Today I want to talk about some things related to our continuing discussion of “political discourse,” identification, our history, and our human propensity to make assumptions. That’s a lot of ground to cover, so please bear with me. I’m bound to ramble.
Let’s start with discourse and President Obama’s speech. I liked it. While I’m no fan, it did satisfy some of my craving for reason in the madness of our current national dialogue. Unlike the television pundits and some on the right, I did not have a problem at all with the setting or the tone of the crowd. Tucson gets to react however they see fit, and if they needed to release some positive energy that others interpreted as having a “pep rally” feel, so be it. His speech and my own reflection these past few days about this country, its rhetoric, and where I stand politically are weighing heavily on my mind tonight.
I know where I stand, but it’s a rough place to be, and many others don’t get it. I no longer belong to anybody. It’s a very lonely feeling. For nearly 20 years I was a happy, if ignorant, liberal. My political life really started with the Clinton election of 1992, the first election in which I could vote for president. It seemed then that everybody hated the man and his wife, both of whom I loved. I slowly backed into a defensive crouch as the decade marched on and the Clintons came under attack from nearly every quarter, even from within their own party. I did not understand then that privilege and class had a lot to do with it, nor did I understand until recently our partisan history. Once you understand those two dynamics, the Clinton years, and so much else, comes into sharp focus.
The corridors of power in Washington are full of the elite. It’s the place the very rich send talentless sons and the place the children of well-off, well-connected, but not technically rich people buy their children the right educations to get into. Certainly they held a grudge against the product of a working class family, from a single mother to boot, who had worked his way up on mere wit and charm, no credentials needed to enter their Ivy League institutions. Oh, they were happy to give him an education, but then the fucker had the gall to jump to the front of the line, in front of the babies of countless powerful people who felt it was Junior’s turn. That was easy enough to understand, and by the time Clinton left office, my political mind was mature enough to realize it.
Putting our partisan history in context took quite a bit longer, and has been much harder work. If not for 2008, I’m not sure I could have done it. I had bought the rhetoric of the left hook, line, and sinker.
I don’t anymore because the way Obama ran his campaign, from McClurkin, to the character assassination of Hillary Clinton, right on down to the attacks on Sarah Palin, was at odds with what I knew to be common liberal values. We supported gay rights and the rights of women, we were proud of our history of civil rights pursuits and working class roots, we thought every vote counted and that election rules shouldn’t change in the middle of the process just because a small group of powerful people wanted a certain candidate. 2008 upended all of that.
What that break did was free me of party affiliations forever. I never forgot that, like many Americans, I gave George W. Bush a fair shot after 9/11, and he repaid that by doing things like outing a CIA agent and taking us to war in Iraq. I wasn’t going to become a Republican, even if I could occasionally vote for one. But I couldn’t be a Democrat anymore, and after the treatment I received from liberal and progressive “friends” because I chose to honor the ideas I held and not the party I had belonged to, I couldn’t really claim identification with the left at all. This freed me up to ask a lot of questions I had not previously had the courage to ask myself. Continue reading