clinton had (and let’s face it, he still has,) I’m pleased with my vote, and obviously pleased with the results.
That said, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that there’s the chance that I would’ve voted for a third-party candidate if a) he or she appealed to me and/or b) if he or she had any chance in hell of winning the election. I feel no shame in saying that there was a part of my vote for Obama that was a defensive vote against Romney and especially Paul Ryan, who typifies a callous entitlement and ignorance almost exclusive to white men who come from privilege that makes my blood absolutely boil.
The main reason I voted for Obama was because he makes me feel like I matter. Economic and foreign policy issues aside-Obama acknowledges and seems to appreciate values that I hold dear, and seems to respect and appreciate values contrary to what I hold dear as well. Which is fine. An elected official should make some effort to be all things to all people, as hypocritical as that may read on paper (or on a computer screen.)
Quick bio for the three of you who aren’t sick of hearing me talk about myself yet: I’m a gay, black, Agnostic, middle class (and I worked to obtain middle-class status-I was not born with even a vaguely silver spoon,) 1st generation American. I graduated from one of New York City’s elite high schools but am not college educated. I was born and raised in a 99% Black neighborhood, but I now live in a town that’s (according to Wikipedia) almost 92% White. I believe in equal rights for all. I was born and raised in New York City, but I had the experience of living in the Midwest for several years. I grew up in the ‘hood, but now I live in the suburbs (well, sort of…) I come from a 0-parent home, but I come from a 10 “parent” home, if you know what I mean. I was raised by a devoutly Roman Catholic grandmother, went to Christian classes on the weekends (briefly) but I support and embrace religious freedom. Neither I nor anyone in my immediate family has ever gotten public assistance, but I have benefited from and support social and economic programs for those who have an unfair disadvantage in life (and want to do something about it.) I know the feeling of discrimination. I know what it’s like to have fuck-around money, but I also know what it’s like to live on $5 (or less) a day. As a man, hell, as an individual, I don’t feel as though I have any right to tell anyone, man or woman, what they can or can’t do with their body. I think health care should be more readily accessible to people who need it and can’t afford it, and I don’t mind paying a little extra to make sure that those who need it get it. I think marijuana should be legal (though heavily taxed.) I don’t think someone who makes 10X more than me should pay the same percentage in taxes as I do. I think our system is set up to value money over everything else in life, which I believe is wrong (all the money in the world won’t make you happy when you’re laying on your deathbed.)
The people I surround myself with and care about come from a variety of backgrounds, lifestyles, and beliefs. I don’t think less of
any most of them because of the differences that we may have. Actually, I appreciate them more because of the differences they bring to the table. I’d like to think that because of these qualities, because I travel or have traveled between worlds so often, I have a more multi-dimensional understanding of people than the average American. I don’t think many people who would identify as members of the Republican party can say that (and feel free to prove me wrong if you disagree.)
Some people might read the first few sentences of the last paragraph (which, after editing, is now two paragraphs ago) and incorrectly assume that I wanted to be treated differently because of the qualities I mention. Read again. The key thought here is inclusion, not exclusion. I want (and deserve) the same rights and privileges of any other American in spite of the differences that may separate me from the average elected official. Obama, at least for the time being, makes me feel like my voice will be heard and appreciated irregardless of my differences, as opposed to being looked down upon and made to feel like I don’t matter. I’m speculating here, but if you want to know why so many women, LGBT people and ethnic minorities voted for Obama, I’d be willing to bet that they’d say exactly the same thing.
At the end of the day, though, no progress will be made on anything unless we put our differences aside and work together. I’d be saying the same thing-hell, I’d probably be even more adamant about the need to work together-had Romney been elected. I don’t know how that works when people are on such opposite sides of the fence ideologically. Hell, I’m not all that comfortable with the idea of working hand in hand (metaphorically or literally) with someone who doesn’t view me as their equal, but I’m willing to try if it’s for the greater good. I think it starts with empathy and compassion. The willingness to put yourself in the shoes of someone whose situation may be different from yours, or at least the intelligence to respect the fact that there are plenty of people out there whose situations might be different from yours. Inclusion despite, not exclusion because of. It’s why I cast my vote for the person I cast my vote for, and it’s why I’m satisfied with the results.
…and it’s why I’m hopeful for the next four years. Go get ’em, Mr. President. I’m counting on you.