So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

07 November, 2008

Rolling Home to a President Like Me

Truth with all its far-out schemes....

I was raised on a diet of Pogo and Doonesbury, sixties protest rock and NPR. One of my standard jokes is that Album 1700 is my deeptape; I would sometimes listen to one side of the tape copy I had with the tape recorder under my pillow as I was going to sleep at night. (Other times it was one of the Charlie Brown musicals. Never say I'm not a bit eclectic.)

Lets time decide what it should mean....

I came to the first beginnings of real political awareness in 1986, listening to the Iran-Contra hearings and people stressing about the epic deficits of the Reagan era. I was a serious, earnest child, and I scowled while listening to the news and drew lopsided pie charts trying to figure out where the money should be going. I was sure that if I could just go through it, I could straighten it all out, and I wasn't sure why the people in the government couldn't.

It's not the time, but just the dreams that die.

The following decades kind of burned out that little spark of, "Oh, if I could only get at the stuff here I could make it all add up."

And sometimes, when the room is still...

I'm registered as unenrolled, which means that I can vote in whichever major party primary I feel more strongly about. Which means that if I hadn't been stuck in a morass of bad nerves in 2000, I would have voted in the Republican primary for John McCain.

Time, with so much truth to kill ....

I wouldn't have voted for him in the general, but I felt that his dedication to talking about issues rather than playing the mudslinging game was something worth supporting. Given the choice among a Democratic field that didn't excite me terribly, and the possibility to make a difference to the flavor of the Republican Party for the next while, I knew which way I wanted to gamble.

Of course, it turned out I was too busy being mad to vote, but that's how it would have gone if I had.

Leaves you by the windowsill so tied.

In November 2000 I was up until some ludicrous hour of the morning talking with my ex (we weren't exes at the time) and watching election results go wildly everywhere, and I commented that when I'd been walking down to the polls I'd seen a man on a unicycle bouncing a basketball as he crossed a minor highway (sometimes catching the ball in front of him, sometimes behind his head), and said, "This is gonna be a weird election."

Without a wing to take you high.

I watched the people I knew online start to slowly melt down, my newsgroups become less and less readable and more and more hostile, an atmosphere that only got worse after 9/11.

Without a clue to tell you why.

I went, a year or so later, to a local hearing on same-sex marriage access, intending to speak in favor as a heterosexual married in Massachusetts. I put my name in the hat to speak to the legislature, and I waited, and I waited, and I listened for hours, and I have stories about this, but the long and short of it is that I wound up having to go home without speaking, in part because my husband had another obligation, in part because I started gushing blood from my nose for no particular reason other than, I suppose, it being cold and dry.

Now, I just want to keep my name ....

Time crawled onwards. I watched my country slowly slide into a perdition that I felt I could do nothing about. My personal activisms started to burn out quietly, between my perceptions of the risk and my lack of hope for effectiveness. In the 2004 election, I voted in the Democratic primary, for someone unelectable whose voice I wanted at least heard a little, and I watched a lackluster Kerry campaign fail while wondering what happened to the war hero who had been elected.

Not bother anybody's game....

Time continued crawling. I grew increasingly insular, increasingly weary, increasingly disgusted, and increasingly helpless. I needed to protect my own people, a wide and varied group of various sorts, and had no energy to spare for anything outside of that. I cut what I did down to the bone, preserving sanity and energy for what slowly started to seem like the inevitable need to defend. I couldn't see the world changing to suit what I wanted it to be unless I went up and did it, and I could not afford to do it - not the mental cost, not the risks to my family, none of it. So I knew it wouldn't happen.

Without ideas of gold or fame or...

When the election season rolled around again, I could not bring myself to be terribly interested. There was nothing that would stop the slide downwards, after all; "politics as usual" would be the same established interests, the same voices, the same faces, the same donation sources, the same sorts of policies. I had reasonable confidence that whatever Democratic nominee made it through would have the ability to win, given the overall status of the Bush administration, and that was all I could bring myself to care about, all I was able to invest in.

Insane heights.

I have friends who are political junkies; I absorbed things they said quietly, without really engaging with any of it. I poked around and did "Which candidate matches your views" quizzy things occasionally, on a lark. I mostly ignored the process for a long time, finding myself unable to care terribly much which of the sets of talking heads got the nomination. I mostly watched the Republican side, because they made me anxious, and I knew whichever one of them came out on top of the slugfest would be setting a tone - and I wanted to know where my enemies were going to be coming from. I needed to defend, after all. That was all I could believe in.

I don't want a lot of money, I don't want a Playboy Bunny....

I don't remember when that started to change. But I remember listening. I remember Jon Stewart on the Daily Show saying, "... gave a speech about race that treated the American people like adults." I know that was after I started listening, started paying attention, started thinking about possibility.

Started waking up.

Just a love to call me honey late at night...

And I still didn't want to talk about politics, talk about the races, talk about the vast dramas played out on the national soap opera stage. But there was something different out there - not the same old figured with their various policies, but all basically a part of the flow of The Way Things Were. There was a possibility of something being different, and someone doing it other than me - that thing I'd had no hope of.

In my arms, by my side, in my arms, late at night.

