Sunday, November 4, 2012

Apologia pro se voto

For almost all of my thirteen years as a educator, I've tried to stay outwardly apolitical. I felt that students might prejudge me as a teacher if I were open and free about my political leanings. So my only political activities, by and large, were voting and hoping. No bumper stickers, no volunteering, no social media posts. We felt strongly enough about the 2004 election to put a Kerry sign in our front yard, but I remember being slightly terrified that some student would see me going to the mailbox and know. I'm sure they all had their suspicions, but there's a difference between being thought to be liberal in this blood-red state, and declaring yourself openly. After Obama was elected in 2008, I got a "Yes We Did" sticker in the mail and took it to work, thinking I might be brave enough to put it on my bulletin board; it's still buried in a stack of papers, where I run across it occasionally and wish I had the courage to display it.

In the last couple of weeks, whatever fear has kept me in that attitude for more than a decade has quietly dissipated. I started retweeting political messages, commenting on the campaign news of the day. I slapped an Obama 2012 magnet on my car.

But that "coming out" wasn't the start of the change. It started back in the summer, when for the first time in my life I donated to a political campaign. I felt deeply attached to the Democratic cause, and to the president's re-election. And for the first time, I didn't want simply to vote and hope -- hope that other people were willing to contribute the time and resources to craft a victory.  If Obama lost, I told myself, it wouldn't be because I didn't do all I could.

I've donated regularly since then. The total is a bit staggering for modest-living folks like ourselves, to be honest. This week I've made calls to get out the early vote in battleground states. My vote is already registered. But if there's something more I can do to affect the outcome, I'm not going to leave it undone.

Some of my conservative friends surely believe that such a transformation from timid voter to active campaigner could only be motivated by hatred of my candidate's opponent. I've see some Twitter conversations about how apoplectic Obama supporters would be if Romney won because they find him so despicable. Maybe that's true for some, but not for me. I don't hate Romney. I don't even think he'd be an awful president. He's clearly not an ideologue on most issues -- just witness the way his positions on them have shifted over the past couple of decades, from universal health care to abortion rights. He's a politician who believes in the political process as a way to get things accomplished (again, Romneycare is the prime example). That lack of ideological rigidity, coupled with political facility, means that he's likely to govern much closer to the center than our last Republican president (who did not share those two qualities).

I object to three aspects of the Romney campaign, and three aspects only. They are important enough to  help bring me out of the closet, but they are not the basis of any hatred or revulsion.

First, I object not to what Romney himself believes or would do, but to the agendas of those to whom his candidacy and possible election would be beholden. Any honest observer will surely admit that many of these most prominent and influential supporters are dismissive of the poor in favor of the continued enrichment of the monied class, in favor of war as a preemptive solution in world affairs, and desirous of a return to times when women and people of color stayed in their place and didn't seek power over their own lives and destinies, leaving that instead up to the people who knew best. Those people will expect their agenda to be enacted if Romney is elected, and some of it no doubt would be.

Second, I object to the premise that Romney himself seems to have brought to this campaign -- the single most important principle, in my observation, that motivates him to run. That premise and principle is: It's my turn. I've paid my dues, I've worked my way up through the establishment, I've gotten the right people to pull the strings for me, I've kept my nose clean, and now I am owed.  As an argument to the electorate, even a Republican electorate desperate to end the Obama presidency, this smacks of presumption and fails to inspire.

And third, the only reason in my list that is rooted in one of Romney's personal positions that would doubtless affect the way he would govern: Mitt Romney has no interest in understanding or sympathizing with gay people. Of all the stories of his record as governor of Massachusetts that have been passed around, the only ones that sickened and alarmed me were the ones about his animosity toward homosexuals. He dismissed, in the most callous and cavalier terms, the human appeal of a mother in his office who happened to be seeking marriage to her lesbian partner. He vindictively blocked legally married citizens from obtaining accurate birth certificates for their children except through court order. He seems flummoxed by the very existence of gay people with ordinary human needs and desires, evincing a powerful urge to flee from their presence rather than have his cognitive circuits overloaded by the dissonance they represent.

I'm distressed that, whatever his religious convictions, a man who does not believe in the full humanity of a large swath of the American citizenry believes he should serve as their chief executive.

And I'm relieved that the candidate who has my vote, the president whose accomplishments I celebrate, represents the opposite of these objections. Look at the financing of his campaign. 34% of his campaign funds have come from small donors, those giving less than $200. That's not 34% of contributors, or of donation instances -- that's 34% of the total funds. More than $214 million from people who gave less than $200. At a minimum (if they had all given nearly $200), that's a million people who own a piece of the campaign. I don't even count as one of these, and I'm certainly not the kind of fat cat one thinks of as a "large donor." (The comparable statistic from the Romney campaign: 18% of his total individual contributions come from small donors, adding up to $70 million -- less than one-third of Obama's total in terms of both numbers of donors and money contributed.)

By contrast to Romney's "I've paid my dues, now give me the goodies" political career, Obama of course emerged as a political upstart, a surprise, even a distressing line-jumper for the establishment. The premise of his 2008 candidacy was anything but "You owe me this"; instead, whatever you think of the principles and ideals of that campaign, it was clearly based in what he would do, not what he deserved to be handed.

And in terms of being the president of all of America -- including people who don't pay individual income taxes (like the elderly, service members, and the working poor) and people who love someone of the same sex -- well, there's really no doubt.

I don't write this in order to impose my political views on you. I write it to explain why I've changed from vote-and-hope to vote, speak, act, and give.  And to insure that my vote can't be mischaracterized as a expression of class hatred or demonization of the other party. However you vote and whatever your political actions, I think they should come from love rather than hate, determination rather than fear. I write simply to say that for the first time, I'm trying to live that out in public and not just in private.

Thanks for reading. Most of you probably know me in real life, and the general thrust of the opinions here can't be much of a surprise -- but maybe the package surrounding them isn't quite what you expected. I don't expect to change any minds. I only make an explanation (an apology, in that antique sense) for myself. I appreciate the indulgence of my friends and family, especially those who disagree with me politically and on any of the specific points above, in tolerating a more divisive and partisan version of myself than is normally on display in this space.

Go vote, and if your circumstances and conscience permit, also speak, act, and give. Here is a scientific pumpkin made by my daughter; I hope that brings us back to the Union, Trueheart and Courtesy status quo.



Anonymous said...

If you were a science professor, teaching rote memorization in classrooms with hundreds of people, then showing your political views would not matter. In an impersonal setting, you can be as mysterious as you like. In a small and personal community of learning, your decision to show your political beliefs are much more important. Your students desire to know what kind of person you are. Being open about who you are will make your students more open to consider what you teach.

In your specific setting, I wouldn't worry too much about being openly pro-Obama in the way that you described. Unless you cross the line and start campaigning inside of your seminars, your students should find it refreshing to have a professor that doesn't scamper off at the first sound of political discussion.

Pilgrim said...

mrforw 18uaedimNeedless to say, I will vote the other way, but I do respect your right to say what you say, and I applaud you for being bold enough to say it. It is not always easy to put into words what is in your heart, but it is important. Your friends and family who read your blog will already know your leanings, but your reasoning may be new. God gives each one of us a mind and a heart, and He wants each of us to use them and to listen to them in the ways of our lives. Live your life in love and not fear. (but you might continue to leave the sticker in your in-box).