Thursday, August 7, 2008

Item #22

Yet another cryptic title. This one riffs back to my 105 Things About Me posting. And it is inspired by an email my mom sent me earlier today. It asked, in her sometimes elliptical way, why I'm an Obama supporter. And so I thought that I'd answer that question. Its one of those odd cases of "funny you should ask..." because I had just been thinking "Should I just do an op-ed piece on my political thoughts for this election?" And apparently the masses do cry for it.

And so you shall receive.

images.jpegI've shied away from a full-on position piece because I always saw this blog as focusing more on things like well shaken cocktails and the perils of non-random alphabets in polyalphabetic substitution ciphers. Perhaps I'd poke some fun at NASA here and there, but that's not politics, that's just good sense. But I've been gravitating more and more towards opinions instead of lessons lately -- which has the incidental property of making it much more difficult to find pictures -- though I suspect that is partially related to a very full schedule at work that is taking up a lot of my teaching energy. So, while I've got momentum, here we go:

It all started a few years ago during the 2004 Democratic Convention. I was teaching MCATs for The Princeton Review at the time, working down on The Ave (which, as anyone in Seattle can tell you, is not named "Avenue" in any official way). I was killing time between classes and walked into Bulldog News, as I often do, to peruse the more geeky sections of their ample magazine selection. I was looking at the train magazines (I told you it was geeky) and they had the DNC on the TV in the background. As you'd expect, Bulldog runs to a pretty liberal aggregate viewpoint so the programming choice was no surprise. I was there, reading about AC4400's or something when I caught the speaker. I put down the issue of Trains, stood up, and watched. It was some youngish black guy delivering what the CNN scroll told me was the keynote speech.

"Wow," I said to myself, "I didn't know they made them like that anymore." I called Erica a few minutes later and repeated those exact words to her. "They don't make them like that anymore" in the manner of how I pictured politicians used to be: stumping off the back of train car platforms, filling halls with an almost revival like atmosphere.

"This guy," I continued to think, "is going to go places. And I am going to be there when he does."

And, more or less, there you have it. I saw, and perhaps more to the point heard, Barack Obama speak. Now before you go thinking that all he has on me is some sort of mental vortex, allow me to elaborate (and then diverge into other reasons). I firmly believe that president-ness is not just about policies. In fact, I get irritated when people treat an election as a checklist:

"Hm...this candidate agrees with 65% of the things I care about..."

Or even worse:

"Hm...this is the candidate that agrees with The One Issue I Care About..."

Times -- and therefore policies -- will change. The world situation that George Bush inherited in 2000 changed dramatically in 2001. What kind of president would he have been if the globe had kept chunking along more-or-less merrily? Perhaps he would have been known as The Education President as I think he once desired. Perhaps a lot of things...this is not about "could have been" moments. It is about the idea that you can look for a convergence between policy statements and your own viewpoints, but at a certain level things like personality must play a strong role -- because that governs how a person reacts and changes when the unexpected goes down.

Personality is important for another reason (and this is how the Obama Hooks got set): it governs how people react to you. Bush (Jr.) is a straight-talking-Texan by character. That works for some people. I find it, increasingly, kind of dull and moronic sounding. Bill Clinton blended a genuine compassion with a tendency towards the glib that made his honest moments tough to distinguish from his evasive ones.

Barack Obama is, to me, the kind of guy who can actually get people to listen and to care. That is the big draw of his campaign, and his overall message. Let's do something. Let's make some changes. Yes We Can (Bob the builder...)... Let's get off of our collective selfish and lazy ass and actually start doing something interesting.

We're fighting a vastly unpopular war overseas and can barely rummage up the energy for a few desultory protests. We have the attention span of a text message (don't forget, Twitter has a 160 character limit!). We expect to turn our events on and off and control which ones occur so that we only have to pay attention to the interesting things. We know the environment is bad and really should do something about it, after we get home from work.

Like many people I pine for what I am sure is a false vision of this nation's past: One Nation, United (I don't really care if it is under God or not). So I like the idea of someone who can make me (and others) feel some stirring of emotion and of caring. Of giving a shit. Of making some kind of change.

Footnote: I find it interesting that my first encounter with Obama's oration has that kind of hyper-vivid memory that I usually associate with things like Kennedy's assassination (not born yet), the explosion of the Challenger (standing in attendance line for PE in Junior High), and a few other crucial "bad" events.

Ever have one of those days where the weather is gummy and hot and you don't really have any food in the house and don't want to cook and are hungry and none of the takeout options sound good and all the restaurants sound boring and you are about to get into a fight because everyone is cranky and kind of miserable and knows that something is messed up and just can't figure out what to do?

Sound familiar? USA, 2008.

Those days seem to resolve when someone says "Hey, let's go see a movie!" or "Hey, let's pack a picnic and go to the beach!" or "Want to go clean up the garage?" or whatever? The whatever is secondary to the spirit of breaking the funk. We, nationally speaking, be in a funk. Of all the options, I pick Obama to de-funk us. It may not work, it may not break the funk. It may fail completely to bring about any sort of reunion of the desultory balkanization of this country. But its worth a goddamn try.

Now on to a few more reasons.