Quietly, in my own space, I started reading party platforms. When it was down to Clinton and Obama I laid their websites out side by side and compared the issues. When McCain looked likely to take the Republican nomination I remembered 2000, and had hope for a shift back to what he had been then and there. There was ... something there, a possibility, the sort of world that I would like to see, where the people who had their differences could address them themselves.

But I don't know, I ain't been told...

There was a little spark there, that the era of hostile campaigning might come to an end, that people might have a vision and work towards it, something might change - and it wasn't policies that I wanted that change in so much as zeitgeist.

Everybody wants a hand to hold....

I thought a lot about the civil rights movements that this country has had, working for racial equality, for women, for gay rights, for so many things. It flowed in and out of my mind, the old tunes, the ways of being. I watched Across the Universe and read that speech, and I felt myself in tears.

They're so afraid of being old....

I was quiet, and focused, and almost reluctant to make comments supporting one candidate over another, because of the weariness of those years. But there were the songs in my heart again, and I remembered them, and hummed them quietly to myself.

So scared of dying so unknown, and all alone....

Something in me started to live again.

Rolling home.

I watched the hardening of the discourse, the negativity, and folded in on myself. The insulting terms that were thrown every which way about the candidates and their supporters depressed me almost catastrophically.

But at the same time, I saw people inspired. Creative. I saw LOLcats. I saw an entire blog of photos of Obama with kids, his own and others, and just this sense of comfort and ease with small people. I saw occasional images of his relationships with his family, laughing with his daughters, heard about the puppy so that when he spoke about it in his acceptance speech I said, "A puppy!" before he mentioned it and drew funny looks from my men. I saw pumpkins. I saw all these different upswellings of feeling, and creation, and, yes, being talked to like an adult.

And there was new music, too. New music, my gods, new music.

There was a story, sometime in there, where a bunch of reporters found Obama in a diner and wanted to get his opinion on the Crisis Of The Moment, and he looked at them, and was reported to say, "Why can't I just eat my waffle?"

Why can't I just eat my waffle?

That was a clinching moment for me, oddly enough; this eminently human reponse, this realness, this sense that here was someone who wasn't going to just spew talking points or declaim on positions at the drop of a hat, but who was a real human being who occasionally has breakfast.

A friend made me a livejournal icon of it.

And I watched the first campaign that actually started to speak my language. Not just in terms of what I called the first political campaign of the 21st century in terms of its grassroots and internet work. But in the sense that somehow, somewhere, someone knew about that little girl who drew little pie charts about the budget, putting huge slices of it towards education, because damnit, if we only had the numbers we could do something to put it right. Someone wasn't ashamed of having been the little kid who said, "Hey, I'm smart enough to figure this out, just let me at the problem," in a country where politics has had a strong anti-intellectual current for my entire lifetime.

And I saw, just before Halloween, a photo of Obama on some tarmac somewhere, talking with an aide, with a pumpkin tucked under one arm, as if that were a perfectly normal thing to do.

I had never seen a politician preparing to carve pumpkins before.

You want the real America? Goddamn, a politician with a fucking pumpkin.

A friend posted this image today and I laughed at the sticker on the computer, but, again, this is a real human thing, something familiar and real and I laugh not just because it's silly but because it's human and known and damnit I wish I'd thought of that, you know?

And it's a trivial thing, a silly thing, not enough to put a vote on ...


... but it's enough to make the vote I cast mean so much more.


Because I voted for a President who's actually like me, and I never thought that would happen.

I never thought it would be okay to be the little girl who hoped her government could be fixed again.

4 comments:

belledame222 said...

...yeah. It feels like...a return from Bizarroworld. Hopefully not just a temporary respite.

Darker said...

*goofy grin* Yeah, pretty much what you said, though I'm not sure I ever hit that level of alienation.

...and it wasn't policies that I wanted that change in so much as zeitgeist.

Yes. Yes. That and avoiding an authoritarian Supreme Court were the two things I wanted out of this election.

Why can't I just eat my waffle?

Heh. :)

Check out the final anecdote in this Newsweek article - similarly "something I might have done", at least for me. :)

There was a little spark there, that the era of hostile campaigning might come to an end...

I've become resigned to the use of negative ads - partly because slander has been a part of American presidential races since nearly the beginning, but more because of the situation's game characteristics:
* It's rather like a prisoner's dilemma: if one side uses negative ads, their opponent loses ground; if both sides do, both candidates are regarded more poorly;
* Except that usually, one side will gain more of a marginal benefit from betrayal than the other side will, even in the double-betray case;
* The dilemma (and thus, temptation to betray) is sustained over a long time of extremely high pressure competition.

You want the real America? Goddamn, a politician with a fucking pumpkin.

*laugh* *applauds*

Sarah J said...

I love love love that picture too. And everything you mentioned.

And being the little smart kid who wanted to know everything. I never drew pie charts, but I asked my dad who these names in the news were and got honest answers.

It is important, I think, in the coming years when yes, Obama will disappoint us, that he is a person like us, only one with so much more riding on his shoulders.

And I hope he never loses his ability to laugh.

Daisy said...

Nice post, Kiya.