In 2008, I made two separate donations of $50 to Barack Obama’s campaign. I also drove down with some friends to Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania and spent the day walking around several neighborhoods, knocking on doors, and talking to residents about their possible election choices, thus helping the Obama campaign build up a map of voting patterns that they could use in estimating their chances in the region. I’d like to think that in some small way, I actively helped Obama’s victory in the elections that followed. I took these actions because, besides wanting to vote for Obama in New York State, I wanted to contribute as much as I could elsewhere, to help the Obama campaign in the so-called swing states. My vote in New York, a state that votes overwhelmingly Democratic, and where Obama was all but guaranteed the Electoral College votes, didn’t feel like that it would be that useful to Obama; at most it could help some him make some talking points about the size of his mandate.
By late 2008, as the elections approached, I was alarmed in a way that I had not been in 2004 (when I had voted for John Kerry). In 2004, I had merely voted; that was the extent of my involvement in the election process. But in 2008, I might have been described as a member of ‘the energized base’. I was ‘energized’ by Sarah Palin, by eight years of GW Bush, by the chance for change that I saw in Obama’s election. Back then, I was happy Obama had trumped Hilary Clinton’s campaign; even though her election would have been a historic event, I was made just a tad bit uneasy by her connection with the ‘old’ Democrats. Thus, I should have been more alarmed than I was by Obama’s selection of Joe Biden as vice-president; it was the first serious indicator, for me at least, that this candidate would indulge in a great deal of the ‘ol same-‘ol, same-‘ol.
Some three years on, as this election season heats up, and writing the day after Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage, my disappointment remains acute. The language of betrayal is tempting, but I’m too weary to deploy it. Rather I’m inclined to think that I’ve just been reminded of the cartel-like nature of party politics in our nation, and of the disappointing inability of politicians to recognize where historical opportunities lie. Obama could have been a great one-term president; he has chosen, instead, to aspire to be a disappointing two-term president. I do not think I will send $100 to his campaign this year, and I most certainly will not take the time to go door-knocking for him in Pennsylvania or anywhere else. I wonder how many there are like me, and how much that will hurt Obama (Obama will have gained some new supporters in these past few years and perhaps they will be enough to get him over the finish line.) But I do not intend to fall for the tired old Democratic line ‘if you don’t vote for us, the bad old Republicans will come to power’. I do not feel like voting for Obama, and I certainly do not intend to vote Republican. Perhaps the Working Families Party? Who knows? November is still a long way away.
But there is a far more fundamental problem in all of this: it centers on my disillusionment with elections–especially in modern politics in this nation–and with my evolving understanding of my political responsibilities. More on that in a follow-up post tomorrow.