Thursday, September 4, 2008
Many people over the last several months have asked me why I am so worked up over this election. Prior to November of last year, I had switched off any interest in politics and hadn't much cared about national elections for, oh, something like 10+ years. My answer to the question always involves two important elements.
The first element of my answer is my enthusiasm for Barack Obama as a person and a candidate. Once I took the time to research and learn more about him, I saw in Obama one of the most fundamentally decent politicians to run for the office of President in recent memory. I found him to be intelligent, engaging, contemplative, honest, forthright and candid -- all qualities that have been so obviously missing over the last eight years. Listening to him speak and reading what he wrote sold me on his story, his commitment to this great country, and his fundamental decency and quality of character. However, my enthusiasm for Barack Obama as a candidate is only one aspect to why I am so passionate about this election.
The second and perhaps more passion-inspiring aspect to my enthusiasm for electing Obama is my deep-seated need for the American electorate to say "Enough!" to all of the terrifying qualities that we have seen infect and and spread throughout our communities and government over these past eight years. Above nearly every other consideration on the table at this point, I desperately need to see America send up a powerful and resounding rebuke to the tone, tenor and ideology underpinning one of the most necrotic, corrupt and incompetent administrations in American history.
You may call me naïve for saying this but I yearn to wake up one day and not be afraid to learn what my government has done in my name. I am profoundly tired of waking up to learn that our country has unconstitutionally exceeded the powers of the executive branch, tortured terrorism suspects, illegally populated the Justice Department with people whose primary qualification was the sufficiency of their partisanship, mishandled domestic national disasters resulting in the deaths of thousands of people, obstinately refused to address climate change, illegally revealed the identity of a covert CIA agent, used hatred and fear of gays and lesbians to scare up votes in an election season, stymied research into embryonic stem cells based on religious faith alone, instituted a Pentagon propaganda campaign to sell an unjustified war, invaded a country that never participated in an attack on American soil and never posed an existential threat to our national security, and pathologically lied to the American people about every matter, large or small -- with all of these acts done in our name without a shred of meaningful accountability brought to bear upon any of the misguided criminals involved in their perpetration.
To put it mildly, I am ashamed, and profoundly so. Nearing as I am the age of 32, you'd think that my shame and cynicism would have led me to give up on any hope for honesty and competence in my elected leaders -- and for a while, I had. However, I see in Obama a golden opportunity (perhaps the last one we'll have in a long, long while) to forcefully cast off the last eight years of unchecked lies, misdirection, corruption, misinformation, illegality and incompetence.
As Obama himself has admitted, he is of course an imperfect messenger -- just as any person seeking the most powerful office in the world would be. However, this election means much more to me than just electing a person to fill a role -- it can also mean that we, as Americans, have borne witness to the evil that has been done in our name and have decided to forcefully and unequivocally declare that we will stand for it no longer!
With the two primary aspects to my passion for electing Obama being laid out above, please permit me go one step further and explain one of the main ways this passion gets channeled on a day-to-day basis.
I have gone through most of my life in a position of relatively comfortable middle-class privilege. My stepfather was a college professor and my mother an accomplished artist and homemaker. My sisters and I generally didn't want for anything. I came out of the closet in high school at the tender age of 13 and was lucky enough to grow up in a loving family that accepted me fully for who I was. Coming out so early, however, left my still-forming psyche fully exposed to the harsh winds of a culture and society that is still too often prone to demonizing gays and lesbians for no reason other than the gender of the person they choose to love.
I became involved in politics and activism during my teen years in the small town of Eugene, Oregon during an unfortunate episode in our state's history when a radical right-wing organization called the Oregon Citizen's Alliance successfully placed an initiative on the statewide ballot in 1992 called Measure 9 that would have revised the Oregon constitution to read:
All governments in Oregon may not use their monies or properties to promote, encourage or facilitate homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism or masochism. All levels of government, including public education systems, must assist in setting a standard for Oregon's youth which recognizes that these behaviors are abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse and they are to be discouraged and avoided.
To this day, reading the language of Measure 9 still brings tears to my eyes. To my teenage mind, it was one thing to understand that certain people in my country and community with antiquated medieval morality hadn't yet evolved to the point that they could accept me for who I am. It was quite another thing, however, for the people of my state and local community to be voting on a constitutional amendment to permanently and explicitly stigmatize me in the highest law of the state as "abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse".
Thankfully, Measure 9 failed, but only by a margin of 44% in favor to just 56% opposed. As I look back on it, I think this was the first concrete time in my life when I truly sat back and thought, "Dear God, there is an enormous percentage of the population out there for whom ignorance and gullibility is a virtue and who are capable of using their ignorance as a sword to strike out and try to hurt other people, and the country, with their vote!" This general realization about the fundamental nature of a large portion of the electorate eventually drove me into a self-induced fog of anger and cynicism that was only more strongly reinforced by America's reelection of George W. Bush after much of the information that has recently driven his approval ratings into the low 20s was already evident.
