The first time I voted was 1980, when Reagan knocked Carter out of a second term. I don’t even remember how I got my news back then, but I do remember that everyone was very grim around Reed College, where the unofficial motto was “Communism - Atheism - Free Love” and the hard-core set walked around with bare feet all winter and ate what they could scrounge off the bussed trays in the cafeteria. When I started at Reed a substantial part of my financial aid was in the form of federal need-based grants. I think those were pretty much gone by the time I graduated.
I was in Seattle for Reagan’s re-election, and had moved to Chicago a few months before the 1988 race that gave us our first four Bush years. For most of the time in between I was studying music at CalArts, the avant-guarde school that Disney built at the northern edge of LA’s sprawl, where it was slowly surrounded by the clean-cut and conservative cul-de-sacs of Valencia. The land of fruits and nuts, as a friend of mine used to say. It was a Reagan-era kind of place.
Chicago—Hyde Park, in fact—was a huge change. There’s no getting away from politics in Chicago. It’d been a year since Harold Washington’s sudden death, but the city was still battling through the aftermath. I was still there four years later, and that time I finally got to vote for the winner. What I remember most clearly from ‘92 isn’t Clinton, it’s Carol Mosley Braun’s run for the senate. People I knew in the neighborhood were involved in her campaign, I think. We were all thrilled that she won—too bad things didn’t go as well once she got to Washington. I guess by that time, Barack Obama was circulating in the neighborhood and teaching at the U of C, not that I had a clue.
I was in Boston for Clinton’s re-election, and down here in North Carolina for the Bush v. Gore debacle. God was that depressing! And in many ways the 2004 election was even worse. How could such a bungling idiot get re-elected? Canada never looked better, but I consoled myself that if Kerry had won, it’s likely he’d have been a weak president who’d have to absorb Bush’s catastrophic mistakes and would likely absorb a lot of the blame as well. Better, maybe, for Bush to keep stewing in it, and it seemed pretty clear that he’d thoroughly discredit himself if he had four more years. He did just that. Too bad all the rest of us are stuck in the hole, too.
After Bush won in 2000 I felt like I understood what the people who loathed the Clintons had gone through for 8 years. Just the sound of that Texas drawl on the radio and I can’t turn the thing off fast enough. It’s a gut reaction, and I’m sure Bill Clinton’s voice can do the same thing to a lot of Republicans. And for many people I know, and to some extent for me, too, there was an apocalyptic feel to the Reagan victory, and even more to Bush II. It was a show of political force from hordes of people who apparently wanted to bulldoze life as we knew it, and it wasn’t clear what was going to stop them. Fortunately the complicated business of running a country slows down even anti-government administrations.
Anyway, I have some sympathy for the people who are feeling alienated and anxious in the face of all this whooping and hollering and talk of change. When you’re stuck on a ship, it’s not a good feeling when someone you don’t like or trust takes over the wheel. It’ll be tough having to listen to President Obama holding forth from the bully pulpit, and having to listen to all the ridiculous and obnoxious stuff his supporters and fans will come up with. One consolation, if you voted for Bush, is that your guy is leaving a huge mess, and it’s hard to see how Obama will have the time or money to enslave the white race, or whatever. So no need to let your imagination run away with you. If it’s already run away, and you’re convinced that Obama is Muslim, that he wasn’t born in the US, that he didn’t write his own book, that he’s a Marxist, that you better stock up on American flags because pretty soon you won’t be able to buy one, etc., etc., here’s what I’d suggest:
Grow up, folks! Get a grip! There’s lots of real problems—go find one!
In the mean time, I’ll be enjoying myself. It was nice to be able to vote for the winner back in ‘92 and ‘96, but this time it’s a whole lot sweeter. Even though I had a feeling from the beginning that Obama would pull this off, it’s still hard to believe it actually happened. An articulate president who’s seen the world from many angles, from the ground up, and reacts with curiosity and intelligence? A president who’s as gifted a politician as Bill Clinton and has self-control to boot? A president who’s broken through the most symbolic of racial barriers with the grace and confidence of a man who has nothing to prove about how black he is or about how black he isn’t? A president who projects the best qualities of the two countries that have shaped my life, America and Kenya?
It’s too much.
Here’s a timely message from Sam, the American Eagle. (hat tip)