April 9, 2008

My politics (as though you cared.) Part Two

This is part two of three (or more?) pieces I’m writing about what I believe and how I came to believe it.

At the time of the 2000 election, I was still pretty decidedly Republican for life. Though I can’t remember being aware of the intricacies of the nomination process, I knew I was on the side of George W. Bush before he was the official Republican choice, what with him being a straight-shootin’ baseball-lovin’ Texas Governor and all. And I, being a straight-shootin' baseball-lovin' Texas gov- er, straight-shootin' baseball lover, it was a natural choice. I had then, and still have, a pretty politically incorrect disposition, and George W. Bush was my hope at having a President with a spine that wouldn’t take any Democratic guff.

On the other side of the ticket was Al Gore, in his pre-hipster-hero-hysteria days, his pre-Nobel Peace Prize days, his pre-Oscar days. My knowledge of him at that point was that he loved planet earth, snuggled up to the tree-huggers, and threatened industry (also that he was just one more Clinton-impeachment away from becoming President). This was partly influenced by the overabundance of Rush Limbaugh in my childhood soundtrack courtesy of my parents’ radio. Lest I layer the cynicism too thickly, I have to tell you that I still don’t much trust the man, and I’m still not convinced New York City will be underwater in 30 years, that the ice caps will melt, that if they do melt it will be in part due to my Ford Escort, and that having New York City underwater would be an altogether bad thing. Then again, I haven’t seen An Inconvenient Truth yet, either, which I know would inevitably sway me to become the Greenpeace-donatin’ Prius-drivin’ tree-hugger I’m destined to be.

Where was I? Oh yes, the 2000 election. Of course, you know, George W. Bush won. The electoral vote. Not the popular vote. This is nothing new in American elections (it happened three times before this). There are annual bills to change the electoral college. (I think it would be a grave mistake – the electoral college is a convenient way for people to cover regrettable political choices. Case in point: I voted to re-elect Bush in 2004, but I get to hide behind to cover of living in a Blue state. This, at the small cost of being disenfranchised every four years.) Bush’s victory cleared Gore to spend his time fighting his war against global warming and win Oscars and Nobel prizes and stuff. It cleared his supporters to spend the next few years sulking over how Bush stole the election.

September 11, 2001 – I’m sitting in Mechanical Drawing class, trying to draw a sprocket or something on graph paper. The DJ on the radio (Mix 96), somewhat shocked and confused, tells us a jetliner hit the World Trade Center. He didn't know any details yet. I like to think we were the first in the school to know. We turn on the TV, and no one draws anything for the rest of the hour. No one in the school gets anything done for the rest of the day. We pray in band. They send a note home. They tell us we’ll remember where we were that day for the rest of our lives.

Foreign policy changed. Everyone’s did, including my own. The president said we were going to get the people who knocked down the buildings, and I couldn’t wait to see some bombs drop. We went to Afghanistan, I went to college.

The Iraq war is hard to write about. There’s not a lot that I can say that hasn’t already been said. We’ve all thought about it. We've been inundated with news reports about it. Since its start, we’ve been divided over it. We all have an opinion about it. When it began, I was behind it. Even now, the last place I want to be is at an anti-war protest. But it’s my generation that is fighting it, shrinking because of it. And we all hoped it would be over by now.

History, I think, will be a far better judge of the war than a business-minded media and college students with picket signs or graffiti artists with stencils. The same should be said of George W. Bush’s presidency. History, I think, will be a gentler critic than Bush’s harshest detractors, but certainly more harsh than his most adoring and tenacious supporters who ignore a ballooning government, a tanking economy, and an arduous, divisive, seemingly endless war. Where I had once been a part of the adoring and tenacious group, I have in the past few years ceased to consider myself a member.

To be continued…

(I told you part two was coming didn't I? Part three is on the way, I swear.)

April 3, 2008

My politics (as though you cared.) Part One

Maybe my biggest issue with being a grown-up is finding myself caring about grown-up type things. For example, since when did I care about the economy? I find myself watching the stock market, even though I don't have any investments; I read the business page of the paper, even though I'm just a pizza guy. The world's problems have become my own. I do grown-up things, read grown-up books, have grown-up conversations (a real grown-up might disagree if they listened my brother and me). My PS2 is gathering dust right now.

And entwined in all of this is some real personal stake in politics. That's nothing new, actually. But my political tastes have evolved considerably since I was a kid.

I remember the presidential election of 1988. Is that normal? It's one of my oldest memories, somehow being aware that George Bush and Michael Dukakis were trying to become president. There's very little I remember prior to this, apart from standing in a wading pool in my backyard, blowing bubbles, and other random things that you probably don't really care about. I remember seeing Michael Dukakis on television in a tank which, since I had little awareness of the electoral process, gave me a really warped view of how one becomes president. I was young and, being a wise four-year-old, didn't choose a side, though I'm pretty sure in some Freudian repressed-fear way, Dukakis in a tank gave me the impression that the Democrats were the aggressors. (Turns out, this is a famous and historical PR blunder.) So in a way, you can blame him for the fact I still vote Republican today.

My parents were (and still are) Republicans. Not upper-crust country-club fundraiser Republicans, but conservative lower-middle-class worked-for-their-money-and-want-to-keep-it Reagan Republicans. When George H.W. Bush got elected, mom and dad were happy, and I was happy.

I remember with more clarity the 1992 election, when George Bush ran against Bill Clinton. I was eight years old and thoroughly aware of Mom and Pop's political bent. I remember asking the Janitor who he voted for, and I remember that George Bush, if nothing else, carried the popular vote at North Godwin elementary school. Clinton won and launched me into eight years of siding with my parents against Clinton's debaucherous crusade of evil.

We had a Dole/Kemp sign in our yard in 1996. I guess it was fitting that our country should be run not by the guy who went on to shill for Viagra, but the guy who had the fortitude to get it on with a 23 year-old intern.

We took a car ride once, and I asked my parents if anyone at our church was a democrat. I guess this was my early litmus test of whether or not Democrats could be good people. Dad gave me a name, and I asked him why that person was a democrat. Dad, ever sarcastic, told me, ever naive, that someone had put a gun to their head. I get it now, that it should be fairly obvious that political alliances are a matter of personal preference, but when you're a kid and you already think Democrats win elections with M-1 Abrams Tanks, this is all the confirmation you need that the GOP are the world's only good-natured freedom-fighters.

I took the conservative point of view in class, too, piping up with my worldview in discussions. I pity any teacher that decides to take on a class of third-graders in a political discussion, because they're all just repping their parent's point of view. I considered myself particularly well-informed, and went to bat for the Right side of things. For the most part, I'm pretty sure I held my own. I was a proud, outspoken conservative all through my elementary, middle school, and high school education. I even joined the college Republicans during my freshman year at WMU, but I didn't attend any of their stuff. I wouldn't have fit in, anyway. Had to join something, I guess. They kept sending me annoying email updates long after I decided they weren't my crowd.

To be continued [mostly because I know I've pretty much reached the limit of as much as I would want to read in one sitting if I were you.]

(Editor's note: This is only part one. Come back later to see if Jim is headed for a gutter-to-the-pew political conversion. Does his cynicism point to a resentment for his political upbringings? No. The answer is no. I'll explain in a few days.)