Wednesday, October 24, 2012
My Favorite Mistake- Why I am Way More Excited to Vote for Barack Obama in 2012 than I Was in 2008
I want to share you guys on a little secret: I actively disliked Barack Obama when he ran for President in 2008. As a Democratic operative for a Senate candidate in a swing state, I even turned out voters for him, but I didn't like the guy. Don't get me wrong, I still voted for him. I'm not a self/poor/gay-hating feminist. But unlike the vast majority of my contemporaries, I was the proverbial voter holding her nose in the voting booth.
I'll be the first to admit, some of my reasons for disliking now President Obama were petty. I had spent 11 months in Iowa working for his opponent (John Edwards) in the caucuses. To work those kind of hours in that kind of climate (particularly for that kind of candidate) you have to believe that anyone else securing the nomination is tantamount to armageddon. In part because of the attitude and inexperience of certain staff members with whom I interacted, and in part because of my lingering sadness and confusion over John Edwards losing the primary and the subsequent scandal, I found his campaign condescending and difficult to work with.
Even after Obama's inauguration, I remained skeptical of his liberal credentials and his penchant for compromise. I was worried that he was more smoke than substance. I’ve always been more of an LBJ than JFK kinda girl.
But there was another reason I was wary of Obama’s 2008 campaign, and the candidate himself: Hope. The fervor and enthusiasm that accompanied Obama’s 2008 campaign is the stuff of legends. Hordes of activists my age and younger knocked doors, made phone calls and attended rock concert-esque rallies with the belief that this man could single-handedly change the way we do business. As a career Democratic operative, I worried that Obama could not live up to this promise and that the result would be a generation of disappointed and disenfranchised voters.
Despite having missed out on the fun (and career opportunities) of supporting the President in 2008, I view my former skepticism as a tremendous gift. I can look with clear eyes (and full heart) over the past four years and say this President has met and exceeded my wildest expectations.
I could talk about 800,000 jobs created and 32 consecutive months of private sector job growth, and all of that would be true. But I don’t really work in the private sector, and by dint of what I do, any Democratic nominee would contribute to my job opportunities. Let’s talk about what matters to me, as a voter.
1) Health Care. Devotees will remember that I’ve had a rare life threatening illness since I was 17. Had I not been on my parents’ insurance when I started feeling symptoms, I very easily could have died. Without quick diagnosis and access to specialists, I could have lost my vision, had a stroke or needed to have a limb amputated by the time they figured out what was wrong with me. I know this because there are people in my Takayasu’s Arteritis facebook group who were diagnosed too late because they couldn’t afford to go to the doctor or their HMOs didn’t provide them access to tests and doctors familiar with my disease, knowledge that is never far from my mind. Needless to say, this is an intensely personal issue for me. My President has successfully passed the first meaningful health care legislation in my lifetime, ensuring that no little Nancy is afraid to go to the doctor because her family won’t be able to afford ensuing health care costs.
2) Equal Rights. My first internship in politics was at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, an AIDS advocacy organization in New York City. It was the summer after John Kerry lost the 2004 election and spirits were extremely low. Every day I would go up to the lunch line (we served free lunch to clients who could not afford both food and the rising costs of medication) and try to get our clients to call the Speaker of the New York State Senate asking him to block a bill that cut funding for Medicare, a program on which many of our clients relied. Every day my requests were met with the same responses. “I'm sick and I'm gay. The government doesn't care about me.” or “It won't make a difference. There's nothing I can do.” It was there that I first fell in love with organizing. When I finally convinced a client to make a phone call, a light went off in my mind. He would not have made that call without me. I wasn't just giving him the opportunity to speak out on one issue, I was showing him that there was someone listening on the other end of the phone. I thought about my clients when Barack Obama made history by coming out in support of equal marriage. I thought, “See? Your President sees you, he cares about you.” I wept. It wasn’t just because some of the most important people in my world are gay and I want them to be able to get married (although they are and I do.) This could be any group. Gay marriage is a civil rights issue and my President is on the right side of it. I feel safer and prouder to be an American knowing I have a President who takes the concepts of equality, liberty and the pursuit of happiness seriously.
3) Meritocracy. There’s this myth that liberals want to move toward a socialist society where everyone’s the same and makes the same amount of money. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am a huge advocate for personal responsibility and frankly,a snob. I firmly believe that there are people who are smarter, more talented and more driven than most of society and they deserve to have more, better stuff. What I don’t believe is that all of these people are magically rich, white, cis-gendered men. Meritocracy means equality of opportunity, not equality of result. My President passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, doubled funding for pell grants and established a college tax credit to ensure that the true cream rises to the top and our country can continue to lead and innovate.
4) 9/11. I didn’t realize how much September 11th had affected to me until I spent a September across the country from New York. While seeing a plane crash into the twin towers was shocking and terrifying to anyone watching, New Yorkers experienced the immediate fear that we knew someone who was down there. I was a Senior at High School at the time and I remember comforting a girl I had never met before who was sobbing hysterically because her father worked downtown and cell phone towers were down so she couldn’t get in touch with him. Where were our parents and grandparents? My father, who grew up in the city, couldn’t bear to hear it discussed in public for weeks afterwards. While I found it crass to celebrate Osama Bin Laden’s assassination, especially with the knowledge that it could never bring people back who had died, his death settled something in me that I hadn’t even know was unsettled. It reaffirmed American supremacy in a way I found deeply comforting. My President shot the boogy man and signed the First Responders bill.
5) The war in Iraq. Have we all forgotten that this President ended the war in Iraq? A war that should never have been started in the first place? A war that was an international embarrassment? My President followed through on his commitment to end the war, saving countless lives to say nothing of money that could be spent on education and health care.
As you can imagine, its very difficult for me to relate to someone who is not excited about voting, and this year in particular. If you are one of those people who was fired up about the President in 2008 and isn't feeling it this year, I urge you to show up at a campaign office and see if you don't get inspired. I could scare you by asking you to consider what a President Romney would mean for women, gay people, and the working class, but the truth is I shouldn't have to. Our President has done so much in these past 4 years to move our country forward that his record stands on it's own even without comparison.
If after all that you still resent our President for not living up to whatever ill defined expectations you may have set for him 4 years ago, I'll make you a deal: I voted for him when you were guzzling kool aid, even though I was dragging my heels to the voting booth and the sounds of the man's voice made me viscerally nauseous- so please return the favor. I'm confident that gamble will work out just as satisfyingly for you as it has for me.
Fired Up and Ready to Go,