My political childhood
February 19, 2008
It’s 2008 and I”m 23 years old. This means when I was becoming “politically aware” – say around 16 or 17 – the seemingly big issue at the time was Kenneth Star trying to impeach the President of the United States for lying about a blowjob. This was not the best time to get interested in politics. So, I didn’t. My interest went elsewhere.
The next large political event was the 2000 election. I wasn’t of voting age yet so my interest, again, was largely absent. I was raised a liberal democrat (despite the fact that my personal political philosophy had barely begun to form) so my interest was in seeing Gore win against Bush. Neither seemed interesting, one seemed dumb and the other could stop saying the word “lockbox”. Then.. after the election: allegations of voter fraud, ambiguity, a supreme court judge determining the outcome instead of the simple matter of counting. The first presidential election I really paid any attention beacme a massive question mark. Simply put, this was a bad sign.
For the next several months the typical political punditry for cutting down the president for his behavior felt normal. It was commonplace. Then 9/11 happened. It was one of those “I remember exactly where I was when…” moments. For previous generations that moment was when JFK, RFK, or MLK or John Lennon was assassinated. Surprisingly, I didn’t lose faith in the effectiveness of my government, at least not initially. We bounced back in such an unimaginably noble form that I felt somewhat proud that this did not defeat us. We had the world’s sympathy, we weren’t accusing all our enemies or blaming ourselves for negligence.
This lasted only a few months.
Conspiracy theorists – ‘troofers’ – exploded onto the internet. Xenophobia and anti-islamic rhetoric blanketed our political landscape. For the next year the talk of the town was Afghanistan and the Taliban. We became grossly misinformed of the culture of our “enemies” through the medium of blatantly partisan yet non-transparent newsmedia outlets. Even who are enemies were was clouded. Some said Afghanistan and therefore the Taliban but most of the hijackers were Saudi Arabian. Then somehow Iraq was thrown into the mix. I had a president who barely had a grasp on the English language and who had absolutely no grasp on logic, justification, or critical thinking in general. And the political will at the time was caked in fear and vengeance. In 2003 the Iraq War started. Of the numerous justifications for the war very little made sense in a post-9/11 atmosphere.
Even though I had a barely even experienced a non-post-9/11 atmosphere the justifications for “liberating” Iraq made no sense to me. Why would a conservative President who only a few years previous objected to using the US as a “nation builder” put forth the most psychotically progressive idea I’ve ever heard? He wanted to invade a middle-eastern country, kill the dictator, destroy its government, seize its weapons of mass destruction, and create a new government. And the naivete of our officials and political pundits was staggering. To them this was all possible in a few months to a few years all with the “support” of the Iraqi citizens. Bill Clinton said the war would last “maybe three days.” Rumsfeld said a few months. And every so many months for the next several years you had someone else saying “a few months.” Things like “Homeland security” and fascistic domestic policy like the patriot act were created. Most unfortunately, the administration’s behavior toward domestic and international treaties and policy was deplorable. We went against the United Nations, broke the Geneva and Hague conventions, violated our own constitution and war powers act, and had a general disregard that stood in our way of seeking vengence while we built up security.
It was because of this we lost the sympathy of the world.
For political infants such as myself there was little in the proceeding months to assuage the apathy and lack of hope I felt towards my politically charged society as a whole. Nonetheless, I strived to be politically informed. This involved me reading over-reported news of soldier death tolls and under-reported news of civilian death tolls; false reports of found WMDs and confirming reports that one of the biggest justifications for the invasion was false; the internal failure of my government to effectively respond to a domestic natural disaster. Watching society lose its trust in the efficacy of science – creationism/ID versus evolution actually became a political issue in the realm of education. Not only this but Al Gore also popularized the theory of climate change. Science had a wealth of evidence generally confirming the threat of our world’s future and “denial” became a large response – especially by those who hold the power to do anything about it.
When pictures from Abu Grahib came out I felt what few Americans should ever feel: shame. There were previous events where shame was a reasonable response but it wasn’t until Abu Grahib that I felt the type of shame I could only have imagined Germans felt after the reality of the Holocaust became apparent. A cocoon of disillusionment and apathy had me wrapped almost entirely. Simply ignoring politics for the sake of personal sanity was unfortunately not, in my mind, an appropriate option. So I read on.
Things began to die down, more or less. Saddam was eventually captured but war casualties continued to rage on. People barely talked about Osama anymore other than trying to remind us in political debates about Iraq that he was and still should be the initial target. Over-politicized moral issues like gay marriage rights and stem cell research ebbed back and forth in the political consciousness. However, under-politicized issues such as net-neutrality were grossly under-reported. The immigration ‘debate’ seemed symptomatic of residual xenophobia but regardless of political ideology the response was universal: strengthen the boarders and figure out something to do with the illegals already here – some said prison, deportation, or the most humane response of a path to citizenship.
By now it was 2007 and presidential campaigning started early. Since Bush was re-elected in 2004 the promise of change was a given. In the eyes of the public, however, republican neoconservatism had been a collossal failure.
What I wanted to see and needed to see was the correct response to everything that has happened in my political childhood since 9/11.
I needed to be inspired rather then become more apathetic. I needed government transparency rather than governmental secrecy and executive privilege. I needed to see the integrity and freedom of the internet secured. I needed to see immigration solved without a psuedo-xenophobic attitude. I needed to see us get out of Iraq in a realistic manner rather than an idealistic manner. I needed to see a response to foriegn relations that was non-opposition, diplomatic, and that held negotiation and compromise over dogma and militarial might. I needed to see universal healthcare in a way that reflected American ideals of choice and individualism. I needed to see politics become unifying in a very fundamental way; in a way that the two opposing sides of our nation came to one based on mutually agreed premises. I needed to see not old politics promising change but new politics demanding it.
I see this and only this in the philosophy Barack Obama.