The upshot of all this background information is how it reflects on my outlook today. Although I labored in a fog of anger and cynicism for 15-odd years, it wasn't enough to completely kill off my hope for an episodic emergence of the inherent goodness in people that I never stopped believing in. I still fundamentally believe that a large majority of people in this country and around the world have, at their core, a well of goodness that can be easily shrouded by any number of suppressive factors, i.e., abuse, privation, religious fundamentalism, divorce, deaths in the family, etc. Although all-too-often lying dormant, the shroud covering this inherent goodness within us is periodically peeled back to allow for radical, transformative change, e.g., abolishing slavery, giving women the right to vote and ending segregation.
Over the last seven or more years, the shroud covering many of our better instincts was metastasized by, among other things, the tragic events of 9/11. Too many of us retreated into our cocoons and gave our government carte blanche to run roughshod over many of the rights we hold dear and slaughter tens of thousands of innocent civilians in order exact vengeance upon a shadowy and intangible threat that emerged from a world to which we often pay far too little attention and spend little time trying to understand.
Owing much to our lust for vengeance and a profane President and his administration that, unchecked by any authority, has taken every opportunity to knowingly and vigorously violate the cherished morals, ethics, values, laws and international standards we once held so dear, we are now at a precipitous crossroads in our country's history. This is not just a fight against the poisonous depravity of the Bush administration, this is also a fight against our lesser instincts, our apathy and our complicity in what our government has become. It is not enough to simply write off the last eight years as the result of some compartmentalized bad actor and his cronies occupying and mismanaging the White House. We must systematically, and with great wisdom and purpose, reject and denounce the entire paradigm of accepting the presentation of falsehoods from those who would seek to govern us, justifying the torture of prisoners as an evil means toward a noble end, and cavalierly relinquishing the rights and freedoms for which so many brave souls have fought and spilled their blood over the centuries of our proud country's history.
In this election, the Republican candidate for President has embraced and expanded upon all of the worst instincts and tactics that drove our current President into the White House. With every new day, John McCain and his surrogates have proven in new and creative ways how much contempt they possess for concepts such as honesty, dignity, integrity, candor, humility and compassion. It is not enough to get angry about the fact that they put out jaw-droppingly obvious lies and misdirection on a daily basis. We must dig deeper and fight the very premise that underlies their shameful and dishonorable tactics: the idea that selling lies to the American electorate will work because we are too stupid, comfortable, uninformed and apathetic to realize that they are deceiving us! The next time you hear a McCain surrogate parrot talking points that falsely accuse Obama of wanting to raise taxes on people making $42,000 per year or claim that McCain is not, and has not always been, 100% committed to criminalizing abortion, dig below your righteous anger and react more strongly to the fact that we are responsible for giving them the impression that they can shamelessly peddle their lies with impunity. The stakes are too high in this election, and the challenges we face are too great, to simply leave this despicable premise unchallenged.
Fighting John McCain's dishonorable underlying premise does not just involve simply going to the ballot box and voting for Barack Obama on November 4th; it requires a much greater commitment than that. In past elections, when faced with an uninformed friend or relative that promulgates a new lie du jour that emanated from a surrogate of the opposing campaign, many of us have all too often held our tongues in order to avoid making waves or having others think less of us. This needs to end, quickly.
We have a civic duty, at this point in our country's history, to become properly informed about the facts underlying all of the main issues circulating in your family and community and, when faced with a lie promulgated by the McCain campaign, not only speak out forcefully, with limitless respect and patience, against the particular lie under discussion but also enter into a discussion of McCain's underlying premise. The impact of refuting a lie will always be less significant than helping someone come to realize that the systemic pattern of lies and misdirection put out by the McCain campaign presupposes that we are all too stupid, comfortable, uninformed and apathetic to realize that they are deceiving us.
I know that, like me, your view of national elections and politicians has all-too-often sprouted from a fertile bed of cynical cop-outs, e.g., picking the lesser of two evils, thinking that your vote doesn't count, believing that all politicians are just craven liars and discounting the election because it doesn't matter who you choose because they'll all screw you over anyway. At this moment in history -- when we are faced with record oil prices coupled with an ever-dwindling, non-expandable supply of fossil fuels, an economy with sectors not far off from permanent systemic failure and a standing and moral authority in the world worse than at any point in the last century -- we cannot allow ourselves to take false comfort in these reassuring, emotionally protective clichés.
The polluted nature of the McCain campaign and its occasional temporary successes, achieved using dishonorable means, must not flag our resolve or beat us back from facing every attack with every last shred of energy we can muster. At the risk of hyperbole, I truly believe that there are fundamental virtues at stake in this election that John McCain and his surrogates have chosen to both ignore and defile: honesty, dignity, integrity, candor, humility and compassion, to name but a few. Dig back to a time in your youth when you yearned with every fiber of your naïve and unspoiled being to be a defender of Truth, a person of integrity and a defender of the helpless and infirm. Find the passion you once felt, channel it back into the present day and let it give you succor on days like today, when it feels like the enemy advances and the headwinds against your struggle are too great. In the end, we must do everything we can muster to ensure that Truth -- absolute, objective and immutable Truth -- and timeless Virtue prevail against the forces of inertia and cynicism that have kept us chained in our self-shackled prisons for far too long.