Let me state it for posterity, in unequivocal terms: I H-E-A-R-T Barack Obama. And not in a “you’re-so-sexy-I-wanna-get-with-you” way. In a “You are a capital-L Leader who has vision and wisdom and EMPATHY (you heard me)” way. And I’m not a latecomer, either. I hitched my wagon to this star way back in June ’07, when I bought a deck of Barack Obama playing cards at Politics and Prose in our nation’s capitol:
And lest this isn’t evidence enough, let the record state that my first bumpersticker said “Obama ’08” and my first, second, third, fourth (etc.) campaign contributions were to “Obama for America” during the primary and general campaigns (BTW – don’t believe everything you see on The Huffington Post). (Also, to the development staff at the DNC: just because I donated a couple hundred bucks does NOT mean I can pony up $15K for dinner with the prez, regardless of my explosive admiration – but thank you for the invitation).
I even tried to win one of the “have dinner with Barack and other key demographic representatives who might sway the vote of some people like them” (not sure that was the actual name) contests. I wrote this somewhat-contrived sounding (but sincere) piece and shot it off into cyberspace, with nary a reply (I’m not bitter!).
In February of 2000 I spent twelve days in Gjakova, Kosova. I was 28 years old, fresh out of college, working for a fundamentalist Christian humanitarian aid organization, and outside North America for the first time in my life. The devastation was rampant – Gjakova suffered more deaths than any other city in the province – and in the face of their overwhelming losses the people were unfailingly generous, warm and hospitable. Time and again, upon discovering that we were American, people would grasp our hands, kiss us soundly on both cheeks, and thank us for saving them. Photos of President Clinton – against whom I voted twice – were posted everywhere, alongside photos of KLA leader Ramush Haradinaj. The two were the national heroes. While in Kosova, I vacillated continuously between feelings of great pride and great shame. As an American, I was grateful that our government had urged NATO to intervene. And I was troubled by how easy it was for me to stay uninformed, blithely going on with my life while people suffered.
That trip was the genesis of a significant shift in my ideology, theology and politics. I had grown up in a white, middle class Lutheran family in the suburbs of Seattle and became a fundamentalist late in my teens. For the decade following, I was a one-issue voter, paying little attention to the needs of those outside my church. After my trip to Kosova, fundamentalism was a much less comfortable fit. Slowly compassion and a commitment to community replaced self-righteousness and judgment as the expression of my faith.
One of my final acts as a conservative Christian was voting for George W. Bush in November of 2000. While I understand that as a voter in Washington State, I had no influence on the election’s outcome, I look back on that as one of the few things in my life that I regret.
The blessings in my life are too numerous to count. Chief among them is my community. Participating in the lives of my friends and having them participate in mine, contributing to one another’s success and well being is fundamental. I believe that we were designed to live in community at a personal, local and national level; that we have an obligation to give and to receive.
Paradoxically, as my transforming faith urged me to become more engaged in my community, my disillusionment with this administration made me ashamed to be an American. Patriotism became entwined with imperialism in my mind. Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Hurricane Katrina – to me these became signs of the inevitable decline of empire. This administration’s intolerance of opposing viewpoints and rampant fear-mongering eroded my sense of national identity. For the last several years I’ve held a dim view of America’s future.
Senator Obama’s campaign has – dare I say it? – restored my hope. In his speeches and writings, I’ve caught glimpses of the nobility of democracy, and felt moments of pride in the American dream. For the first time in my life, I believe that the ideal of individual sacrifice for the advancement of society is more than a pipe dream – that people desire to work together for the common good. I want to be a part of that vision, to take my place among those working to make this a more perfect union.
Over dinner with the Senator, I would love to discuss his vision for civic engagement – how an alliance of the public, private, nonprofit and citizen sectors can reimagine and reshape education, health care, affordable housing, to name just a few, restoring this country’s future.
Anyway, blah blah blah.
So it was with enormous, heart-bursting gratitude and joy that I watched those electronic, over-produced U.S. maps turn mostly blue all across basic cable on November 4, 2008. And the euphoric feelings ramped up and up through January 20th. I was so proud and moved to witness, alongside lovely, lovely friends including two handsome boys in high chairs, who clapped at all the right places, this historic sight:
And, I’m willing to admit, this sight gave me plenty of warm fuzzies as well:
Not since FDR has an American president inherited such a pile of poo from his predecessor. President Obama has grappled with an enormous economic crisis, two messy wars, a healthcare debacle and our nation’s stinky reputation in his 8+ months in office. (By the time I’d finished eight months at my current job, I finally had the jargon down – but a lot of the concepts still alluded me, and I’m a smart cookie!) And he’s making headway. It’s incremental, painful, not always ideal, but it’s headed in the right direction. And he’s gracious, articulate, frank….
I’m still quite proud of him.
So you can imagine my… irritation? fury? homicidal impulses? when I hear mean-spirited, spiteful, attention-whore JACKASSES on certain cable news programs liken our president to Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot. And my accompanying frustration and disappointment when innocently ignorant people echo these sentiments rather than engage in real debate.
My hat’s off to Barney Frank in this clip.
He’s on the money: it’s impossible to engage in a real conversation, where common ground might be reached, when someone is shouting “Facist! Socialist! Communist!” seemingly never taking a breath. Besides, isn’t it pretty basic knowledge that those three “ists” are not synonymous? Today, I came across the perfect image that expressed my bemusement and inspired this long, long post:
I say to those who shout and shout: read up a little on history, political ideology, and current issues, and let’s have a real debate. I’m betting we can teach one another a thing or two.