Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Story of a Voter

I'm feeling conflicted about Clinton or Obama, although it might be that at this point the fact is that I'm going to follow the bandwagon either way and no sense agonizing. I'd be thrilled to elect either of them. If the vote was today I'd go with Clinton. It occurred to me that my long-term perspective on US elections is something that I have to share.
The first election I remember on an emotional level is 1968. My father went with Humphrey as a loyal Democrat, but my mother was so alienated by the Vietnam War that she couldn't bring herself to vote for HHH, and went with Eugene McCarthy instead, and my oldest sister, off to the University of California at Santa Cruz in the fall of 1968 as an 18-year-old freshman from Kansas (imagine that!) went "clean for Gene" as well. Richard Nixon won the election by the very narrowest of margins. For me, going to high school during Nixon's so-called "Vietnamization" (eg withdrawal of US ground forces) the bombing of Cambodia, the Christmas Bombing, etc., when so many students didn't even process that the war was still going on, was my formative political experience of the early 1970s. In 1972 the Democrats lost on the war and security again with the anti-war candidate McGovern. Then as now the Republican administration succeeded in making the ongoing war "palatable" to the public.
In 1971 the 26th Amendment, giving 18-year-olds the right to vote, was adopted, and in 1976 I turned 18 and cast my first vote, for Jimmy Carter. It would be another 16 years before I would cast another winning vote.
In 1980 Reagan defeated Carter largely on national security, and specifically Reagan ran a hard line on Iran, which was holding the American hostages from the revolution of 1979. Does everyone forget these things? Iran was driving our election 28 years ago. Carter was weakened by a challenge from Ted Kennedy and by the independent candidacy of John Anderson, and I spent that one trying to talk people into supporting the Democratic front runner.
A really important election for me was 1988. That was of course the year of Jesse Jackson's spectacular primary candidacy, when he took 25 percent of the delegates to the Democratic convention and assembled his family onstage. I drove down to Denver from Boulder with a friend to see him. Unfortunately I had agreed to be a precinct captain for Mike Dukakis, and so I organized us five Dukakisites in a back bedroom of the caucus house while the overflow crowd of Jackson supporters spilled out of the living room onto the lawn. But political commitments are real commitments after all. In 1992 I was still smarting from that one (feeling I should have gone for Jackson, and 1984 and 1988 were the dismal nadir of Democratic defeats during the Reagan era), and so I voted for Jerry Brown in the caucus, and Colorado was one of Gov. Moonbeam's major victories that season in fact, although I became disenchanted with Brown soon.
Meanwhile I have loved voting for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, two administrations worth of progressive taxation, middle class interests, civil rights in the judiciary, debt-hawkishness. Yes, thank you, I wouldn't mind some more of that. (1992 was yet another election that I spent trying to talk well-intentioned people out of chasing the butterfly of a third-party campaign, Ross Perot's.)
Nostalgia for the 90s, you say? I'm nostalgic for winning the election. (I'm also nostalgic for voting. How's that again? I moved to Puerto Rico in 1996. As a US citizen resident in Puerto Rico, I do not have the right to vote for the president. Nor do I have a senator or congressional representative. Did you know that the USA has second-class citizens? I'm one). I supported Gore and I was disappointed that he didn't run Clinton into areas that he might have helped, one of a dozen ways that Gore lost that election that he won. I supported John Kerry forever in 2004, but I wobbled when Dean surged in December 2003. I sent in a check to MoveOn, you know. But the people didn't lead the leaders, although they were starting to, and I continue to be a fan of Dean and the things he's doing to make the party more grassroots and populist. Meanwhile Kerry was strike two, the second failure in elections that the Democrats easily could have won, and not only that but it was a classic national security election for the Republicans, "The Democrats are peaceniks and they won't protect you." So I really don't want us to swing strike three.
So here I sit. Part of my heart wants to go with Obama, but I'm still thinking that Clinton is the better bet. But you have to understand that for an old party loyalist like me, it's all about winning the election. So the important thing is that we all end up behind whoever the Democratic nominee is and push. That's why I'm so against Nader now, and why I'm glad Edwards had the grace to get out of it after South Carolina: I hate spoilers.

1 comment:

Savlove said...

I was wondering where you were landing these days. ONly recently have I taken Obama's candidacy seriously - from the standpoint of if he could win and how good he'd actually be. I'm starting to think that he would be better on all counts - the question being is everything twisted and heavy-handed about the Clintons truly the norm to which the electorate naturally gravitates - as you seem to suggest - or if we've evolved enough to elevate Obama beyond McGovern status...(you address this in a more recent entry)