I'm tired of the Old White Guys. I guess that when I was younger, the idea of someone twice (or more) as old as I was running the country didn't seem so bad. Everyone was at least that much older than me. But now that I'm settling into adulthood, I increasingly find that I'd like to have some who is at least broadly speaking a peer running The Big Show. John McCain is seventy-freaking-one. That's grandparent old. That's generation gap old. Now that I'm in that middle place (kids, house, career, education), people in positions of power are no longer just complete aliens. So the prospect of one that I can broadly understand is exciting. As opposed to another old curmudgeon.

images-1.jpegThis isn't an attack on McCain for his age -- I save that for my tongue in cheek mockery elsewhere. And I want to make it clear that I respect a lot of what the man's done. A-4 pilot, had the living crap beaten out of him by the North Vietnamese, came home unable to walk and managed to get deck qualified again as an A-7 squadron commander. That's bona-fide hero stuff. And I have immense respect for the personal strength it implies. But I am tired of this war experience somehow showing up as foreign policy experience. Flying Scooters is not the same as making policy. It is a certain form of policy implementation, I will grant you that.

And there is a lot to be said for a chief executive with combat experience leading a nation during a time of war. And I sincerely hope that, if elected, Obama finds a cadre of advisors who can ensure he appreciates the challenges and realities of the warfighter. But let's not forget that the most hallowed wartime leader in this nation'srecent history, FDR, was a civilian. Overall, McCain's vet thing: bravo zulu for the service, but politically a washout.

images-2.jpegOk, I won't let go of the age thing. I can't. Seriously, I make mistakes. I flip words sometimes. I occasionally call it Czechoslovakia. I did. I mean, back when it had just changed names. I forget the arrangement of nations we are at war with. Is it Iraq or Idaho? For a dude who is touting lots of foreign policy experience, GET THE NAMES RIGHT. I'm not nitpicking here. This is your job. I do not make mistakes when it is critical and if I say the wrong word I will leave a classroom befuddled.

And I'm a teacher. I know public speaking in a way a lot of these yahoos don't. I was up on stage for ten hours today. And I didn't accidentally refer to anything by the name it used ten years ago.

And now that I've stopped with McCain's word challenges, another pro-Obama thing. He's smart. He's even an intellectual. He's edumacated. A lot of people have given the guy crap for that. Fine, that's your deal. I'm smart. I'm edumacated. A lot of the skills that I possesses were learned, honed, or rationalized by formal education. And while I can occasionally toss about some flippant contempt for those who never translate (or meld) that learning to anything outside of the academy, that should not be mistaken for contempt for the knowledge gained through education. There is a unique ability to absorb, translate, and analyze new information -- and to then utilize or respond to that information -- that is a product of the discourse and debate that takes place in academic settings. And of all academic settings, perhaps none more than those devoted to law.

Obama is also a man with a broad appeal. He, somehow, manages to appeal to an enormous range of people. Every Replubican that I used to know is planning, either enthusiastically or reluctantly, to vote for him. That tells me something -- he's at least palatable. The Bush presidency was, all other evaluations aside, divisive. People loved him or hated him. Or started out one way and changed to the other -- but they don't seem to shrug and not know what to say. This is the reason Hilary Clinton bugged me -- she's another highly divisive personality. Obama puts forward ideas of unification. And he, somehow, gets people to feel a sense of unity. After eight contentious years that bred dissatisfaction and discontent, pushing towards a sense of unity is very important. Healing, even. And I'll try that for a change.

I've also not tended to think highly of the intelligence of recent presidents -- or recent presidential candidates. I value intelligence, even as something entirely different from education. I value it in a leader because it speaks to the ability to deal with the unexpected, to make good decisions, to choose wisely and rationally. Obama's a smart guy. He talks smart, he acts smart, and he's got a background that show's he's had to prove that to some pretty qualified judges.

Returning again to youth -- and touching on some slightly more meaty issues, even as my consciousness fades a little -- Obama's a member of a new generation. He seems to understand that the world is a different place than it was a decade ago. This isn't another 9/11 thing. That was (and remains) a big deal, a watershed in history no doubt. This is about a more gradual and subtle change, a change away from monolithic nation-states and towards a global community. It sounds cheesy, almost John Lennon cheesy, but the old patterns of national and economic relations are shifting. Not going away, not at all -- there are still borders and tariffs and diplomats and wars. But the web of interdependence grows ever thicker. And the web of inter...well...interharmfulness, to portmanteau together a couple of words, grows thicker as well. Individual, community, and national actions alter the world on a global scale. Environmentally, politically, socially, and economically, all much more than ever before. I know plenty of folks who are significantly older than Barack Obama -- some who are downright McCain-like in their ages -- who get the shifting world. They function in it, they understand (as much as anyone does) how it works, and they relate to it as it is and not as it used to be.

So perhaps finally, and perhaps most importantly, I believe that Obama is a better choice to manage this nation into an ever more enmeshed world. A better choice to manage relations with foreign nations that cannot simply follow the old paradigms but must respect the changing landscape.

But, as I grow tired from a long day and a lot of talking, I keep coming back to one thing. Barack Obama fills me with a feeling of giving a crap. Of giving a crap about a process that I've barely given the time of day for the past dozen years, so dissatisfied had I become. Of giving a crap about being able to change the world (and the nation!) to some sort of a better place.

I'm sure I've left a thing or two off. And probably fumbled my explanation of several of the rest. But rationalizing a personal -- and admittedly quite emotionally based -- choice is not necessarily an easy thing to do. In a nutshell, Mom, the reason I am enthusiastic about Obama is because Obama makes me enthusiastic. In that enthusiasm I recognize something good and necessary.

And don't worry, soon I'll be returning to normal. My next post will probably be about airplanes or cryptology. As soon as I get some sleep.

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